Gracepoint Recap: Nolte or Nice

Photo: FOX
Episode Title
Episode Five
Editor’s Rating

Whew. That’s the sound of a held breath let out slow, and it’s the sound I made at the end of this week’s Gracepoint. Now, madams and sirs, we are cooking with gas. I’ve been waiting for the (awesome) casting of Nick Nolte as Jack Reinhold to pay dividends, and now it finally has. This is the episode that not only explains his presence but reminds us just how dynamite an actor Nolte is, even when shuffling like he’s dragging an albatross around, not by his neck, but by the ankle, with chains.

Reinhold’s interrogation is the best scene of the series so far. His tremulous yet powerful presence lends this episode a depth of feeling and consequence that the show’s been lacking. It’s rare for a primetime procedural to really, truly make you feel how damaging a murder like this can be on a community and its individuals, and this scene did that and then some. For the first time, the show stopped gazing upon Gracepoint’s townsfolk with detachment and instead coiled itself like a python around one suspect. It’s a huge burden for one character to bear, and thankfully, Nolte is up to the task.

When Reinhold says to Carver, “I pity you, seeing depravity in perfectly normal behavior,” he’s also saying that to us, the audience, who’ve been spending the last few weeks looking at the suspects hungrily, hunting for signs of “depravity” ourselves. I felt ashamed, scolded, and sad, and so did Carver — you can see it in his eyes. But I still wasn’t — am not — sure Reinhold’s not involved. Chills! This is what great acting is for, kids. Reinhold’s complexity at Nolte’s skilled, if shaky, hand is so great that suddenly the entire series is more complex by proxy. Of course Reinhold’s alibi for the night of Danny’s killing is that he was alone, reading Infinite Jest. Metaphorically, it’s perfect.

The other events of the episode were still manifold, even with Nolte as its massive, molten core: The burned boat yields up some possible evidence and prompts further pressure by our town psychic — who, after all, warned us that Danny told him about a boat — and who is then revealed as a fraud (convicted, at that). “I’m so alone in this,” says Beth, learning that her trusted confidante is not so trustworthy after all.

This was a big episode for Beth, who calls Ellie over at 4 a.m. to ask if Mark could possibly be guilty. Really, Beth wants Ellie to tell her that Mark cheated on her with Gemma because she’s frustrated he hasn’t done so himself. Their conversation — which is more so between friends and not between a detective and civilian — is interrupted by the appearance of Paul the Creepy Priest, also up at 4 a.m. and wandering around outside his rectory (if you know what I mean). What does his chronic sleeping trouble say about his whereabouts the night of the murder? He’s alibiless, after all.

Beth also decides to grant an interview to Renee, who writes a “poor, pretty mom” profile on Beth’s thwarted athletic ambitions and her desire to find Danny’s killer. And while Renee promised Owen a shared byline, she takes this one for herself, insisting the follow up — on Jack Reinhold’s past, in which he was convicted for sex with a minor — will go to Owen.

This, in turn, forces an already-emotional Owen (bylineless, having watched his mother’s entire house be repossessed) to confront Reinhold, who attacks him. It’s Nolte’s second inspired performance in this episode, though not his last. Afterwards, you can’t help but feel Owen’s lost a father figure — perhaps the only one he ever had. It stings.

There’s also Creepy Lady With Dog coming along to the inn to apply for a job, which reveals her real name and leads her to threaten Kathy at the newspaper (“I know men who would rape you”); there’s a Carver-led town meeting; and later, there’s also a family press conference, before which Beth turns to Mark and says, ominously, “I know about you and Gemma Fisher.”

And let’s not forget the two crucial meals in this episode: Carver’s dinner at the Miller household, one in which we finally learn that Julianne is his (estranged?) 17-year-old daughter, and where we see his vulnerability and his desire, however strained, to be liked — by Miller, by her husband, by anyone. Tennant continues to reveal subtleties in this role. I’ve said it before: The choices he makes here versus Broadchurch’s Alec Hardy are sometimes minute in their differences, but they’re always appealing and impressive. His later collapse, hospitalization, and finally, tenderness with Ellie back at the station are all of a piece with him loosening up while also getting further entrenched, becoming part of Gracepoint even as he pushes harder against it. And while this could be a good thing, it’s probably going to hurt him before it helps. He’s in purgatory, remember?

The second meal of the episode is a lunch, venison courtesy of Vince, following Paul’s sermon on, among other things, the perils of suspecting one another of evil (gulp!). The gang’s all here: the Solanos, the Millers, Vince, his mom, and sundry others. A sense of something like normalcy, shared peace, even, returns, until we see that Ellie’s regarding everyone with detective eyes — could it be one of them? — and until Beth asks Tom awkwardly for a hug, because she misses hugging Danny.

Then the crack in normalcy becomes a chasm: Jack shows up, breathless, hurting, with Danny’s cell phone (found, he says, in a kayak), begging the Solanos not to see him as a criminal. It’s a heartbreaking scene, and Nolte again nails it. I was winded and teary watching him, as I was in the attack scene with Owen, and would be once more when he’s burning photos of him and Danny in a barrel at episode’s end.  

Like I said: Whew.

The People vs. Gracepoint vs. Broadchurch (Warning: Potential spoilers ahead, or at least spoiler-y questions/observations)

  • "Episode Five" here is, essentially, episode four in Broadchurch. Broadchurch’s eight versus Gracepoint’s ten — how close will other episodes hew?
  • So we do get the dinner with the Millers, only this time, it’s Mexican food, and this time, we learn that Ellie’s hubby used to be a paramedic before becoming a stay-at-home dad. This one’s a little more lightly handled than the dinner in Broadchurch, but the moment of revelation — that Carver/Hardy is a difficult man with an estranged family but wants to be liked — is equally weighted. A great scene, particularly for Tennant, in both series.
  • The priest’s sermon here is about accusation and penitence, versus in Broadchurch, where it’s about healing and kindness to one another. Discuss.
  • Owen’s confrontation with Jack Reinhold versus Mark and his mates’ confrontation with Jack Marshall in Broadchurch. Interesting twist! Discuss!
  • Jack reading Jude the Obscure versus Jack reading Infinite Jest. Discuss!
  • Yay, burning boat! Finally. But it wasn’t as dramatic here, was it? Placement? Style? Pacing? Discuss.
  • No whale tail. Boo.  
  • For all the remaining similarities in this series and Broadchurch, I’m less annoyed by them now than I was at the series’ outset. Is this just because I’m used to this show now because it’s getting better, or because the roads are now diverging in the yellow woods? I vacillate. Regardless, it’s nice to feel more on board with Gracepoint; it feels earned, and I’m now watching with renewed purpose. Hopefully you are, too.