GRACEPOINT: “Episode Two”

The small town of Gracepoint isn’t as idyllic as it once seemed, as a web of lies is revealed.

Anyone’s capable of murder given the right circumstances.
-Detective Carver

No. Most people have a moral compass.
-Detective Miller

Compasses Break.
-Detective Carver

Note: A heartfelt thanks to David for handling “Episode One” for me while I was on vacation last week, and some quick housekeeping. I’ll be the regular writer covering Broadchurch America, uh, Gracepoint. Like David, I’m a big fan of Broadchurch, and it’s impossible to ignore the feeling that the American version is, indeed, a “karaoke” remake of the original. I’d urge everyone who has the least bit of interest to go out and find Broadchurch on the web. It’s stellar. That said, I’ll do my best to not make these write-ups an endless string of comparisons between the two series, unless something is especially noteworthy. Let’s get to it.

It’s easy to feel a Twin Peaks influence on Gracepoint. Both shows revolve around the brutal murder of a young person and the effects of that killing on an otherwise quaint, northwestern town. Furthermore, both murder investigations are headed by outsiders whose questioning reveals secrets hiding under the town’s idyllic façade. That said, Emmett Carver is no Dale Cooper, and Gracepoint has no interest in David Lynch’s overt weirdness, but there’s no escaping the similar themes of darkness lurking under the surface in small town America. Now that the news of Danny’s murder has settled in to the town of Gracepoint, the residents are settling in to the investigation, and hidden secrets are bubbling to the surface.

As Carver pointed out to the police chief last week, his experience in murder investigations doesn’t just make him the best man on the force for the job, it makes him the only man for job. The Gracepoint police force is used to investigating smalltime theft and locking up drunks – not solving community shattering killings. Carver barely has the resources he needs to head a decent investigation. Press statements have to be issued. New phone lines have to be laid to handle the influx of calls. Half of the force is currently contracted out to handle the country-time security of something called “Whale Fest.” Carver is dismayed. His first move is to make finding Danny’s missing cell phone and skateboard a priority.

Now that Danny’s death has been ruled a homicide, the investigation starts with his family. The Solanos have to deal with the blow of Danny’s death while also aiding the investigation, giving fingerprints and having sections of their house roped off with crime scene tape. A search of the house turns up two unexpected finds: $500 dollars in cash in Danny’s room, and a small bag of cocaine in his sister Chloe’s. They’re the first strands of a web of secrets that will stretch across the town. Chloe says she’s simply holding the cocaine for her sometimes employer, Gemma Fischer, the owner of the local inn, but she doesn’t know anything about the money. Danny’s Mom, Beth Solano, is starting to break under the strain of her immense emotional pain. Complicating matters is her newly discovered pregnancy – so new that she hasn’t even told her husband yet. She confides the pregnancy to her priest, Paul Coates, after she breaks down in the grocery store parking lot, but swears him to secrecy. Father Mark Solano seems emotionally distant, not even tearing up until he sees Danny’s body for himself at the coroner’s office. Furthermore, a local closed circuit TV camera captured him in his car, waiting for someone outside a beach house near the crime scene. A power outage cuts the footage before the investigators can see who he’s meeting.

A complicated enough web for you? That’s just Danny’s immediate family. There’s also Susan Wright, a local cleaning lady who cleans the aforementioned beach house. When Detective Carver stops by to get the beach house keys from her, viewers can make out Danny’s missing skateboard hidden at the back of her closet. And what about Jack Reinhold, the local bike and kayak store owner? He says he saw Danny arguing with an unknown backpacker on the beach a few weeks back. Who is the mysterious IT man who says Danny is sending him messages from beyond the grave? Add to that to Danny’s best friend, Tom Miller, deleting all of his phone messages and his hard drive and a serious web of lies and secrets is starting to develop.

But if the murder investigation serves as the show’s skeleton, then the relationship between detectives Miller and Carver is its heart. There’s an ebb and flow between Anna Gunn’s Ellie Miller and David Tennant’s Emmett Carver. Miller, the local, is processing the murder as much emotionally as she is logically. “The Solanos did not hurt Danny,” she insists to Carver one night as they review the case. “Are you saying that as a detective or as someone who knows them?” he asks back, cryptically. “You have to learn not to trust. You have to learn to see this town from the outside.” Carver seems almost robotic in his logical approach to the case, so much so that it’s pushing the emotionally wracked Miller to a breaking point. A shot of the pair from behind a conference room window shows the truth; Carver and Miller are on different sides of the same table, and each encapsulated by a separate window. Partners or no, the two are currently worlds apart, philosophically divided from each other.

Carver is a callous, doubting loner carrying his own secrets. What, exactly, happened in Rosemont that makes one of the reporters hate him so much? Why does he need to stab himself with what looks like an Epi Pen to keep from passing out? Who is the young girl he has a picture of in his wallet? Ellie can’t bring herself to see any hidden evil in the people she’s known and lived with for years. Carver is a workaholic, but she has a family to lean on. She brushes off concerned parents inquiring about the investigation so she can spend a few minutes with her husband and son, lovingly embracing them. If Carver is coldhearted, she’s trusting. You can really know someone. She has a loving family to prove it.

If criticisms of “Episode One” centered on its production as a near shot-for-shot remake of Broadchurch, I think “Episode Two” finally has Gracepoint finding its own footing a bit. It’s still telling the same story, but it’s starting to change up the pattern. “Episode Two” is more sure of itself, willing to move to its own beat. I just wish it had made a few more changes. The town of Gracepoint doesn’t work very well in the Northwest. There’s little sense of a geographic town — just different scenes shot here and there. It doesn’t work cohesively to present Gracepoint as a quaint community. I think they would have found a better atmosphere on the rocky coasts of New England where that feel is already built in.

The episode ends with the investigation focusing on Danny’s father, Mark, and his alibi unraveling. The investigators know he wasn’t on a call the night of Danny’s murder. He was meeting someone outside the beach house, and the investigators were forensically able to identify the beach house as the scene of the murder. Worse, his fingerprints were found inside along with evidence of a recent cleaning. The web of lies around Gracepoint is quickly becoming a net, and Mark looks poised to be caught in it unless something changes quickly.

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