The Anglo Files #13
by Cara Winter
Maybe it’s because I am currently attempting to write a gasp-worthy, twisty-bendy, shock-ya-shock-ya mystery pilot myself, lately I have spent a lot of time thinking about BROADCHURCH.
Much lauded during it’s first season, I sat down and basically binge-watched the entire first season… and for most of it, I was stunned. It was tremendously well made, well acted and pretty to look at.
And then came the final episode of season 1… and, NO. Just, NO.
**MULTIPLE SPOILERS AHEAD**
The show begins with the murder of a young boy, and the local P.D.’s investigation, led by two detectives (Miller, played by Olivia Coleman and Hardy, played by David Tennant), an odd couple if ever there was one, each with their own baggage.
During the investigation (which lasts the entire first season), Miller and Hardy suspect almost every soul in town… including the boy’s father, played masterfully by Andrew Buchan (the depth and power of this actor’s emotional life takes your breath away – he’s one to watch, no doubt about it).
As the investigation unfolds, one by one people are eliminated as suspects, usually by way of something unsettling, foul, or just not what you’d expect from the ‘good folk’ of a small seaside town. These twists make for compelling viewing, as each suspect transforms from angel, to devil, to ordinary flawed human being in a single episode.
I especially loved the storyline of trailer park matron Susan Wright (played by journeyman actress Pauline Quirke, who’s been doing this longer than I’ve been alive). At first glance, Susan was sullen, mean, sinister even…I, for one, was sure she’d done it. But scratch the surface, and all we have in this person is another heartbroken (and innocent) soul, looking for peace, and forgiveness, and a clean slate.
But it all came crashing down during the final moments season 1, when ‘he who done it’ was revealed. The way the killer gives himself up – awful. The confession, right there on the spot. Terrible. A full-on “I just couldn’t take it anymore!” breakdown… ERGURAAAGG, it made me want to crawl through my TV and strangle somebody. It just felt cheap, and beneath them, after an entire season of gorgeousness!
As Season 2 was about to premiere on BBC America, I pressed on. Aaaand, things got worse. For one, Hardy’s backstory (failing to get a conviction, over in another town, for a different murder) has now become a front-story (is that even a thing?!)! Meaning, the characters from this old case… are now here, and inexplicably living in Broadchurch. WHAT?!
It was bad enough when Hardy was having some sort of life-threatening medical condition in season 1… but now, this? His past isn’t just going to figuratively haunt him — it’s going to actually haunt him? I can’t handle it. It’s too much drama in one man’s life. And especially for the incredible Tennant, it’s heartbreaking to see such an actor being used so thoughtlessly.
This is not to say BROADCHURCH (or, as I like to call it, DAME-RECTORY) can’t still redeem itself. But it was informative for me, as a writer, to review when and how they lost me. It brought me to this realization: You have to tread very, very carefully, when working in realism.
When you’re writing about a bunch of zombies, or a masked, winged crime-fighter, or Charlie Sheen as someone you’d leave your child with… you have a certain amount of creative license. You’re already asked the audience to take a huge leap with you, so suspending their disbelief again for maybe a cheaply placed plot point — whatever, it’s BAT-MAN, what’s plausible about that, to begin with?
But with a show steeped in realism, you cannot make a single illogical mistake. You cannot underestimate your audience’s intelligence; you cannot cheat them, and you cannot trick them. You cannot haphazardly pick “dramatic” plot points; you must create real, emotional human drama.
And, above all else, you must employ logic. You have to tap into your inner Spock and ask, “What is the logical thing to do?” and then let that play out, beat by beat, detail by detail, moment by excruciating moment. Yes, even if the star is David Tennant.
I’ll keep tuning in, for now. I suppose I’m still curious. But, sadly, I’m not counting the days and hours until the next episode airs. And these days, the countdown (hashtag #countdown!) is the whole ballgame.
Cara Winter is a Contributing Editor to TVWriter™. You can learn more about her HERE.