[2020 note: and then I took another 4 months to finish post-production on this draft and publicize it.]
BACKGROUND: I went into this with basically NO idea what was going to happen, or even what the premise of season 2 was. I was so flush with joy and enthusiasm after season 1 that I forgot most of what I'd haphazardly seen on Tumblr. Basically, I knew about "there is only one bed" and I knew there was going to be even more Hardy whump & we were going to meet his ex-wife and daughter.
Things I didn't know:
-That season 2 was going to cover Joe's trial in real-time detail
-EVE FLIPPIN' MYLES WAS GOING TO BE IN IT, somehow looking even more beautiful than she did on Torchwood 7 or 8 years earlier (God I am so glad I kept this otherwise useless icon)
-That to keep the murder-mystery suspense going, we were going to covertly investigate and solve the Sandbrook case that had loomed so large and mysterious and delicious in the background of season 1.
And THAT is really why I am so head over heels about season 2, because Sandbrook is so much more fascinating than Danny Miller's case (sorry to prove the stereotype true, but missing/murdered girls do trap your heart more than boys). It's darker, it's more tragic, it's two unsolved cases for the price of one, and it has the added benefit of being the one that got under Hardy's skin and poisoned him from the inside out into the walking wreck we know and love.
The other reason I love season 2 so much is Claire, who showed up at the beginning of episode 1 and immediately won my entire heart. One other thing I knew going in was the jokey "Here lies Hardy: he never scored" Tumblr post implying that he never gets a satisfactory love interest, which meant I knew from the moment she was introduced that there had to be some reason I shouldn't ship her with Hardy.
BUT DO YOU THINK THAT STOPPED ME FOR ONE SECOND??
"Detective spirits away a vulnerable woman to protect her from a dangerous ex" is like, my number 1 shipping crack. Are you kidding me? Never mind that they both have extremely gorgeous and expressive eyes, which Claire uses to devastating effect in making herself look anxious and worried and desperate for his help. CRACK, I SAY.
(also Claire is totally the model I ended up using for the girlfriend in Dervla McTiernan's DS Reilly series)
But more on this later; let's start some real categories.
-LOVED Marianne Jean-Baptiste! My brain still refuses to accept that she's an English actress, though. Her American accent was so natural on Without a Trace that her real one legit sounds fake.
-HATED her victory-hungry, power-mad junior associate, treating people and their pain like characters in a computer game she's trying to win. It made even more sense a month later when I realized she was played by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, a woman I'm already sick of from her gross role on the exceptionally gross "Fleabag*," whose gifs were so intolerable I finally had to blacklist it on Tumblr, and who has endeared herself to me less every time I've heard her speak.
* A quick side rant: listen, I would almost get it if you had an actual hot priest, but DO YOU HAVE EYES.
-Super bored by the new prosecuting attorney, so it was kinda convenient that her romance dovetailed with the newspaper lady I care about equally little. I feel like Erin Kelley, who worked so hard to add additional mentions into her novel of said news reporter's girlfriend (someone barely referenced in the show), probably did not love that part.
HOWEVER, even though I didn't enjoy her personally, I loved her professional sparring with the defense lawyer.
JOE MILLER TRIAL
-I was genuinely stunned when he pleaded not guilty. MAN that is some blatant refusal to accept responsibility for one's actions. I love that season 2 does such a good job of turning him a pathetic, sniveling sore loser, because even when I wasn't enthused by him in season 1, I never questioned that he and Ellie were a good match, and it makes your heart just BREAK for her now, what her husband has turned into, the man who will always be the father of her children.
-It is also honestly so wild to me that a FULL AND DETAILED CONFESSION IN A POLICE STATION can be stricken from the evidence. I know there are probably good legal reasons for preventing false/coerced confessions, but like......NO. Gross.
-I saw a review that expressed disappointment about how season 2 was handling the trial, and how all those good, narratively satisfying things that we loved in season 1 (like Ellie attacking Joe) were ripped away and we were made to see them as bad police work, retroactively stripping us of their entertainment value. But I actually love that?
I still love how it happens in season 1, and I love that when they got a surprise season 2 they actually sat down and were like, "How would this case, realistically, hold up in court?" Because most crime shows don't ask us to do that. They say, "The bad guy was caught and the good guys will win on the clear evidence, every time." You never question it. I LOVE being questioned, just this once.
-REALLY love that they tried to portray Miller & Hardy as having an affair -- using very good circumstantial evidence to do it. I remember worrying in the back of my mind about Ellie kicking her husband when he was on the ground, but it had NEVER occurred to me that that lovely chat at the end of 1x08 would be considered unseemly. But he was living in a hotel room. And she did go to see him alone. At night. My mouth was just falling open in shock and awe and secret delight as I confusedly but complacently followed the series of questions until I realized where it was going.
-Another thing I didn't think about when Beth (thankfully) decided to keep the baby: that just deciding to do that wouldn't be enough to heal all the cracks in their marriage. Because we're all conditioned to assume that wanted pregnancy = happy ending and bob's your uncle and that's that. That confession about how he was actively planning to leave Beth for Becca was BRUTAL (and also a giant asshole move on his part, because like...did they find a letter? No! Nobody knew about the letter! You could have just said you went somewhere to think about what move to make next, arsehole).
-The only good thing about it was that it allowed for a mending of the rift between best friends. I loved Ellie following her out of the courtroom and ignoring all resistance to hugs until Beth accepts the comfort and keeps sobbing in her arms. LADIES WHO DON'T NEED THEIR TRASH MEN SQUAD, REPRESENT.
-Anyway, I love how Beth has to just keep struggling through, now that it's too late to change her mind about the pregnancy. I love her finally finding the inner strength she needs and telling him she'll do it without him if she has to. I love how by the end, his weakass man-baby self is like "you said you didn't need me" and is all set to peace out when she reminds him, no, you idiot, she'll do it without you if she has to. She'd rather you want to change enough to remain part of this family, and specifically partners with her. Mark is still worthless but -- as Ellie shares -- forgivable offenses are very different from those that are not.
-I was STUNNED that Joe was actually found not guilty. Yes, even after watching the whole trial. Full-freedom not guilty?!?! I just honestly couldn't believe that a child-murdering monster could be set free, never to be prosecuted, probably within his full legal rights to request shared custody of his children (That is by far the worst part. Someone this self-centered will absolutely convince himself it is his RIGHT to continue to have a relationship with his kids.)
-Which is why I really loved the threat of a group mob murder, with the full cooperation of the local vicar. I approve of vigilante justice when the legal system has failed to protect someone who is guilty beyond all doubt (see also: The Escape Artist), but it's better here that they put the fear of death into him and then let him go like the sniveling baby he is. GRAB YOUR CLOTHES AND GET GONE, to sing some Rihanna at you in a different context.
MILLER & HARDY: BROTP
-I love that she does all the driving this season because he can't. She could absolutely refuse to chauffeur him around, but she does.
-The car ride, where he talks about finding the girl's body? Tears streaming / down my fa-ace
-Her YOU ARE A KNOB, THE BIGGEST KNOB IN ALL THE LAND expression after she realizes he's failed to tell her that "the detective who can reopen the case" is actually the same person as "my ex-wife." And the fact that she whacks him on the arm as punishment afterwards. I also love his stubborn refusal to either meet her eyes or look ashamed about it, in very much the manner of a dog who knows they have broken the rules but will 100% do it again at the first opportunity
-Her expression when she founds out he's just casually checked himself into the hospital for life-threatening surgery and made sure she wouldn't know about it until after the fact. ALEC, WE TALKED ABOUT THIS.
THERE IS ONLY ONE BED
Gets its own category because this scene is actually one of the reasons I decided to investigate the show, because LMAO WHUT. Who just goes around writing a fanfic trope into their serious show?!?! The kind of person who wants to launch a thousand fanfics, I guess. We're talking about a woman sharing a bed with a man who canonically has nightmares and sometimes thrashes or screams himself awake. Which is also a fanfic trope. It is either the most genius or the most irresponsible thing to put those two together. My money is on the former.
Anyway, there are 80353 things to love about this scene, so Imma just list them all.
-"A'ight imma might head out and sleep in the car." / "how about no because you have a serious heart condition"
Verbatim follow-up quotes:
"It''s not a condition." / "Oh, it's TOTALLY a condition."
-There is a very fleeting and yet pleasantly domestic-feeling moment when she points out he's sitting on the covers and he apologizes and shifts so she can get under them. Also, Ellie's matching pajama set is so cute and cozy. Also, it is kind of adorable how stiffly he pulls the blanket up and lies there like a tin solder.
-The bizarre fact that he sleeps in his suit pants and button down shirt, which I have no explanation for. We've seen him in comfy sleepwear multiple times, so what the hell? That said, Ellie hasn't, so I have to assume she had some jarring thought that if he was assuming he'd have his own room and isn't wearing pajamas then he must normally sleep in his underwear / naked "OH DEAR GOD BRAIN BLEACH." Maybe that's the logic leap that led to her breaking the awkward silence by asking about his sex life.
-"Go to sleep, Miller" is so Tired and Done With This Conversation that it makes me laugh every time.
-I also love that he decided he should say this instead of confirming he did not have sex with Claire. (Which, I mean, is an important baseline to establish -- it's not very helpful if you only give non-commital responses to things that are true -- but still.)
-I may have screamed that the scene then shifted to either a memory or a fantasy of Claire's face on a pillow next to him...
-Two seconds after I found out about the novel for season 1, I found to my immense disappointment that season 2 did not have a novel -- but it did have officially commissioned, brand new short stories, one to pair with each episode of the season. I scrutinized them carefully and ultimately bought volume 2 (stories 5-8) for $2 + tax and it is totally worth it for the last two stories alone, one that illustrates Claire's background (hi i love her so damn much), and another that showcases Hardy's day prior to the start of 2x01 and how he gets Claire set up in her hideyhole.
-"I don't like 'Alec,'" says the man who doesn't say boo when Claire uses it constantly.
-I absolutely loved her insta-bond with Ellie (most of it). DRUNKEN GIRLFRIENDS!!
-When I tell you I SCREAMED at the opening scene of episide 7 -- I was fooled, hoodwinked, snookered, bamboozled! I really believed it that was a scene of post-intimacy! But of course Alec Hardy is above compromising use of a power imbalance, no matter how much I might want it. Then, finding out that scene actually took place in a clinic where Hardy took her to have an abortion -- I had to laugh, because of course you wrapped my fondest desire in THE WORST POSSIBLE PACKAGING.
But you know what, I ain't even mad. He did something out of a desire to help her, and he canonically laid down next to her and listened with soft caring eyes while she talked things out to herself, and he canonically tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, and really, what else did you think I wanted them to have slept together for?
I still can't believe this is the only gif I can find of this scene at all, because NO ONE?? has giffed the whole thing??
-Also, wow, she turns on him so fast once he pins her down in an interrogration room. "Why did you force me to have sex with you, Alec?" or as I call it, "A rude reminder about the reason that what I wanted would not have been a good idea, not because of power imbalance reasons but to protect his own ass." That's the thing I love about her character, her ability to turn on a dime from innocent lamb to conniving snake. You could always sort of feel it, feel that she was hiding something, but she gets truly nasty in ways I did not expect.
Additional fun facts: after this ship got wrecked, I accidentally went into a bit of a spiral in trying to come up with an OC because I needed so badly for there to be someone to take care of him in the state he's in, since he's worked himself to the bone taking care of others, and I pretty much ended up writing a variation on Rose into this daydream universe. "What if for Reasons he had a personal assistant or housekeeper," I mused to myself, and OH BOY HERE WE GO.
On a related note, between Claire and this fantasy, I continue to not ship him and Miller. RIP to popular fandom tides but I'm different.
THE HARDY FAMILY
"I miss you, Tess."
KILL ME. That is brutal. I don't love Tess on sight, I don't like anything I've heard about her, my freak flag for Claire/Hardy is still flying high...but he says that one thing with his sad eyes and my heart rips in two and all I want is for her to agree. He's lonely!! Nothing guts me more than a man who just wants to be married and live with his kid(s) but can't have either.
Also, this scene later:
"I never said... I did love you for that."
"Just not enough."
Never mind, that's the saddest thing ever. Rueful resignation, the echo of hurt still there but too old to have more than a faint aftertaste of bitterness.
AND THEN HE TALKS TO DAISY and his whole face just lights up with the power of a thousand suns. "No more broken heart."
Speaking of which, Daisy is my favorite. I know only a few more things about season 3 than I did about season 2, but one of them is that she is in it A LOT and I cannot wait. She's super pretty and her hair is amazing, a thick blonde sheet that I dream of having. There is also a deleted scene that I cannot BELIEVE was cut, because LOOK AT THIS:
It is way better than the remaining restaurant scene where she is kind of a jerk with the language (awww @ "I missed her change"), but I do still love when he carefully stands up and puts himself between her and the somewhat menacing man making inappropriate and vaguely threatening-sounding comments.
HARDY HEALTH WATCH
A+ on getting thrown to the ground by Lee and stomped on in episode 3.
The best part about forgetting the tailor-made-for-me episode guide is that the episode 4 nightmare was all new to me. Post-nightmare crying?? Yee-haw.
Another scene I can't believe they deleted is the one where the nurse goes over what the surgery will entail, and his stricken expression is everything. "I don't want to see the bloody thing; knock me out!"
The surgery scene was great. I love the dazed "I'm alive" at the end.
leave-me-to-die.gif at Tess bringing him home, putting him to bed, and camping out on his sofa overnight just in case, especially when he wakes up to twice as many meddling women in his house as there were the night before.
And when he finally breaks down crying in the final scene of the last episode? Spectacular.
THE ACTUAL SANDBROOK CASE
I am really happy we got closure on this case. I didn't realize how invested I was until we had it. I especially loved that there were multiplea nswers to this mystery, what happened to each girl and then what happened to their bodies, and all of them were satisfying.
That said I am still a super emotional mess about Claire murdering an innocent little girl to keep her from testifying to Claire's husband being a murderer. AFTER HEARING THAT SAID HUSBAND WAS A TRASH-ASS ADULTERER. It's so much worse that she did it in, twisted as this sounds, the kindest possible way. Like she was putting a cat to sleep to keep it from being shot or abandoned in the countryside. She killed a little girl that she loved, who loved and trusted her, to protect another (albeit far worse) person she loved out of insanity. It's awful and I hate it but I love how she wasn't just an easy-to-write-off villain. I've never in my life understood how you could have sympathy for a first degree murderer, but I'd vote for her to get minimum sentencing.
And I am running out of steam because it actually took me so long to finish up this post that David Tennant has rotated back into the recesses of the fandom storage vault as first The Office and then Criminal Minds surged to the forefront -- I never did get to season 3! -- so I have forgotten a lot of what I wanted to say about this, but just know that I was invested in every twist and turn.
THE FAULTS IN OUR STARS
Literally the only complaint I have about season 2 is the sex. What the hell. Why does Ellie have to screw some rando just to realize she feels sad and empty about it? Why does this show have to have multiple uncomfortably mature sex scenes? Who the hell looked at season 1 and was like, "This was good, but you know what would really make it pop?? More onscreen banging." All of it is gross and none of it adds anything to the emotional impact of the story.
I will maybe allow that the one with Claire is somewhat effective in showing how the hell she is so addicted to her trash man and why she falls apart and turns into a sex-addled fog brain in his presence, but that's also the worst one so I would rather not.