GRACEPOINT: “Episode Seven”

Ever wonder what Gracepoint would look like if it detoured from Broadchurch‘s plot line? Welcome to “Episode Seven.”

It’s always the same. All you care about is other people’s children.

-Julianne Carver

It was bound to happen. As I mentioned earlier this season, Fox’s Gracepoint is ten episodes long, but the British series that it’s based on, Broadchurch, was only eight. At some point Gracepoint was going to have to either drag out its storyline or invent new plot points. “Episode Seven” finally gives us the answer, and it’s firmly the latter. Gracepoint is moving into original territory, and that’s good news.

The investigation is growing stale. That’s both a narrative fact and commentary on the series itself. The Gracepoint Police Department simply doesn’t have enough funds or manpower to continue the search for Danny Solano’s killer as a department-wide 24/7 operation.  The case is going cold, uneasy as that may make the town’s residents. Gracepoint is only so big, and there are only so many people to investigate. How many times can Detectives Carver and Miller investigate local parish priest Paul Coates or plumber Vince Novik? And how many times will the audience be willing to watch it? Even at just eight episodes, Broadchurch was starting to show its seams at this point in the season, so new angles on the story are a welcome breath of fresh air.

A week after fingering Jack Reinhold as a guilty pedophile on their front pages, the yellow journalists covering the Solano murder loudly proclaim the deceased sporting goods salesman an innocent man without any hint of irony. That their tabloid stories helped turn the town against Jack and probably lead to his suicide is completely unmentioned. San Francisco Globe reporter Renee Clemons, at least, seems to have fled the town in embarrassment. Now the papers turn their attention to a new target: Detective Emmett Carver. “Is This the Worst Cop in California?” a headline asks. With Danny Solano’s murder still unsolved and the specter of whatever happened during the Rosemont investigation hanging over his head, it might even be a fair question. We still don’t know what happened in Rosemont, but it doesn’t seem to bode well for Detective Carver. Thankfully, he has other things to keep his mind busy.

In typical Carver fashion, he attends the funeral for Jack Reinhold simply to observe the townsfolk. The murderer might have a guilty conscience, after all. It’s almost a relief to see Joe Miller tear into Carver after he attempts to question young Tom Miller without either Joe or Ellie present. “You assume the worst in people,” he says. “I’d feel sorry for you if you weren’t making everyone in this town so miserable.” Carver remains intent on investigating every lead he sees, no matter how small. It’s not pleasant, but it might help solve the Solano case one of these days…maybe. Joe Miller might come to appreciate Carver’s tenacity, however, when the tables turn and Tom disappears while riding his bike to school. After weeks of feeling smothered, Tom begs his father for the space to go to school on his own, and then promptly disappears. Suddenly Gracepoint has a missing child on their hands, and rampant questions about a possible serial murderer attacking young boys.

The decision to have another child disappear is a curious one. As I said, it’s also completely original to Gracepoint. On one hand, we’ve already seen the ways that a terrified town deals with crimes against children. We’ve seen a marriage breaking under the strain of a lost child (why couldn’t you just walk Tom to school like Ellie wanted, Joe!?). In a lot of ways, Tom’s disappearance feels like a bit of a retread of the Danny Solano story. That said, it also turns the tables on our characters and leads to some really interesting character moments.

After weeks of being the conciliatory best friends, Tom and Ellie suddenly find themselves turning to Mark and Beth Solano for comfort – the only other Gracepoint residents who understand their pain. Mark Solano, especially, channels his grief into effort, leading teams of residents on search hikes through the woods. Finding Tom Miller becomes an act of catharsis. Mark may be unable to save his own son, but finding Tom alive may bring him some measure of comfort.

And so, just when the investigation looked like it might stall out, the community finds renewed vigor. Detectives Carver and Miller focus their attention on the mysterious hiker Lars Pierson, an odd figure seen in Danny Solano’s company a few weeks before his disappearance. Tom was last seen riding his bike in the direction of Pierson’s cabin, so the former military man with a history of psychotic episodes seems like a good person to start their investigation with. Unfortunately, Lars Pierson is a highly confused man who hasn’t taken his psychotic meds in some time. He has trouble knowing what day it currently is, much less what he and Danny Solano talked about weeks ago. With a lack of clear answers, the emotionally ravaged Ellie Miller has nothing to do but scream at Pierson. He has nothing to give her, and, as a result, Miller has no avenue to channel all of her rage. She can scream at Lars Pierson, but that won’t help find her son. Carver rightly asks her to recuse herself from the interview.

Carver’s path to answers isn’t any easier. After weeks of pathetic voicemail messages to his daughter, Julianne Carver herself shows up unannounced in Gracepoint just as Tom Miller disappears. Yet after begging his daughter to contact him, he finds he has no time for her once she arrives. In fairness to Emmett Carver, he does have a missing child to deal with, and Julianne showed up unexpectedly at the worst possible moment. He doesn’t have time to sit and chat with her, but begs her to stick around until after they find the missing child. But, of course, it’s not to be. After pleading with her evasive father for answers about the heart medications she finds in his desk drawer, Julianne leaves town before Emmett Carver can really speak to her. In a town ravaged by fears of child abduction, Carver’s 17 year-old daughter walks herself to the bus station. While every other parent in Gracepoint is holding their child a little tighter, Julianne leaves town alone, her father absorbed in the case of another missing kid. She’s presumably seen her father working cases like this before, and the way it lead to her parents’ divorce. Emmett Carver always seems to find the time for any wronged child he comes across – unless that child is his own daughter.

Carver, for once, takes the kinder, gentler path in questioning a suspect, with Miller having already raged in Pierson’s direction. Carver makes sure that Pierson is fed and somewhat comfortable, and eventually finds some clarity in the confused hiker’s thoughts. Yes, Lars Pierson spoke with Danny Solano in the weeks before his disappearance. Danny needed help with a crossword puzzle (from the same puzzle book he stole while riding around with Dean Iverson?), and Pierson knew the answer. Danny expressed a wish to get away from Gracepoint and see the world, and Pierson gave Danny his phone number in case he needed someone to talk to. Par for the course on Gracepoint, the information, rather than incriminating Pierson, casts a shadow on Danny Solano himself. Why did he want to get away from Gracepoint, and what was he trying to get away from? We’ve seen that Danny, like everyone else in Gracepoint, had his own hidden secrets. Unfortunately, we’re still not sure what they are. Neither are we sure what happened to Tom Miller. “Episode Seven” ends with Mark Solano stumbling on Tom’s bike in the woods, but the boy is nowhere to be found.

For a show that’s technically admirable, but has struggled to replicate the chemistry and mood of its parent series, “Episode Seven’s” detours from its source material offer Gracepoint a chance to stand on its own. So far, that’s a wise choice. It halts Gracepoint’s constant comparisons with Broadchurch, and delivers a wealth of strong character moments. I hope that continues.

Hope: something that’s on short supply in a town suddenly dealing with a second missing child. Where is Tom Miller? And does that answer get us any closer to who murdered Danny Solano?

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