Grantchester is something of an oddity in the British mystery world — a character-focused drama in which the crime is often the least important thing happening in any given episode. Rather than set up elaborate red herrings to surprise viewers with the identity of who committed any given crime, the series spends its time focusing on the relationships and emotional journies of the characters at its center. Supporting figures don't exist to assist in the main investigation; they're given goals and arcs that often exist outside of the orbit of the show's main characters. Grantchester isn't just where the show takes place; it's a fully realized community with a life of its own.
To be fair, this is probably why I — an avowed mystery hater — actually like this show. But the least interesting thing about local vicar Will Davenport is that he helps solve crimes, and that fact is in abundant evidence as the show's eighth season begins. It's an hour that promises significant hanges, both of the emotional and the potentially legal variety, but all of which are ultimately grounded in long-established character beats. There's a murder mystery here, sure, but it's not what makes this hour a compelling story.
The premiere spends a lot of time catching us up on everything that's happened during the ~12-ish month gap between seasons 7 and 8: The Davenports are now expecting their first child. Will's still learning to be a stepdad while Bonnie struggles to juggle the myriad public duties that come with being a vicar's wife. Geordie and Cathy appear to have fully reconciled. And Leonard has thankfully sold the (awful) Beatnik cafe and opened a halfway house for the less fortunate because this show is about nothing so much as the fact that there are many ways to minister to others, whether or not the church is involved.
There's also a whodunnit, of course — involving a dead young biker who is killed after taking part in a motorcycle race Will also competes in — but, in many ways, both the crime and its ultimate resolution only exist to further explore the larger themes at work in each specific hour. And the season premiere is a story about fatherhood, how we can both uplift and disappoint the children in our lives and the emotional bonds that can bind those who may not be related by blood.
Now that Will is about to be a father, his struggles to parent Bonnie's son Ernie take on new meaning. The boy clearly adores his new stepfather, but Will comes from an abusive home and doesn't exactly have the greatest role model regarding what a good dad should be and do. (He also occasionally seems stymied by how easily parenting appears to come to Bonnie, but hopefully, that's who he'll eventually learn to model himself on when their baby arrives.)
Admittedly, I was also a little disappointed to see that Bonnie was already quite pregnant in the premiere if only because I'd have liked to actually see Will learn he was going to become a dad himself and the massive panic attack he undoubtedly had about that. It's truly a testament to the strength of Tom Brittney and Charlotte Ritchie's chemistry that this show has somehow skipped over almost every major milestone in the Davenports' relationship and still managed to keep viewers rooting for these crazy kids to figure things out.
Yet, it's also more than a little weird that the two keep butting heads over issues that one would have assumed most couples in their situation would have discussed before marriage, namely Will's job and what that very public-facing role means for the woman who chooses to join her life to his. Bonnie's amazing, obviously, but she's also probably one of the last people on the show's canvas that you might expect would enjoy being a vicar's wife. So it's not much of a shock to learn she....absolutely doesn't!
Forced to chair committees, attend meetings with other influential church women, and remember all the personal details of parishioners that Will never bothers to learn, Bonnie's not having a good time with many of the things expected of her as Will's spouse. But above and beyond all that, the fact that she's forced into the job of Vicar's Wife makes her feel like a hypocrite since she's not even sure if she believes in God. She's mentioned this to Will before, and he insists it doesn't bother him, but...is that true? And whether it is or not, shouldn't we at least have seen the two of them try to find a compromise over the past year?
While I'm a person of faith, I realize that not everyone else is, and I think it's vital that our pop culture reflects and explores that fact. As in most things, Grantchester has done this very respectfully, and the show doesn't judge Bonnie or anyone else for their doubts or lapses in belief. But...the residents of early 1960s England absolutely would not have done the same.
A vicar's wife who didn't believe would be a scandal if it got out, and it's hard to believe that it's not a repeated sore point in the Davenports' marriage. Does Will actually think his wife's right to not believe in anything is as important or as worthy of respect as his ardent belief? I'm not sure — and there are certain moments in this episode where it feels like he's just waiting for her to snap out of it and come back around to the church. Which she might! But also, she really might not. And either one of those choices is okay!
However, all those questions pale in comparison to the Season 8 premiere's final moments. Despite having promised his wife and his stepson that he's done tearing around the countryside on a motorbike that could easily get him killed, Will — frustrated after another fight with Bonnie — races off to let off some steam on the road.
Angry and presumably distracted, he's not paying attention when a man wanders into the road directly in front of him. Will mows the stranger down, presumably killing him instantly. Now, as this is technically a murder mystery show, so until we see a body, there's no guarantee this man is dead or that Will is primarily responsible (I mean, a random person who'd already been attacked by someone else staggering into the road just in time for Will to hit them does feel like the sort of trope-y sort of thing a show like this might do.) But isn't it more interesting if Will did kill someone, albeit incredibly accidentally?
Whether he wants to be or not, Will is a beacon of public morality in Grantchester. He's the vicar, and therefore he's meant to be generally above even the venial sins that plague the everyday villagers, let alone mortal ones like murder. How does he keep his day job in the wake of this event, let alone his side hustle as a private investigator? What police station will still allow an accused murderer to help work their cases? And how does this act impact his own faith? He's probably killed someone; how does he find a way to forgive himself for that, let alone ask God to do so?