This past July at a Television Critics Association press tour, Gracepoint executive producer and writer Dan Futterman described how the show would depart from its Broadchurch source material in an interview in Variety: “I think by the third and fourth episodes, you see very, very great detours, and it also reverts to form as well, because the genetics of the show are powerful … but we deviated as much as we wanted to and as much as we could while still trying to tell this beautiful story that has a beginning and now a different ending.”
I’ve always liked Futterman, as the son in one of my favorite movies, The Birdcage, and his guest appearances on Will & Grace and Sex And The City. I appreciate his career detour into writing (starting with the screenplay for Capote), and am trying really hard not to hold Gracepoint against him. But he and the other producers admit as much in this Variety article: The original Broadchurch, broadcast in England on ITV and here on BBC America, had a very small U.S. audience. Executive producer Carolyn Bernstein stated in the same article that the “viewing audience for Broadchurch represents really, truly less than one percent of the American television viewing population. We’re not particularly worried about the overlap.”
So there you have it: gorgeous, moody, source material, very little viewing overlap. There was never a great impetus for Gracepoint to depart from Broadchurch at all, except that a whodunit isn’t very riveting if the killer has already been revealed, even from across the pond. So they had to tweak some things. Unfortunately, the tweaks just muddled up Gracepoint.
Here are some red herrings for you:
- If Tom already knew what happened to Danny, why did he go after that stupid backpacker in the woods? I could see how he would just want to run away from the entire situation, especially his creepy dad, but if that was in fact the case, it wasn’t made very clear.
- What was the point of the spider-bite/Paul-hitting-Danny camping-trip story?
- Why did Susan insist that she saw Vince on the beach that night? In Broadchurch, this made sense because Nigel (the Vince character) and Joe were both bald, so she mistook Joe for Nigel. Here, it makes no sense, and is never really cleared up (as always, if I’m obtusely missing something, please tell me; I’m dying to tie up any of these loose ends if at all possible).
- Speaking of Vince, since Ellie’s sister also saw him out that night, it is explained that he was hunting. Why in the hell would someone go hunting at night? Is this a special accelerated degree of difficulty form of hunting? And if he was on the beach, wouldn’t his “hunting” be called “fishing”? (I’m no outdoorsman, but …)
I don’t know what Futterman believed he was talking about in that interview, because I watched both series extremely carefully, and I never saw any great, grand departure. Remember how excited we all were for episode seven, the supposed change in trajectory? And almost nothing came to pass.
One of my least favorite parts of Broadchurch comes into play here too: Carver doesn’t actually catch anybody. The killer calls him on the victim’s phone. I could be a detective if it was that easy. But Carver says he’s figured it out already anyway, due to the email records. And, it’s possible that the killer is calling because he knows he’ll be caught soon.
I hate, I really hate the plot twist that Gracepoint believes it’s so cleverly thrown at us. What’s sadder than the death of a 12-year-old boy? How about the ruination of an 11-year-old’s life by making him an accidental killer when he was just trying to protect his friend? Or the devastation of a mother who realizes (as Tom pointed out at Jack’s memorial) she doesn’t really know her son at all? Sure, there was no way that Gracepoint was going to have a happy ending or anything, but this one is even more damaging, which you wouldn’t really even think was possible.
I’ve tried to stay away from Broadchurch this entire time, but I did rewatch episode seven last week, just to check on some plot points to make sure I was remembering everything correctly. God, that show, steeped in its brooding blues and grays, and the effortless chemistry between Olivia Colman and David Tennant. Where Anna Gunn is sulky, Colman just rolls her eyes at Tennant’s Detective Alec Hardy; Colman has an inner strength that comes in handy in the final episode when she attacks her husband for being the monster that he is. In her final scenes with Hardy, their companionship actually comforts her, because she can talk to him about what happened when she can talk to no one else, so much so that there’s almost solace for them both at the end. Neither are actually alone anymore.
So Anna Gunn had extremely difficult, almost impossible, shoes to fill, but I have to say I did like her role in the final plot twist. The weird camera angles in the bathroom, and the way she finally becomes a good detective by figuring out that Tom was at the scene too. Even though Ellie’s a cop, she’s going to let her husband go down for Danny’s killing, to protect her son. It’s justice that’s outside the lines and not by the book, which you don’t often see in detective shows, and I applaud Ellie for letting Joe rot in prison. Carver’s realization about Tom at the end adds some valuable tension: Carver and Ellie are not comrades at the end, as in Broadchurch; in Gracepoint, they’re adversaries. The ending intrigued me so much that I might actually be tempted to check out the second season of Gracepoint, just as long as I hadn’t seen the second season of Broadchurch first.
Caroline Siede called Gracepoint a grand experiment, and although she’s right, I would call it an unsuccessful one as well. Sure the British show was spectacular, but the American version could have used it as a platform to vault from, instead of a pattern to trace. Gracepoint was technically well-done, morose, beautiful, but in the end, a disappointment. I wonder what it would have been like to view without seeing Broadchurch first, but the earlier show left such an effect, it was impossible to dismiss outright.
- Another Broadchurch pickup that I detested: the cheesy community bonfires popping up across the coastline. Fortunately, Gracepoint did not include the angelic vision of Danny attending the bonfire as well.
- Grateful for at least one positive moment from the finale: Carver’s decision to get the surgery and having his daughter help him.
- I should have known Josh Hamilton was too big a name to just be hanging around and picking up baby Dylan’s stuffed animals. He made the jump from banal slacker dad to completely predatory perv almost too successfully.
- “I passed the word … maybe the word was good.” To the end, Paul the priest remains Gracepoint’s most annoying citizen.
- Even though this depressing finale has undoubtedly left us all in the foulest of moods, I still want to thank you all for reading. It was fun to speculate about how Gracepoint might have turned out a bit differently.