Geez, didn’t see that coming until maybe just a week or two ago.
The final episode of Broadchurch, in which we learned whodunit–read no further if you don’t want to know!–put viewers through a wringer, leaving us emotionally drained and hurting for a character we have come to know and respect.
The big reveal: Joe did it. That would be the hitherto seemingly perfect house husband (played by Matthew Gravelle) of Detective Sergeant Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman), the show’s leading lady. Does she ever deserve better.
The genius of this final episode of the BBC America series was that we learned relatively early on that Joe strangled 11-year old Danny Latimer, a murder that Detective Inspector Alec Hardy (David Tennant) and Ellie have been investigating all season. Unlike most TV shows or films, where solving the crime and getting a confession come in the final minutes, here it was dealt with early and then the rest of the episode was devoted to the sad aftermath, showing the devastating impact of the news on those closest to Joe and Danny and on the community itself.
Here’s what happened:
Ailing Alec is handed his discharge papers after the police department’s doctor rules that his weak ticker renders him unfit for duty. He’s to clear out his desk by the end of the day. “I think I know who the killer is,” he tells his department head as he lurches off to go nail the suspect.
Ellie comes into Alec’s office with two new bits of information related to the Latimer case: 1) Her sister, Lucy Stevens (Tanya Franks), has belatedly told Ellie that she’d seen a man shoving a large bag, possibly containing discarded clothes, into a garbage bin the night of the murder, and 2) Ellie’s son Tom (Adam Wilson, who’s given an amazing performance) is now claiming that his laptop had been stolen. (Viewers saw Tom delete text messages and emails from Danny on his laptop in an early episode.)
“Do you believe him?” Alec asks her.
“No,” she replies.
Alec calls Tom in for questioning; Joe accompanies him. Alec tells Tom that he knows the boy is lying about the laptop being stolen because Alec has it. Rev. Paul Coates (Arthur Darvill) turned the computer over to Alec after the vicar caught Tom trying to destroy it. Alec has perused emails between Danny and Tom recovered from the laptop’s hard drive. In one, Tom wrote to Danny, “I wish you were dead. I could kill you if I wanted.” Tom tells Alec that he wrote that after Danny told him they were no longer friends because he’d found a new friend, someone who understood him better.
“Did you kill Danny, Tom?” Alec asks.
Tom says no. Joe halts the session, saying that if Alec intends to keep badgering his son, there’ll have to be a solicitor present.
Alec backs off, but asks Tom his shoe size–it’s a 5–and then, seemingly off-handedly, asks Joe for his.
“10,” Joe says.
Alec nods, but we know he now has vital information. The footprints found both in the house on the cliff, where Danny’s blood was discovered, and on a hill leading from it were a size 10.
Mark and Beth Latimer (Andrew Buchan and Jodie Whittaker), Danny’s parents, are in the murdered son’s room. Mark says they should clear the room out for the new baby they’re expecting. They both tear up at the prospect of letting go of Danny’s possessions.
Alec and Ellie are on the beach. He tells her that he used to come on holiday to this very beach as a child. His mother, he says, always told him, “God will put you in the right place at the right time.”
“What would she say that for?” Ellie asks.
Alec looks at her almost pityingly.
Just then, Ellie’s mobile rings. It’s the department calling to say that Danny’s cell phone is back on and its location can be tracked. Alec sends Ellie off on a bogus assignment–but not before first sincerely complimenting her on her work on the Latimer case–and tracks the cell signal himself.
The signal takes him straight to Ellie’s house and then to a shed in the backyard. Inside, Joe is holding Danny’s cell phone. He’s been expecting Alec and doesn’t try to run. “I’m sick of hiding,” Joe says.
A title card pops up on screen: “59 Days Earlier.”
We see Joe and Danny together in the house on the cliff. Danny is sitting on Joe’s lap and Joe is hugging him tightly. Danny says he’s not going to meet Joe anymore and threatens to tell his father about their relationship, the exact nature of which viewers aren’t quite sure of but we’re thinking the worst.
Danny tries to leave but Joe brings him back inside the house, Danny accidentally cuts his finger on a fence post nail while he’s outside, which explains the blood that the cops found–and locks the door. Danny’s scared but he nonetheless taunts Joe, saying, “I know what you want from me. And you’re too afraid to ask. Why don’t you do those things to Tom instead?”
Ellie’s husband explodes in a rage. He chokes the boy. “You do not say those things about me. I am not that man. You do not spoil it,” he says, squeezing the life out of Danny.
Joe carries Danny’s corpse to a boat and then to the beach, where he leaves the body and the youth’s skateboard. (Susan Wright, who has since left town, is glimpsed watching at a distance, just as she had told the cops she did.) Joe returns to the cliff house, scours it clean and dumps his dirty, bloody clothes in a dumpster. (He was indeed the man that Ellie’s sister saw.) At home, he checks on a sleeping Tom and then climbs into bed next to Ellie, who’s already deep in the arms of Morpheus. (Viewers see a bottle of sleeping pills on her nightstand.)
Back to the present: Alec grills Joe at the police station. “What was the exact nature of your relationship with Danny?” he asks.
“I was in love with him,” Joe says. Ellie’s husband proceeds to claim that he never abused Danny, rather that they talked about Danny’s differences with Mark and other troubles. “I felt like he needed me,” a deluded Joe explains. Alec again asks Joe if he ever went beyond just hugging Danny. Joe insists that nothing happened. Alec looks disbelieving and says he just needs to understand.
“If I can’t understand it, why should you?” an anguished Joe exclaims.
As Alec continues to press Joe, the killer admits to giving Danny the mobile phone and the £500 that police found in a baggie in the dead boy’s room. “I wanted him to love me,” Joe says.
Ellie is questioning Nige Carter (Joe Sims), the dim bulb who works with Mark and whom she still thinks is a viable suspect (he, too, wears a size 10 shoe). Alec comes in and tells Nige he can leave. He sits across the table from Ellie and asks her where she was the night of Danny’s death. She’s insulted by his question, but answers, “I was at home, just got back from Fla. that morning. I went to bed. I had terrible jet lag. I have these pills I take and they knock me out.” Alec asks her if she noticed Joe coming to bed. Ellie says “No” even as it dawns on her where this is leading. “You tell me what’s going on,” she demands. Alec comes over to sit beside her.
“It was Joe. Joe killed Danny Latimer,” he tells her, his heart breaking as much as hers.
Ellie doesn’t want to believe it. “No, he didn’t. He didn’t!” she says. But she knows he did. Her face crumples and she tears up, and then retches.
At her insistence, Alec escorts Ellie to visit Joe. “Is it true?” she asks her husband. Joe’s face tells her that it is.
“I never touched Tom or Fred [the Miller’s toddler],” he assures her. “I never touched Danny. I’ve always loved you.”
Ellie loses it, slapping and kicking him. Alec drags her out of the room. “Tell me this isn’t happening,” she says.
Alec addresses Ellie’s fellow cops at the station. He tells them that Ellie knew nothing about Joe’s involvement and that she has been removed from the case and put on leave with full pay. “You’re her colleagues and her friends. She’ll need all of us,” he says.
Alec’s next task is the most difficult, telling the Latimers that it was Joe. The Latimers and Millers were neighbors and good friends. A dumbstruck Beth wants to know if Ellie knew. “She didn’t know,” says Alec.
Ellie, who has moved with her kids to a hotel both to evade the press and because her house is now a crime scene, tells Tom that his father killed Danny. “I can’t explain it. I really wish I could,” she tells him. She then asks Tom why he sent the threatening email to Danny.
“He said he didn’t want to be my friend anymore. He said he’d found a new friend. I was angry. It was Dad, wasn’t it?” says Tom. She nods and mother and son weep together.
Alec holds a press conference to announce Joe’s arrest. “Now is the time for Broadchurch to be left to grieve and heal away from the spotlight,” he tells the assembled reporters. A chastened Karen White (Vicky McClure), the big city newshound who has rushed from London to attend, has a tear running down her cheek.
Mark visits Joe in jail, talking to him through a small opening in the cell door. “You did things to him, didn’t you? I know that they say you didn’t, but you must have,” says Mark.
“I swear I never did,” says Joe.
“I just pity you, because you’re nothing,” Mark says, slamming the hatch shut and leaving Joe to his own self-loathing.
Karen seeks out Ellie at the hotel and, rather than push for an exploitative interview, which she would have done without hesitation in the past, tells her, “I’m so sorry for what you’re going through. Don’t talk to anyone.”
Beth looks out her window and sees Ellie standing in the field between their houses. She walks out to meet her one-time neighbor and friend. “How could you not know?” Beth asks, echoing the exact question that Ellie had asked Susan only the day before upon learning that Susan’s husband had sexually abused their daughters many years before. Then Beth turns and walks away. Ellie’s lips quiver.
Alec visits Ellie at the hotel. She is desperate to figure out why Joe did it, to put a label on him, even if it’s pedophile (though there was no sign of sexual abuse found on Danny and Tom told her that Joe never touched him that way). “I need to understand,” Ellie says plaintively.
“I don’t have the answers,” Alec tells her. “People are unknowable. You can never really know what goes on inside someone else’s heart.”
“I should have seen it,” Ellie says, berating herself. “I’m a bloody detective, the brilliant copper who was lying next to the murderer. I want to kill him.”
The Latimers finally can bury their son. (Until the murderer was found, the corpse couldn’t be released to the family.) They, along with much of the town, gather at the church for Danny’s funeral service. Steve Connelly (Will Mellor), the psychic who correctly advised the cops that the murderer was someone close to Danny, is standing outside the church and nods to Beth as she passes. Rev. Paul, who was himself a suspect for a while, tells the mourners, “Be kind to one and other. Forgive as God and Christ forgave you. After what we’ve been through, we have a responsibility to ourselves and to our God to try.”
That night, townsfolk gather on the beach for a vigil in Danny’s memory. Alec and Ellie watch from a bench nearby. “What will you do?” Alec asks her.
“Move somewhere else. Give the kids a fresh start,” she says. He tells that he, too, is off the force because of his illness. “Look at us: Former Detectives Club,” jokes Ellie.
The Latimer family is on the beach, taking in the bonfires and lanterns that have been lit to honor Danny. Beth has a vision of her son watching and looking finally at peace. She tears up and moves into Mark’s embrace as the couple is bathed in the light of the flames.
The final credits roll.
How’d you like the final episode? Were you surprised that the killer was Joe?