Ahem-hem: I wish to tentatively announce that now is the time for Broadchurch fans to tune back in to Gracepoint. We’ve begun to venture off the beaten path in ways that forcefully — maybe even too forcefully — distinguish this series from its predecessor (more on that in a minute). But we’ve also kept some of the original threads in play. Like a stringy younger brother trying to assert himself against a jock older brother, our little Gracepoint is becoming bold, sometimes impetuous. He’s making moves. We’re not always sure what he’s trying to accomplish, and he might be hurting himself along the way, but at least he’s trying to be different.
In this episode, almost everything flows from that last moment in the previous installment — Elliott watching the little loading rainbow on his computer as it waits to tell us whose number was in the lining of Danny’s jacket. (Side note: What is the little loading rainbow actually called? I feel like Steve Jobs would have named it. My admittedly half-assed Googling found no answers.) We find out that the number belongs to a disgraced war veteran named Lars Pierson, and we see immediately that this is the hiker Nick “Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum” Nolte saw with Danny before his death. No one else knows this, however, because we saw it only in Nolte/Reinhold’s memory. This we-know-but-they-don’t moment undercuts a good deal of the tension in the reveal, though not all of it — particularly when an exasperated Beth recalls meeting Pierson in the days before Danny died, and that Pierson (now somewhere in the woods nearby-ish, a fleeting shot tells us) was interested in a picture of Danny and Chloe on Beth’s desk at the Visitor’s Center.
Like the final quarter of last week’s episode, the pacing here moves at a satisfying clip: We start to see possible suspects not only in Pierson, but also Chloe’s boyfriend, Dean (easy on the eyes, not easy with the information); our priest (friendly with Beth, maybe a little too friendly with Danny’s photo); Creepy Lady With Dog (knows Vince, knows how to snap a chicken’s neck); and potentially a few others, too: the Psychic, Vince, maybe even Tom Miller, and the cops still have “Mark Solano?” written on their magic whiteboard. (P.S.: There was a lot of “keep stuff off your desk” business in the earlier episodes, but we’re cool with a giant board of info just being visible through our windowed boardwalk cop station? Just sayin’, Carver. Just sayin’.)
Speaking of Carver, he’s trying to call someone named Julianne but can’t muster up the courage 'till way late in the episode; Gemma the innkeeper is still pretty happy to talk about drugs even though she nearly got arrested for procuring cocaine (dummy!); Mark knows about his daughter’s boyfriend; Dean ominously says Danny was “a lonely kid”; Tom’s copping secret info from his mom’s stuff (for Vince? One assumes); Renee and a bottle of wine come to “take Owen’s mind” off his wayward, thieving mother; Ellie’s hubby suggests they invite Carver for dinner; and Beth waits vainly for Mark to confess his affair while she keeps her pregnancy secret.
Most important, plot-wise, a plea from Beth to Ellie to “tell them everything” turns into her and Carver showing the Solanos a tape of Danny stealing a crossword-puzzle book and souvenir pen from the gas station. What does it mean? We don’t yet know, but it certainly causes a huge blowout in the Solano household (where’s Grandma, by the way?).
Like I say — tendrils of the previous series winding in around new information. Fans of Broadchurch are now as in the dark about the potential killer as are new fans to Gracepoint. It’s an exciting time to tune in for those who were disillusioned, though you’re still likely to find some things wanting here. For one, there’s little of the haunted, creepy stillness and silence present in Broadchurch — these characters tend to say too much and do too little. It’s not shot nearly as beautifully, either, though that alleyway shot of the priest and the psychic was pretty great, as is the burning boat.
Side mysteries like the Creepy Lady With Dog Who Breaks Chickens’ Necks, Owen’s mother (and Ellie’s sister), and Carver’s Illness (and Julianne) don’t get enough time here to really pack their own punch. We’re getting a lot of new information thrown at us, and we don’t have enough hands to catch it all. It feels a little like the writers went, “Whoops, we’re four episodes in, we’d better get moving! Let’s squeeze everything we can onto this puppy and see if it still hobbles along.”
And Anna Gunn continues to be oddly placed, acting-wise, here, especially when “joking” with Carver in the car or “relating” to her husband at home. Her presence is jarring on all fronts. It feels like she’s buzzing on a different frequency than everyone else. And if she says, “What does that mean?” defensively to Carver one more time, I swear to God I’ll turn it into a spiteful drinking game, and I’ll be surly and drunk by ten minutes into any given episode.
However, there is much to like here. I’m pleased and intrigued by the Beth and Paul the Priest connection, which is certainly due in part to Virgina Kull’s deft and subtle acting here. Her vacillating emotions, her pushing away and pulling towards various people, and especially, the desperation with which she jogs away her sadness — which hearkens to a comment Mark made a few episodes back about her thwarted-by-teen-pregnancy career as a track star, and to one she made about Mark saying she’s like a dog that “needs to be walked twice a day” — is becoming the beating heart of the show. Praise be to Beth, because this show needs a heart badly, indeed.
Then, of course: the burning boat. My, oh, my, that burning boat.
The People vs. Gracepoint vs. Broadchurch (Warning: Potential spoilers ahead, or at least spoiler-y questions/observations)
In brief, this time around, as our side-by-side details are rapidly diverging:
- Both the belated burning boat and the belated dinner invite point to a sort of Sliding Doors–y type scenario playing out in future episodes — if Carver and Ellie don’t take Door No. 2 in this episode, will we never learn Detail No. 2, as we did in Broadchurch?
- The details and images from Broadchurch now threaten (promise?) to appear not totally in step with episodes of Gracepoint, which in turn becomes a bit of a fun game, not just of will-they-won’t-they, but when-will-they? It’ll be interesting to see what gets kept and what falls away as the series moves into its concluding episodes.
- But — and it’s a big but — if all this ends up being some random hiker murder, then I give up. Because the whole point of both Broadchurch and Gracepoint, the entire theme — hell, the entire genre — is small town, big secrets (as the promos suggest). And if the “big secret” is some dude who went to Afghanistan and got PTSD and then killed Danny, I dunno. It’s too loose fitting a garment for this recapper. I like my conclusions snug and well tailored. We shall see.