Well, I was wrong. In the immortal words of one Willy P. Wonka, “Strike that, reverse it.” In last week’s recap, I decided that we were headed for the home stretch — that the remaining episodes of this show were going to be about honing in on Danny’s killer. What a loop we have been thrown for!
Of course, I should have known that things would get worse before they got solved; that’s classic drama structure at work. But so far, Gracepoint has been pretty light in its approach. This particular episode took us away from that and pushed us hard down the road less traveled, and it also severed most — if not all — its remaining threads to Broadchurch.
The key plot-point of this episode is the disappearance of Tom Miller, of course. It’s the event off of which everything else spokes, and it’s pretty elegantly written, to boot (for the most part, more on that in a moment). For the first time since I began watching the show, I forgot to think about it alongside Broadchurch and instead let it be its own entity, living or dying on its own merits. Mostly, it lived.
When Tom’s little brother drops his toy on the sidewalk, the increasingly taciturn elder Miller boy insists he can ride his bike the three blocks to school on his own. His father lets him, but soon Ellie gets a call that Tom is missing, and so is his bike. It’s a chilling echo to the first episode and the disappearance of Danny Solano, and it begins a town-wide circling of the wagons, spearheaded by Mark Solano — whom Priest Paul praises for his selflessness and help, only to be rebuffed, as always.
Then the spokes begin: Vince receives a delivery of brownies from Creepy Old Lady With Dog via his mother, and later confronts the former; meanwhile, he has blood on his face … from hunting, he says.
Then our PTSD-stricken hiker finally comes out of the woods, demanding a burger and fries before he’ll say anything, which is not much of anything useful but is a lot of creepy stuff about how good-looking Tom Miller is (eep). And it’s enough to set Ellie off, for which she earns a room removal by one Emmett Carver. (Aside: For the first time, during that moment, I noticed how much bigger Anna Gunn is than David Tennant. Carry on.)
Beth’s psychic also returns, this time bearing a message that Tom Miller is bleeding somewhere, which Beth imparts to Tom’s father. Beth also hugs Ellie, in slow-motion, no less, and with a look on her face that falls somewhere between relief that she’s no longer alone, genuine shock and dismay, and contentment that someone else is suffering, too. It’s a marvelous bit of acting on Virginia Kull’s part. She continues to impress me with her restraint.
Notably, all of the hubbub around Tom’s disappearance activates Ellie’s policing skills — she’s suddenly a bit of a force to be reckoned with, ordering officers around and prompting Carver to tell one, “You’d better do whatever she asks.”
Speaking of Carver, our sick dick is called a terrible detective in the paper, then nearly collapses at Jack’s memorial service before prompting a good talking to from Mr. Miller, who sees him poking at Tom about Danny (pre-disappearance, of course). We’re reminded of how shitty a parent Carver must be just as his daughter Julianne shows up by bus to … hang out for the day? For some reason, anyway, and Carver, of course, has to spend most of his day dealing with Tom’s disappearance and a soon-to-be decimated budget in the Danny Solano case. Not a great day to visit, daughter dear! She stays just long enough to confront a heartsick Emmett when she sees his medication in a desk drawer and tells him she looked it up — and it’s bad. Really bad. Uh-oh, Emmett.
Then, just like that, she’s gone — back on the bus, presumably to Rosemont or wherever. I’m not sure what to make of having her there at all, unless it’s leading to something else. It’s the least effective or interesting part of the episode, and it’s that rare case where “show, don’t tell” doesn’t work in a story’s favor. Julianne is a metaphor for Emmett’s terrible ability to parent and his obsessive tendencies. To meet her in the flesh diminishes that, and it leaves us wondering why, when she’s just a bus ride away, this is such a fraught situation to begin with. I guess we’ll see.
And we’ll see what to make of the psychic’s pronouncement, too. We have this story’s burning boat, at least — Tom’s bike, in the woods, found by Priest Paul. Or is it “found”? We’re not sure — and, if you’re like me, you’re newly suspicious of a few people: the Creepy Old Lady With Dog, Paul, even Mark. The hiker seems like low-hanging fruit, but who knows? And we haven’t heard from Chloe’s boyfriend in awhile (he who was so quick to damn Jack Reinhold, if you’ll recall). Even Renee Clemons becomes oddly suspicious after disappearing herself this episode.
What’s great now is we’re distracted — distracted from Danny’s case, and all the pressure that was building up there. This Tom story line seems like a red herring, much as Tom’s teacher was a red herring in this episode (I mean, duh, it’s not going to be someone we’ve never SEEN). And remember that Tom himself was hiding something — messages from Danny, at least, and a desire to find something out about the hiker — and maybe much more besides. He may be paying for his connection or his curiosity right now.
In summary: Where’s Tom? Is he okay? Are his disappearance and Danny’s death connected? And of course, WTF, Julianne.
The People vs. Gracepoint vs. Broadchurch (Warning: Potential spoilers ahead, or at least spoiler-y questions/observations)
Since we’re pretty far off the Broadchurch path here, I’ll keep this one brief:
- “How do we know our children are safe?” is a bigger theme here than in Broadchurch. I’d say the theme there was “How do we know our secrets are safe?” It has to come out meaning something, right?
- The potent hostility between the Priest Paul and Mark here packs a wallop; compare and contrast this to their near-invisibility to one another in Broadchurch. It has to come out meaning something, right?
- And the big one of this episode: We meet Julianne. In Broadchurch, Julianne stays where she belongs, according to this recapper: metaphorical, like a whale tale in the tide. Bringing flesh-and-blood Julianne into the episode and then disappearing her seemed both facile and flaccid.
- A friend recently reminded me on Twitter how beautiful Broadchuch’s cinematography and shot composition is in comparison to Gracepoint’s. He’s totally right. I mentioned this before, but it bears repeating. Sigh.