Now that the central mystery of Gracepoint has been set up in episode one, we can set out to discover the murderer in our midst. Of course, with eight episodes to go after this week, we can only imagine that this revelation will be dragged out for as long as possible. Still, what’s engrossing about Gracepoint (and its predecessor, Broadchurch), is that it dangles enough of those red herrings in front of us so that even the mini-mysteries are intriguing.
Last week’s most unsettling moment was young Tom’s flurry of phone-message deletion and hard-drive erasing: This week, an ominous skateboard resides in the creepy trailer park lady’s closet. And how did Michael Peña transform from anguished and grieving father last week to deceitful lying brute this week? And why does Detective Carver have to stab his leg with what looks like an EpiPen?
The price of being in a small-town community is the loss of any kind of anonymity. Owen’s description of Gracepoint—20 miles from the nearest town, with only one road in and one road out—is claustrophobic enough to be panic-inducing. But, for our purposes, it makes our murderer pool small enough to deal with: The culprit is bound to be someone we’ve already seen.
Another show I’m reviewing tonight (subbing for How To Get Away With Murder) offered a similar premise last week: Anyone can be a murderer. You might be sleeping next to one in your own bed. There’s an unsettling truth that Murder points out boldly and Gracepoint hints at in its meandering way: We never really know what’s going on in someone else’s head. Our roommate, our sibling, our spouse could be a total stranger to us, for all that we’re actually aware of. And there’s something much more unsettling about the dark side of someone we know, versus an invasion from some evil stranger we’ve never come in contact with before.
The makers of Gracepoint do an admirable job of turning an idyllic small seaside town into the stuff of nightmares: I can see where some would find the shots of empty playgrounds a bit over-the-top, but I found them effective, displaying the absence of Danny Solano and how much the loss of one person can affect a small town like this. The long shots of Carver as he strides over the landscape; the ominous peerings of so far our only two out-and-out town characters: Jacki Weaver’s trailer-park lady and Nick Nolte’s gravelly kayak guy. They loom in the background of what should be a safe arena (a playground) like so much menace: They personify the danger inherent in the town, even though they may or may not be the culprits. And anguish exists at every turn: For Danny’s mother Beth, even the local supermarket is now an emotional gauntlet that she can’t escape from, filled with the smallest reminders, like her son’s favorite cereal.
Also effective: How much these small discoveries change our perceptions of these characters and which way the plot might head: A stash of $500 in Danny’s room hints that he had some secrets as well. The closet skateboard adds a whole new level of danger to that trailer. And a small stash of cocaine casts new light on not only Danny’s sister Chloe and her boyfriend, but also innkeeper Gemma, who appears to be a good person with her bar speech, but who definitely has some difficulties in the decision-making department.
And speaking of bad decision-making: Danny’s dad’s refusal to consider a decent alibi before his interview with Carver is just confounding, and Michael Peña’s portrayal makes the victim’s father appear incredibly guilty. Have these people never seen a Columbo or a Law & Order? The police always look at the family first. So for Mark to say that he can’t remember the name of the friend he had drinks with is idiotic enough to be jarring. Although there’s a nice suspenseful ending tie-in with the fingerprints reveal, but since we’re only at episode two, I’m suspecting that Danny’s dad as a suspect will lead to an inevitable dead end.
Poor Anna Gunn’s role at Detective Ellie Miller so far involves speaking to everyone in the calmest monotone possible, even her son, or the grieving family. I eye-rolled as much as Carver when she consoled Gemma about her drug charge: Gemma implicated a teenager by bringing drugs in the hotel, why should a police officer go so easy on her? Carver’s right when he chides Miller for being on the inside and needing to look at the case from the outside; she says “I know what I’m doing,” but since we know this is her first murder case, how much does she really?
What Gracepoint brings us at this point is style over soul: It looks amazing, and TMBG drummer Marty Beller seems to have taken it down a notch this week with his score, thankfully, so the nice creepy vibe remains intact throughout. The show even opens up a bit for some mild moments of levity (and a chance for Gunn to shine), like Miller and Carver sparring over burritos and my new favorite word, “assoholic.” These moments help the show delve a bit deeper than its shimmery, gloomy surface, as we all wonder what’s really going on underneath in Gracepoint.
- So in my introduction to the series last week, I could not help but compare Gracepoint to its predecessor Broadchurch. Now that the point has hopefully been made, I will try to refrain from doing so, as that would not be much of a fun read over the next several weeks (“So in Broadchurch, the weird psychic guy’s name is Steve, but here it’s Sam…”)
- It’s true, what can you possibly write in a condolence book? Although I did like Kathy’s pointing out: “What could make it worse?”
- Speaking of the weird psychic guy, he is the only anomaly in a fairly straightforward series: We want to write him off, but what about Carver and the pendant? Not sure what point the show is trying to make with this character, except that maybe not all things are as simple as they appear. Maybe there’s even more going on that we don’t even know about. It’s interesting that the show introduces the psychic the same week it spends more time on the priest, who tries to make a case for faith when faced with a situation that could not be more hopeless.