After last week, this is much more like how I like my Broadchurch: a Hardy/Miller road trip, some mysteries from the past, a few bluebells that may turn out to be red herrings, but hey, we’ll take ’em. Beats watching our favorite characters getting beat up on the witness stand.

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This episode of Broadchurch offers some intriguing other sides to characters we think we know and others that we don’t know at all. The Sandbrook duo of Claire and Lee is the most captivating part of the show right now. We started with Lee as evil and Claire as the victim, but now it looks like the pair’s situations could be reversed completely. Or they’re both innocent. Or, more likely, both guilty. In their creepy sex scene, they both wonder about the deeds the other has done (Even Claire asks, “What will become of us?”, right before she requests that her husband tie her up). Hardy’s assertion last episode that Claire is also a suspect appears right on target, even as Jessica Hobbs’ wonderful direction this episode shows Claire alone in a deserted house, with the image of Lee on a hilltop. But is the shot romantic or foreboding? Or both?

Even more intriguing about Claire: She slept with Hardy! (Mind = blown.) As well as Ricky Gillespie, the husband next door. As his wife Cate was well aware of this dalliance (and was watching, apparently), it appears this all happened before the disappearance of the two girls. The reveal that Ricky Gillespie’s number is the only other one on Claire’s phone besides Hardy’s, and that he might be our bluebell donor, is awesome, and just what Broadchurch needed to bolt us out of this season-two slump. In Hardy’s remembrance of a lovely Claire under the bedsheets, she looked so innocent that I honestly believe she’s a chameleon who’s capable of anything.

Sandbrook opens up some other sides to Hardy as well. As Becca pointed out last season, he’s seemed too sickly to be a match with anyone. And his story about his wife losing that key piece of evidence surely painted him in a sympathetic light. But if he slept with Claire, was it also during the investigation? So he was also unfaithful? As well as being highly unprofessional by sleeping with a prospective suspect. It’s all fascinating, and again, I wish we were just in Sandbrook this season instead of saddled with the Broadchurch case.

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You can tell how happy Ellie is to be away from it all, making Thelma And Louise jokes and trying to lighten the mood about how awkward it is when she and Hardy have to share a bed. And she’s still a good investigator, going through Claire and Lee’s apartment while Hardy talks to Cate. There’s another side to Cate, too, who we met briefly last season: In the investigation of her daughter’s murder, why wouldn’t she tell the police absolutely everything, including her husband’s infidelity? Ricky Gillespie, who badgers Hardy and even makes horrendous statements in front of his daughter, is looking guiltier by the second.

As is Joe Miller, who can’t even lie his way through a mock questioning by his defense team. Fortunately, a couple of key witnesses help the case against him this week (although how ironic is it that Ellie tells the truth on the stand and is accused of lying, while her sister lies and is accepted as truth?).

The rest of the case continues to bring out the good and bad sides of everyone. Mark, fortunately, turns over a new leaf thanks to the magical power of baby Lizzie, but poor Tom! As the adult, Mark should have thought this through, and instead just becomes the latest in a string of adults who have let Tom down. The only possible upside is that this will maybe lead him back to his mother, because I still don’t understand why he’s so upset with her anyway.

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Cub reporter Ollie: getting shoved away from people all over Broadchurch! Hardy sneers at him: “You people, you think you’re saving the world; you’re just making it harder to live in.” Ollie’s still trying to break unto the big leagues by using the various players of Broadchurch, haphazardly posting errant stories and pictures online. Another thing I don’t understand: why Maggie the editor lady hasn’t just fired him.

Jocelyn, a grown-ass person, has to realize that she’s doing everyone a disservice by not coming clean about her eyesight, if she can’t even read briefs in court. Maybe she’s afraid of getting removed from the case, but she should at least let her assistant know.

The heinous defense seems to be zeroing in on Mark as a suspect, even without any proof, even as Sharon chides her too-zealous assistant: “This is people’s lives we’re talking about!” Not sure what the crazy rantings of trailer-park lady about Nige are going to bring to the table, however, as they will undoubtedly be unfounded.

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Broadchurch tries to spark interest with all these minor players, but none are as compelling as our major ones. Hardy starts the episode by crying (Have we ever seen him cry before?) and telling a medical office on the phone that his symptoms are worsening. As his days may be numbered, he’s more desperate to wrap up the Sandbrook case, even as he doubts himself, wondering if he was in fact wrong about Lee from the beginning. He’s also not on active duty, and only has his also-ousted partner to lean on.

During the Sandbrook section of this episode, scenes of the two pairs of Hardy-Miller and Claire-Lee are lined up against each other, so we can’t help but draw parallels between them (we also have corresponding scenes of Ellie-Lee and Claire-Hardy). Claire and Lee reconnect physically as soon as the two are alone together. But Hardy and Miller in the car share something even more intimate. David Tennant is amazing across the board, but never more so than when he tells Miller about the day he found Pippa’s body. In only a few minutes, it explains everything about him: why he dreams that he’s drowning; why he lost his family in light of taking on this case; why he’s still obsessed with it; why he in fact might have been in such a hurry to accuse the wrong person, as he was so desperate to find a killer. Miller and Hardy share a bed as well, and they couldn’t be more platonic, but they’re closer than Lee and Claire because they trust each other. All Lee and Claire do is needle each other about what’s really going on: The lust is there, but the trust is not.

All four of these players are offering staggering performances as we reach the halfway point of the second season of Broadchurch: As long as they’re in the forefront, the show is as compelling as ever.

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Stray observations:

  • “He paid for your parking”?
  • “Shit, Sharon, he totally did it!”
  • Also kind of loved the brief Hardy family dinner, as a slight window into what his life was like before it was torn apart.
  • Sure, babies (especially the Latimer baby) are cute when they’re sleeping, but I think Mark is idealizing his prospective paternity leave. Hilarious reaction from Beth: “Your what?”

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