The question, “How could you not know?” is asked point-blank more than once in “Broadchurch,” the BBC series that ended its American run last night. That question haunts the show. Because it’s not just about who killed Danny Latimer, it’s about all the other secrets that the people in the scenic tourist town harbor.
I live in a scenic tourist town. It has about the same number of people as the fictional Broadchurch. We have retirees, people hoping to start a new life, people who have lived here going back four generations, like Broadchurch. We have plumbers and newspaper reporters. We have shop and hotel owners. No vicars (no Anglicans), but plenty of pastors and one priest. We have parents who care deeply for their children. We are a town that takes pride in its investment in its youth. Like Broadchurch.
So how could all those good people not know?
Well, even good people are flawed. They have secrets. Some are truly terrible; most are just lapses or mistakes in the past or simply things that are hard to explain.
I’ve had the accusation — how could you not know? — thrown at me. I stood there, just like Ellie stood there when Beth accused her. Ellie knew, as I know, that there is no answer when you are just plain ignorant.
Ellie isn’t the only parent who did not know. Mark and Beth did not know as much about their son Danny as they thought. There’s the big one, not knowing he had a secret relationship with Joe, who killed him. But there are smaller secrets, too. They didn’t know that Nige and Dean took Danny on hunting trips, and Nige is Mark’s “best mate.” They didn’t know Danny and his best friend Tom had a falling out.
Mark and Beth aren’t absent parents. They even have a grandmum who checks in every day. It wasn’t enough.
Technology plays a role in this mystery. At the beginning, it allows people to hide. Susan thinks she can escape her old life and start a new one. Same with Jack. Tom thinks he can hide his feelings of hatred toward Danny by deleting all of Danny’s text messages and the thousands of emails on his laptop. Oh, but in the end, technology gives us away. Newspapers have computers that can uncover old articles. Phone records can be seized from the provider during a murder investigation. Emails can be recovered from a server.
There is more ability to keep some things secret — for a time — and more ability to keep nothing secret — ultimately. We are more exposed than ever.
And with or without technology, eventually, character comes out. People reveal themselves to be who they are.
These days, we can’t know everything our kids are doing. The truth is, we have never known. Don’t all of us have at least one story that our parents never knew, and we prayed they never would?
One reviewer of Broadchurch on IMDB wrote, “I think about my own children, my own family, and it left me with a strange feeling of uncertainty and doubt. It will take me a long time to shake that.” If you have ever found yourself betrayed by the last person you ever thought would betray you, you know that feeling. From then on your radar picks up a setting you didn’t know existed.
During one of the early scenes in the first episode, Mark walks through the town and says hello to everyone. It’s a friendly, yet chilling moment, because you suspect that no one is exactly as they appear. Not even Mark.
And truthfully, not even you.
P.S. I want to say how pleasantly surprised I was with the character of the vicar, Paul Coates. I was afraid this was going to be a British version of the Catholic sex abuse scandal, and it wasn’t. Paul has a secret, but he’s a good, lonely man who takes up his mantle as the pastor to his grieving community, even to those who do not share his faith, like Alec. In the final scene when he spreads the word to all the other towns so they can join Broadchurch in lighting memorial fires for Danny, you realize this man is capable of great love.