Let’s skip to the end of this mystery: By the time you’ve seen the finale of Broadchurch — the U.K.’s eight-episode hit about the murder of a young boy in a seaside town — you’ll know who the killer is. There’s no fakeout ending to trick you into watching another season to find out who did it. (Though ITV, the British network that originally ran the series, has picked up the show for eight more episodes.) There’s also no rush to solve the case with some eleventh-hour procedural magic, either. The British tend to take their whodunits like they take their tea: dark, slow-boiled, and so bitter that you need a while to finish. So it’s a good thing that Broadchurch allows the narrative time to let the suspense build. In a beautifully choreographed, single-take shot that comes early in the premiere, a plumber (Andrew Buchan) weaves through the streets of Broadchurch, England, greeting the townspeople one by one. Only later do we learn that this man is the father of the victim, an 11-year-old whose body has just been spotted on the beach by his mother (Jodie Whittaker). Everyone we’ve met may soon become a suspect: the priest (Arthur Darvill), the newspaper editor (Carolyn Pickles), the busybody (Pauline Quirke) — even the plumber himself.
Broadchurch is a gripping portrait of small-town paranoia. Its title feels like a wink at the idea that a wide range of people live here with their secrets, and even the churchgoers aren’t as saintly as they appear. But there’s a deeper conflict at work when local detective Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman) starts to investigate the death with help from her new boss, Alec Hardy (David Tennant), who has just moved in from another city and refuses to eat the fish and chips. (”What kind of Scot are you?” Ellie huffs.) It’s a battle between the natives and the outsiders, with a twist: The natives don’t always act in the town’s best interest. In one scene, a hotel clerk inquires about when the crime scene will be cleaned up — not for the family’s sake, but so the tourists can enjoy the beach. Ellie can’t protect her neighbors; having known the suspects forever gives her intimate access to them — but it also makes her blind to what they’re really capable of.
Doctor Who fans will be thrilled to see Tennant in all his supergeek glory, gathering evidence with such disregard for people’s feelings, Scotland Yard couldn’t solve the case of his missing humanity. But Colman’s the real star here, revealing a quiet sadness in Ellie so real it’ll gut you. Her subtle performance saves the series from occasional melodrama. (Warning: Someone will shout a soundless ”Nooooo!” while shaking his fist at the waves.) Ellie’s such a heartbreaking character that her shock over who’s to blame for the murder feels more wrenching than the answer. ”How could you not know that this was happening right under your nose?” she asks another woman at one point in the series. But the real tragedy is that she should be asking herself the same question. A-