This one comes to us from Nick Rynerson:

Before we get into it, let’s have a quick chat. Nick here. Hey. If you haven’t watched the first season of Broadchurch don’t read this yet. Seriously. Stop. The show is on Netflix right now. Borrow your friend’s password and binge-watch it! It’s only eight episodes. Go on! Get! It’s not that I don’t want you to read this. It’s just that I’m pretty much going to ruin the ending of season one, and it’s a doozy.

broadchurch-trailer-season-2

Sometimes I wonder why I write. I usually feel guilty after I write something for publications that I respect––it could be that I’m young, or it could be the crippling guilt issues I’ve dealt with since childhood. But it’s probably because I never live up to what I write. I’m not nearly as good at being human as I am about writing about being human (and I’m not even that great at that). I put my foot in my mouth a lot. I can be really neurotic. You get the idea. My fingers know more than my heart, which means that writing involves wrestling with the cognitive dissonance between what I can articulate and who I actually am. I’m my very own whitewashed tomb (Matthew 23:27), and that is stressful.

In other words, the voice you encounter on paper/screen is a better version of myself than the real me. There is a me I don’t want anyone to see, a me that even those shady internet ordination sites would defrock. Which is precisely why I loved the first season of Broadchurch.

Broadchurch is a BBC series (recently adapted for US audiences by FOX as “Gracepoint”) that revolves around a sleepy British hamlet after a child is brutally murdered. But you know this already, so I won’t rehash plot details. Broadchurch may be, on the surface, about the murder of Danny Latmer, but methinks the show is really about the duality of human existence. The “who we seem to be” vs. the “who we are”––who we pretend to be to maintain social niceties vs. who is lurking in the shadows of our consciousness.

In the town of Broadchurch, the unspoken communal laws of goodness, niceness, and put-togetherness make it seem, at first, like paradise found. But, of course, towns where kids get murdered aren’t as perfect as they seem. Broadchurch quickly reveals itself to be, as the IMdB cover image says, “a town wrapped in secrets”. More than that, it’s a bunch of imperfect humans wrapped in suffocating (yet intoxicatingly desirable) niceness. There is no intimacy, only guilt and shame and niceness.

For example, Mark Latmer is an adulterer who has given his son a bloody nose on at least one occasion and a sincerely pleasant fellow. The vicar is an alcoholic, desperately trying to hide from his past out of what would seem to be misplaced religious and moral guilt and an all-around gracious, loving, Christ-like character. Jack Marshall is a convicted sex criminal as well as a pillar in the community; not to mention one of the most likeable minor characters ever. Nigel is a petty criminal with a beyond-sketchy family lineage, a commendably hard worker, loyal friend, and caring soul. And the ever-likeable Joe Miller is, well… Everybody is awful. Everybody is nice.

Which doesn’t really surprise me, nor should it anyone else. You can probably identify with at least one of those character’s vices. We are all sinners, after all, trying to either shake off PTSD-inducing pasts, outrun troubles that if exposed would make us social lepers, or manage psychological abnormalities that would make Freud sweat.

So what do we do about this? We hide. We cover our badness with whatever will give us a semblance of rightness, of peace. Broadchurch, which looks on the outside to be a pleasant seaside community, turns out to be a bunch of hiding, guilt-ridden silos afraid of who they really are.

Ivan & Alyosha’s “Running For Cover” captures this powerfully. The song is a beautiful, cosmic, and personal retelling of the whole human experience. We know we aren’t okay, so we hide. We regret. We become shells, presenting to the world what we think it wants to see. We obey the law publicly, to make up for our private inadequacies. Adam and Eve had their fig leaves, we have our manners. It’s pure, utter isolation brought on by our need to fix our guilt.

David Foster Wallace pinpointed this phenomenon of isolation in a passage from Brief Interviews With Hideous Men:

When they were introduced, he made a witticism, hoping to be liked. She laughed extremely hard, hoping to be liked. Then each drove home alone, staring straight ahead, with the very same twist to their faces.

The man who’d introduced them didn’t much like either of them, though he acted as if he did, anxious as he was to preserve good relations at all times. One never knew, after all, now did one now did one now did one.

It’s precisely such interactions that make our lives a duality. Insecurity does everything it can to prevent true intimacy. We instinctively run for cover. We create cocoons––tombs––that are hard and beautiful in order to conceal the soft, ugly reality of being a sinner. The people of Broadchurch aren’t much different than anybody else, except that their whitewashed tombs get turned inside out in the hunt for Danny’s killer.

 

The Law of Broadchurch

The fungus of sin grows under the stone tablets of law. The law of Broadchurch was put-togetherness. Smile. Wave. Remember your manners. These laws provided enough cover to shield the community from themselves.

But it wasn’t the niceness––the law––of Broadchurch that is the problem. It was the people trying to live up to the standards of Broadchurch-ian perfection. It is very Romans 7-ish––they grew even worse under the weight of the expectations of goodness. Their law was simultaneously the most attractive and most crushing thing about Broadchurch as a town. It was a perfect place full of imperfect people pretending they are perfect.

But this law couldn’t keep Danny Latmer alive, and it couldn’t keep the town from the personal shame, embarrassment, and pain that comes when the truth is brought out in the open.

I’m Tired of Hiding

Eventually, something has to give. We can’t hide forever. Pretending that everything is okay when it’s not is one of the easiest ways to facilitate a psychological breakdown. We weren’t created with the capacity to absorb our own guilt.

Joe Miller was able to live with the guilt of his, granted very extreme, crime for about two months. His tomb of faux-goodness couldn’t hold in the stench of wickedness permanently. When Joe confesses to DI Hardy, he utters the most true thing anyone says during the season, “I’m tired of hiding”. He knew what awaited him––prision, a ruined family, shame beyond most people’s comprehension.

But confession was worth it––even without the hope of Redemption or Grace.

The confession may be the end of Joe’s story but thankfully not of ours. The simple phrase that he utters is the doorway to grace. Jesus came into the world to bring us out into the open, to take our shame and remove the millstone of law from around our necks. Jesus came because we are not as far removed from the Joe Millers of this world as we would like to think.

Even when we have to face the legal and interpersonal consequences of our transgression, the liberating grace of Christ takes away the Worst Thing: the shackles of guilt, the condemnation of the conscience, and crushing weight of the law.

The end of the first season of Broadchurch was perfect. I would’ve been happy if they had just dropped the mic and walked away, never to do a season two (which, a few episodes in is pretty good, even if it has yet to move me like season one). In the end, after everyone had been exposed as broken, awful people, when the worst of the worst had happened, the town was still standing. Instead of, like the always-hokey BBC advertising would lead us to believe, the secrets didn’t destroy Broadchurch, they helped to heal it. Despite, or perhaps because of, the horrible cost of Danny Latmer’s life, they––at least for one shining moment––came out of hiding.