Though the way Gracepoint is set up to tell its murder mystery (through the course of one season instead of a new crime each week) is a refreshingly different turn for network dramas, there’s something about it that just doesn’t feel like essential viewing. For one, the town of Gracepoint, for all of its supposed charm, is actually more like how Emmett sees it (which is … not good). The portrayal of the town doesn’t commit fully to being a sinister place (like say, Twin Peaks), nor is it quirky enough to draw in our interest to it as something unique (like Stars Hollow on Gilmore Girls). That disappointing lack of development is tempered by Beth (thanks to the excellent Virginia Kull), who keeps Gracepoint compelling, even when the show starts to slip. Hit the jump if you’re really pretty on the outside, but a wreck on the inside.
In most crime series, there’s a gnawing desire by viewers to uncover the killer. The thing that makes a good crime drama a great crime drama, though, is when the series is not beholden to the murder. In series like Top of the Lake, Happy Valley and True Detective, the crimes acted as catalysts for an exploration of a particular place and a particular world. The crime was important insofar as it opened up a darkness that needed to be exposed, but there was a life beyond it that, even if the crime wasn’t solved (or solved to satisfaction), that was beside the point. The point was everything else.
The town of Gracepoint should be driving this series, but it’s not. It’s difficult, really, to put a point on any person or thing who really does aside from Beth — her confusion, anger, grief and determination feel real. The rest is stilted, or half-formed. The banter between Ellie and Emmett is some of the show’s better dialogue, but nothing about it reveals anything deeper about either of them. This is true of Emmett in particular, who feels more like an continuous Deus ex machina than a real character. He only appears to goad Ellie into being tougher, and to make leaps of logic that move the case forward (he also seems to be the only one actually working on the case). As for Gracepoint itself, it feels like a generic collection of locales, without any real connection. Watching the show is lulling, which is not the sense we should be left with after the murder of a child.
“Episode Three” mostly focused on the Solanos in the wake of Mark being brought in for questioning after lying about his whereabouts the night of Danny’s murder. It seemed pretty clear, this early into the series, that Mark was not the killer. But the evidence that mounted up against him (like about his abuse of Danny) also didn’t seem to have much of an impact on him or any other characters (besides Beth). Maybe its Michael Peña‘s mostly emotionless portrayal of Mark, but there’s just not a lot to work with — where is his indignation? or anxious concern about the truth of his affair with Gemma being revealed? Everything is played off with a shrug, except his one outburst with Paul the priest. Chloe, too, seems to regard her father’s affair without much emotion, even texting Gemma that she needs to tell the police where Mark (which, miraculously, she instantly does).
It is only Beth who infuses Gracepoint with empathy. She worries about whether or not her pregnancy is showing, and runs on the treadmill to try and make any weight gain less noticeable. Though she has a warm banter with Pete early in the hour, his questions about Mark put her on the defensive. She later, with great savvy, counsels Chloe that Pete is not their friend, and they can only rely on each other. Her statement that “you have to be older than you if necessary” was heartbreaking and true. Despite her practicality there, her emotions get the best of her later when Raymond, the psychic, confronts her about having a message from Danny. At first horrified, Beth is later drawn back into the idea because of her desperation to connect with Danny again in any way.
Though Paul (who has feelings for her that she both uses and which make her uncomfortable) cautions against it, she contacts Raymond, and hears him out. He repeats to her the same thing he told Emmett about the boat, and about being close to the person who killed him. In a devastating aftermath, Beth confronts Mark while they’re in bed together about whether or not he killed Danny. What a question at such a time — her anger and grief were so strong in that moment, it was mesmerizing.
Clues continued to pour in throughout “Episode Three,” including a few false leads regarding Mark and the blood in his boat. Disconnected from the main plot for now is pushy Renee, who aggressively confronts a variety of characters in a way that forces her into the role of Professional Accuser. It also feels like sloppy exposition. Renee tries her luck with Jack, Vince and Emmett without getting anywhere, and tries to convince Owen to help her get “in” with the locals (being a Professional Accuser probably wasn’t a great strategy, Renee), though he hesitates as well. Bits and pieces like about Emmett’s medical condition and his failure at Rosemont, as well as the confrontation with Susan, the rude trailer park woman, add information without adding dimension. There needs to be more Beth, or more people like Beth, to make Gracepoint more than the sum of its crime.
Episode Rating: B-
Musings and Miscellanea:
— I watched Broadchurch over a year and a half ago, and I really don’t remember many details. What I do remember, though, was that I could not stop watching it. Further, I recall that the town of Broadchurch was just as mesmerizing as the desire to find Danny’s killer. I don’t get a sense of that with Gracepoint at all.
— I liked that Ellie finally got a chance to razz Emmett a little bit when he didn’t want to go on the boat because he hates the water. Other than that, he was really on her case in this episode. Although, without him forcing the police work to get done, this thing would definitely never get solved.
— The idea that both we and Emmett are thwarted by the spinning color wheel to end the episode was a nice touch.
— Vince: “[The old hotel is] real pretty on the outside, but a wreck on the inside.” Renee: “my last boyfriend said the same thing about me.” Uh, awkward.
— Unnecessary dig at Anne Hathaway — have you never seen the Princess Diaries, Beth?!
— Chloe’s pally nature with Gemma when she knows she’s having an affair with Mark seems really odd. The only way I would maybe buy that is if Chloe and Beth fought all of the time, or Chloe really seemed to detest her, and even then it would be strange.
— Also, Gemma tells Ellie she was “instructed” to come in and talk to the police, but Ellie never asks her by whom.