GRACEPOINT: “Episode Eight”

One step forward, two steps back. It’s the Gracepoint two-step.

You probably came here looking for answers and I don’t have them. My life got stolen from me that day. I can’t get back from that.

-Nina’s mother

Gracepoint got a much-needed boost last week when it injected new plotlines into the Broadchurch story. Tom Miller’s disappearance flipped the script for our characters, allowing Detective Miller to experience the pain of losing a child while letting the Solanos provide some comfort to an anguished family. It worked. So how did Gracepoint follow up their best episode yet? Tom Miller reappeared during the opening segment, creepily walking out of the woods as though he was unable to hear the 30-man search team that had combed the place for hours.

Tom Miller’s disappearance ultimately leads to nothing. He wanted to help solve the investigation so that he could get his mom back; he’d barely seen Ellie in the weeks since Danny Solano’s murder investigation started. Tom thought that if he went to Lars Pierson, he could convince the backpacker to confess and Danny’s murder would be solved. Apparently little Tom ascribes to the Hamlet school of murder investigations, thinking that if the murderer (Pierson) was confronted with his crime (seeing one of Danny’s puzzle books), the overwhelming grief would cause him to admit to it. Admittedly, this makes no logical sense. It sounds like a great way to get oneself killed (if Pierson had actually been the murderer – he’s not). Maybe confronting murderers without backup is just genetic, but more on that later. In the end, Tom’s disappearance was just a time-filler as Gracepoint stretches Broadchurch’s storyline from eight episodes to ten. Sigh.

So who are our suspects now?

Paul Coates – Priest

It seems like the show’s been looking at Paul Coates for weeks, even if Miller and Carver haven’t fully investigated him yet. How are they just now getting around to collecting a DNA sample from a man with a creepy connection to Beth Solano and no alibi for the night of the murder? Detective Carver is supposed to know how to investigate a murder, right?

Let’s be honest. Paul Coates is a weirdo who probably deserves to be punched in the face. When he’s not injecting himself into Mark and Beth’s business, he’s getting in front of any camera that needs a sound bite for the late night news. Even while Mark Solano is leading the search for the missing Tom Miller, Paul is there, constantly hounding Mark about his desire to help the Solanos in any way he can. The priest can’t seem to understand that what Mark wants is to be left alone. Paul loudly singing hymns while searching for Tom is incredibly annoying. When the community needs to be loved, Paul gives them tongue-lashing sermons. When the community needs physical aid, Paul injects homilies where none are needed. His bedside manner is terrible.

Paul is obviously still in love with Beth Solano, who he had a relationship with in high school. Beth views it as a close, platonic friendship, but the priest seems to struggle with an unrequited love. Add that to the revelation that Paul attends narcotics anonymous meetings, has no alibi, and was responsible for finding both Tom Miller and his bicycle, and it makes you wonder just what’s going on with the priest. Paul may not be a murderer, but he should definitely consider a new line of work.

As Paul walks home that evening, he sees Tom Miller smashing his laptop under a streetlight as he attempts to permanently destroy the secret data that he previously deleted from his hard drive. What is Tom trying so hard to hide? Again, guilty or not, things seem to just drop themselves into Paul’s lap.

Susan Wright – creepy cleaning lady

We know that Susan Wright is an assumed name. We’ve seen Susan threaten to have Kathy Eaton raped if she were to reveal that information to anyone. We know that she’s got something weird going on with Vince. And, most importantly, we know she’s the one with Danny’s missing skateboard.

That tantalizing item finally reenters the story this week when Susan gifts it to Tom Miller, telling him that he should have his friend’s beloved skateboard. Joe Miller, seeing it as the important piece of evidence that it is, immediately alerts the authorities. As much as we’d all love to hear the story behind why Susan Miller secretly possessed the case’s most valuable piece of evidence, she’s not talking until the police find her missing dog. Where the heck is her dog? Accomplice/victim Vince took the dog home when it was left tied to a post, because nothing can ever be easy on Gracepoint. (Aside:  I contend that one of the show’s greatest sins is naming Susan’s dog Archie. That’s a terrible dog name.)

The Cabin Invader – Identity unknown

As Carver and Miller attempt to question Susan Wright, they’re confronted with a new problem. Someone reports seeing lights in the cliffside cabin where Danny is presumed to have been murdered. That cabin is taped off as evidence. No one should be there. Is it the killer returning to the scene of the crime?

The two detectives head to the cabin without backup to try to catch whoever is in the cabin (see where young Tom gets his ideas?), and end up chasing a hooded figure through the woods. It’s the closest Carver and Miller have ever been to catching the murderer, and the detectives shoot at him as he flees through the woods. The two detectives are closing in on him when Carver collapses during the chase, grabbing his chest. Miller stops the chase to attend to Carver, and their best suspect disappears into the night as Carver writhes in pain. Did Miller and Carver just miss their best chance to catch Danny Solano’s murderer?

Elsewhere around town:

“Episode Eight’s” best moments come with the Solano family. When Mark and Beth find Chloe dancing and hanging out with Dean, she admits that she needs an escape. The pressure of being a victim is too much, and she’s about to break under the strain of the constant pity from everyone around her. “I love Danny, but I need a break from being the dead kid’s sister. I’m buried under it,” she says. Dancing at Dean’s offered her a few hours of guilt-free alone time to just be herself and find a small pocket of joy. To her surprise, her parents understand.

Just that morning, Beth met with the mother of the victim in Detective Carver’s previous case in Rosemont. She cautions Beth to not trust Carver, placing the failed investigation squarely at his feet. But, more importantly, Beth sees the effects of a life filled with misery on a woman who shares her circumstances. Nina’s mother is a frail, pale woman who seems completely devastated by her grief. She tells Beth that her life consists of sleeping, drinking, and crying. Nina’s life ended with an unsolved murder, and so did her mother’s. She’s become a woman so trapped by her anguish that she no longer knows how to live. Rather than having any answers for Beth, she’s a warning sign of a life imprisoned by tragedy.

So Beth comes to understand Chloe’s need for escape. It’s something the entire Solano family needs, and they spend the afternoon together at a bowling alley. A few hours of games and pizza without concerned looks from everyone they see is a breath of fresh air for the family. They get a chance to live again. Unfortunately, the whole afternoon narrows down to a point where Chloe has a “big moment” breaking Danny’s family bowling record. There are hugs and tears when Chloe cheesily bowls a strike and sets a new family record. The whole thing feels awfully Hallmark Channel and makes schmaltz out of the family’s cathartic afternoon. With one afternoon of togetherness, Beth decides to keep her pregnancy, and the Solano family seems at peace with itself. I appreciate the thematic significance of Beth choosing the opposite route of Nina’s mom, but it’s all too easy.

This is frustration.

Every time Gracepoint makes a step in a positive direction, it seems to take a step backwards soon after. Now, if I were a Gracepoint apologist I would make some convoluted claim that the show’s frustrating lack of progress is intentionally representative of Carver and Miller’s stagnant investigation. Every time Miller and Carver think they have a solid lead on Danny Solano’s killer, a twist in the investigation leaves them frustratingly empty-handed and back at square one. We think we’re perturbed as viewers? Just imagine what it must be like to deal with the inability to solve a child’s murder! The show’s form is analogous to its emotional function.

However, I am not a Gracepoint apologist, and that is a stupid-ass argument.

A weeks after making their best episode, Gracepoint’s creative parties are back to squandering their show’s potential. Emotional moments are undercut by sentimentality. Gracepoint remains fascinated with coincidence. Why is Tom Miller secretly smashing a laptop where anyone can walk by and see his suspicious behavior? How does a ten year-old boy avoid a search party combing his surroundings for several hours while ignoring their calls? Why does every suspect cling to their (not so) scandalous secrets when they’re accused of murder instead of loudly clearing up the confusion? Why do Carver and Miller not take 20 officers to the cabin with them? It’s often maddening.

While Anna Gunn and David Tennant seem to finally be developing some chemistry, some of the actors still seem incredibly miscast. Michael Pena is a solid actor, but he seems completely lost on Gracepoint. The same for Kevin Rankin as priest Paul Coates. Instead of transforming the show for American audiences and growing with the lessons they learned from Broadchurch, Gracepoint continues to largely be a confusingly cast, chemistry-lacking, paint-by-numbers reproduction of the British original.

One step forward, two steps back. It’s the Gracepoint two-step week after week, and the dance goes in a circle.

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