You know those shows that like to fill a season’s penultimate episode with as much action as possible, leaving the finale free for a lot of chatty navel-gazing? Well, Broadchurch ain’t one of them.
The BBC America drama’s season 2 finale was an incident-packed hour that wrapped up the British crime drama’s two investigations. Or did it? After all, the first season’s last show seemed to close the door on the case of Joe Miller, only for the child-killer to kick it open again at the start of this year’s run of shows with just two words: “Not guilty.”
We spoke with Broadchurch creator and executive producer Chris Chibnall about the finale, whether it really is the end of the two investigations which have, in different ways, tortured David Tennant’s cop Alec Hardy and his partner, Olivia Colman’s Ellie Miller—and, if so, what he plans to do with the show next.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You covered a lot of ground in the finale. Was it difficult fitting it all in to 45 minutes?
CHRIS CHIBNALL: [Laughs] Our first cut ran at about 70 minutes, I think. But I love those shows where you come out of a penultimate episode thinking, “How are they going to do that in a one-hour slot?” I like the final episode feeling really packed. You should be there until the final seconds, wondering how it’s all going to resolve. You know a lot of the plot but it’s still, “Where are these characters going to land in the last few seconds?”
Was it always your plan for Joe Miller to be found not guilty?
I absolutely worked through both possibilities. As we were storylining, I kept thinking, “If I’m a juror, how am I feeling at this point? What are the really powerful arguments?” It wasn’t an absolute slam dunk that he would always be found not guilty—but I suspected it. Because when you stand back and look at what happens in season 1, there’s a lot of human foibles and human failings that contribute to making a conviction very difficult.
Have you seen The Jinx?
I’ve got it all recorded.
Well, I won’t spoil anything, but it does demonstrate that it’s hard to predict what is going to happen once a jury gets involved.
We spent a lot of time talking to lawyers before we even started storylining. I went to a prosecution lawyer and a defense lawyer and said, “How would you prosecute this case? And how would you defend it?” And I asked them both for opinions on both. So they analyzed the case as it stood at the end of season 1, and actually that was a contributing factor to Joe being found not guilty because they were both of the opinion that they could get him off.
The things that you think could never happen in court—once you start discussing with lawyers, it’s extraordinary what can be ruled out, what can be ruled in, how you sway a jury by just suggestion. The whole season has been about, “You might know the truth but can you get justice?” And truth and justice are very very different things. That’s been really the central theme of both stories across the season.
I’ve got twenty pounds sterling which says we haven’t seen the last of Joe Miller.
Oh, have you? Well, I’ll take that off you right away.
Would you care to elaborate?
I think that’s the end of his story. I wouldn’t expect to see him in a third season. I can’t be any more concrete than that, can I, Clark?
No. I’m Scoopy McGee!
There’s a number of British tabloid journalists who are jumping up and down in fury at the moment!
Let’s move on to the other case, which you kind of Murder on the Orient Express-ed by making Lee, Ricky, and Claire all guilty in various ways.
I was being a little bit facetious there…
No, I love that! We had alternative versions of the ending throughout. What I was doing in the writing, and what we were doing in the storylining, was keeping it in play at all times. The actual calibration of what happened that night, happened relatively late on in the process. Because all those actors—Eve Myles, and James D’Arcy, and Shaun Dooley—just brought things to those characters. So I’d be watching dailies [for] episodes 3 and 4 as we were figuring out the exact scenes at the end and thinking, “They’re bringing real nuance, and enigma, and mystery.” I really wanted to make sure that what we had in mind really fitted those performances. All three of them gave so much. It was a real joy to be able to serve all of them and reward all of them for what they were doing.
Given Claire was involved in the murders, why does she agree to stay at Alec Hardy’s cottage?
I don’t think she’s got any choice. She’s busking as hard as she can. She had a moment of clarity on the night, but then as the net is closing in around them during the immediate days afterwards, and the investigation is coming to focus in on them, I think she’s happy for [Lee] to take the fall. She’s just biding her time, really. I think there would have been a certain point down the line where she probably would have walked away from Hardy. But it hadn’t happened yet.
Why did Ricky send Claire the envelope with the bluebell?
I think he sends it to [say] “Look what we did.” It’s a symbol of shared guilt.
Should we be worried about the way Hardy and Miller handled this case? Is there any chance Lee, Ricky, and Claire will also be found innocent?
I mean, neither of them are officially on the case. She’s on leave from being a traffic cop to do the court case and he’s occasionally teaching. So it’s not an official case, in that sense. It becomes it at the end. But that’s why it’s all done on the wall of his little shack.
So this is the end of that case too?
Yes. They’re all going to prison.
All of which rather raises the question, “What the f— are you going to do in season 3?”
[Laughs] Let me tell you everything! Or, alternatively, nothing! Well, you’ll just have to see. All I can say is that I have a plan and it will be different again. That’s about all I can tell you.
But David Tennant and Oliva Colman are coming back?
They are definitely coming back. You don’t work away from them in a hurry. And what’s lovely is that they really wanted to do a third season. I talked to them about what it was before we started doing season 2. So, yeah, they’ll be back.
Everything went so well for David Tennant’s character in the last couple of episodes, I half-thought you were going to kill him off.
There are points when it does go through your mind. But all the questions that you have about that character are the fuel for the drama as we come back.
Is Alec Hardy going to find his razor in season 3?
[Laughs] That’s between David, me, and the barber.