Broadchurch airs Wednesday Nights at 10 on BBCAmerica.
Watch out for spoilers.
I didn't really know what to expect coming into this first episode of a crime drama about a kid who dies mysteriously in a small town, but what I got was a gorgeously-shot first episode full of tension and mystery that sets up a whole lot of information in a single episode.
Here's the core: Danny misses school, and his mom can't reach him; soon after, he's found on the beach dead. We saw him in the cold open standing on the cliff overlooking the beach, with blood running down his hand, but the ME says he didn't fall--he was choked to death and left there. No hints at all about who might have done it.
The lead investigator is DI Alec Hardy (David Tennant in a very different role than the Doctor), who has some failed case haunting him even as far away as this little seaside town, and who was hired for a job promised to DS Ellie Miller. She now has to work side-by-side with the man who took her job on the case of her son's best friend's murder, and she already seems emotional and a little tightly-wound even before everything went crazy. Adding to this, her nephew Olly is trying to get a job at a big important newspaper and sees this as his chance; he leaks the boy's name to the press, and when that catches their attention, sets up covert contact with the reporter that comes for the coverage, from the very paper he's trying to get in on.
Here in the first episode, we only get the very early first bits of the case, but we know this much so far:
- Alec had some similar case that he messed up or that he couldn't stop from going wrong, and his boss suggests he gets off the case, but he wants to prove that it's not a handicap.
- Ellie is almost as close to the case as if it was her own son.
- That son, Tom, erased a whole bunch of texts and emails from Danny after she told him what happened--why? What was in them?
- Danny's sister has a secret boyfriend and he's worried that he'll get arrested because she's underage.
- Danny never showed up for his paper route, and it's hard to tell if the guy he got his papers from is creepy or just shocked.
- Olly does have a little decency left--he hesitated to send the text that leaked the name, and he apologized--but it looks like his ambition might send it right out the window, despite having the second-lead investigator on the case and what that'll do to the family as a whole.
- The reporter from the big paper is staying in the same hotel as DI Hardy and that can't go well; also, the girl in charge there seems to be sweet on him already. And why did she steal the teddybear Danny's sister left him?
- Danny's mom and dad seem to be having under-cover difficulties; he won't say where he was the night Danny got killed, so it sounds like he was having an affair or otherwise up to no good under the cover of his plumbing business, and she sounds like she's already blaming him.
- The media is all over this case for the shock value, for DI Hardy's involvement, for the leak Olly let out, and for the spectacle, and that can only get worse.
It was beautifully done. From the long single-take intro scene where we follow Danny's dad to work and meet all the townsfolk, to the creeping dread of his mom realizing something was wrong and running for miles to get to the beach, to the slow-motion and silence of her violent reaction. This episode uses silence and stillness to show shock and fear very well, and we're left with the idea that this idyllic little beach town has piles of un-dealt-with problems just below the surface, things that got poked pretty severely by the murder of a kid in a place where they don't have murders at all, usually. Whether it stays a quiet, tense show is up in the air at the moment, but right now, it's so well drawn, I'd feel sad if it blew up and became something else not as well-done.
This first episode was near perfect, as far as I'm concerned. It does exactly what a mystery's first episode should do: it gives us a problem, it shows us the players, it sets the stage. And it tilts everything just short of the point where the landslide will start bringing up all sorts of secret mess; that's for next episode to start doing. This one shows us exactly what we've lost here and hints at where it could go.
So what did you think of Broadchurch Episode 1? Share in the comments!