GRACEPOINT: “Episode Six”

Let’s take a minute to remember that Nick Nolte is one of our great actors, as this week’s Gracepoint reminds us.

What happens if we never solve this case?”

-Detective Ellie Miller

Detective Emmett Carver knows the perils of an ongoing investigation. The longer Danny Solano’s murder goes unsolved, the more the town of Gracepoint continues to unravel. Carver warned Miller weeks ago that an unsolved murder draws in all types of snoops, people who want to involve themselves and put their hands all over the investigation. The creepy “psychic” Raymond Connelly and out of town reporter Renee Clemons are early examples, but Renee’s article profiling Beth Solano for the San Francisco Globe has made things much, much worse. Grieving mothers are easy and popular press, and swarms of reporters have descended on Gracepoint hoping to get the next scoop on the story, many of them not caring about what kind of damage they may leave in their wake.

As the journalists flock in, crowding front doors and sticking cameras in windows, it’s only worsening the already stressed-out town. The murder investigation has dragged on for weeks with no end in sight, and nerves are fraying. The best part about living in a small town is that you know everybody, but that’s also the worst. Who can you trust when a murderer is walking among you? What if it’s your neighbor? What if it’s your spouse?

“I’ll show you. When the chips are down, these… these civilized people? They’ll eat each other,” a man once said (it was the Joker). Now the citizens of Gracepoint are looking for a release valve. They need someone to blame, and you can bet that when they find that person they won’t react calmly.

“Episode Six” picks a bone with the press and isn’t exactly subtle about it. After discovering Jack Reinhold’s criminal conviction for statutory rape last week, Renee and Owen included that information in an article they wrote for the San Francisco Chronicle. When Owen wakes up the next morning and eagerly checks on his first byline for the major paper, he’s shocked to find that the story printed in the Chronicle is not the one that he and Renee wrote. The story has been sensationalized and points a guilty finger directly at Jack Reinhold, labeling him a confessed pedophile in the headline.

The tabloid story shocks the town, who read the article as clear evidence that the shopkeeper and wildlife club head only spends time with young boys because of his pedophilic urges. What other reason could an old, single man have for wanting to spend time around young boys? This is despite the fact that there is no evidence to support Danny’s murder having a sexual component. It doesn’t help that Jack Reinhold lives alone and has no alibi for the night of Danny’s murder, and is reluctant to cooperate with the police. He was also the person who found Danny’s missing cell phone, which is considered to be the biggest piece of evidence yet found in the investigation.

Even Dean, Chloe Solano’s boyfriend, is involved. He brings Renee and Owen a list of former wildlife club members who’ll attest that Jack Reinhold used to touch them. It’s rather innocuous stuff, like a lingering hand on a boy’s shoulder, but Dean asserts that it’s the clear mark of sexual desire. Owen wants nothing to do with the story and tells them to take their claims to the police. Already once burned and berated by his local mentor for the Chronicle story, Owen wants out.

But he seems to be the only one. Soon a petition is circulating, attempting to strip Jack of his position with the wildlife club. Detective Miller’s husband, Joe, seems to be the only person in town with reservations about signing it. Everyone else is whipping themselves into a frenzy, with Vince leading a lynch mob to the Kayak shop for a confrontation. Mark Solano is able to stop them from attacking the old shopkeeper, but he demands some answers from Jack. That’s when a hidden story from Jack’s past emerges, and, boy, is it sad. As is usual for Gracepoint, what’s on the surface is never what it originally seemed.

It turns out that Jack was once a piano teacher, and he fell in love with one of his students, a young girl. “She was sixteen,” he tells Mark. “Same age as Beth when you got her pregnant.” Jack was made an example of and sent to prison, but he later married the woman, and she bore him a son. Jack’s story reveals a man tortured by the memory of his son, now dead, and the similarities between him and Mark. Both are men who found love with underage women, and both are suffering from losing a child. “We’re the same,” Jack tells Mark. “No parent should ever outlive their child.” Jack Reinhold isn’t a monster. He’s a man suffering from grief, who just wants to spend time around boys who remind him of the joy he once had in his own young son, gone too soon.

The focus on Jack Reinhold also distracts from someone who might be a real suspect: Susan Wright, the creepy cleaning lady. We’ve seen her unsettling behavior for weeks, but last week took things to a whole new level when she threatened to have men rape Kathy Eaton, the editor of the local Gracepoint Journal, if she revealed that Susan was actually an assumed name. When the only evidence found on the beach near Danny’s body is three high-tar cigarettes, seemingly Susan’s brand, it draws the viewer’s eye in her direction. We already know that she has Danny’s skateboard hidden away in her closet, so when she invites Tom Miller, Detective Miller’s son, to come to her trailer and play with her dog, it’s just chilling.

“Episode Six” spends much less time focused on the investigation than other Gracepoint episodes, and it works in the show’s favor. We get to spend time about town, seeing the ways that the murder is tearing people apart. Owen finds that his first experience with a big-time news organization isn’t as sweet as he always dreamed it would be. Beth’s inevitable confrontation with Gemma Fisher is an appropriate flurry of broken glass. The news of Beth’s pregnancy adds another layer of tension between her and Mark. It’s all a nice change of pace. Heck, even Carver tells a pretty funny joke, allowing us to see a softer side of him for once. Talk about out of the ordinary.

But the star of the show here is Nolte. He’s seemed like such a gruff old man on Gracepoint, always speaking with the voice of an old smoker with a throat full of barnacles. It would have seemed impossible to imagine him as a wounded old man, running away from a heartbreaking past, but Nolte absolutely pulls it off. Nolte, much like Michael Keaton in Birdman, reminds us that he’s a man who was once considered a great actor. His work on Gracepoint offers us a chance to remember. In a series with a number of miscast roles (Michael Pena, Anna Gunn, and – it pains me to say it – David Tennant) Nolte has made a great turn. He’s almost as good as David Bradley from Broadchurch, and if you’ve seen that series, you know that’s really saying something.

Cleared in the investigation, but not in the court of public opinion, Jack just wants to be left alone, but when a vandal smashes his windows and scrawls “PEDOPHILE” across his front porch in red paint, he seems to know that the past he’s spend years running from has finally caught up with him. Despite years living as a popular member of the Gracepoint community, one revelation about his past – however misinterpreted – has changed him forever in the eyes of the entire community. He takes a photograph of himself from happier days, a family portrait of him, his wife, and his son, and walks into the Pacific Ocean, seemingly searching for peace. Miller and Carver find his body washed up on the shore the next morning. It’s a heartbreaking and profound swan song for Nolte and his marvelous work.

Wrapping up at the station the previous night, Miller asked Carver, “Sir, what happens if we never solve this case?” If Jack Reinhold’s story is any indication, let’s pray that isn’t the case.

Best episode of the season.

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