Gracepoint, Season 1, Episode 7, “Episode Seven”
November 13, 2014, 9:00 p.m. (EST), ABC
This week, Gracepoint finally reaches its fabled episode where it diverges from its source material. I’ve always considered the choice to wait until episode seven of a ten episode season to make changes somewhat perplexing—the show followed Broadchurch pretty much scene for scene, and now suddenly diverges for no particular reason? Yet as someone who has considered the shot-for-shot exercise tiresome and underwhelming, “Episode Seven” always held a glimmer of hope for me. Maybe this would be the week Gracepoint would step into its own. Maybe this would be the week it would become a show worth watching.
It doesn’t, at least not in any meaningful sense. The big divergence the show comes up with—the disappearance of Tom Miller—feels like a stall and a retread, something to keep the characters busy for a few more episodes until the killer is revealed. Tom’s vanishing does provide us with Anna Gunn’s best work of the series so far (as well as some more gratuitous slow-mo), but it does not leave me with much faith that this show has any interest in setting itself apart, nor that it would be able to do so even if it did. “Episode Seven” fancies itself a story about the various ways parents can neglect their children and how tiny moments of carelessness can seem as momentous as years in a panic stricken moment. But the best way it can come up with to underline this is to introduce Carver’s daughter, who shows up to complain that her dad isn’t around enough.
There’s something in the way Ellie’s anguish is mirrored in the pain of Beth Solano, but outside of that slow-mo hug, the episode never seems particularly interested in how these two very different but equally resilient women are dealing with their loss. “Episode Seven” reduces pain to an editing effect in favor of drumming up tension by taking us where we’ve already been; it ignores character work in favor of amping up the plot in ways that feel startlingly inept. Ultimately, Tom’s disappearance is nothing but a narrative feint. It aims to raise the stakes, but does so in a fairly simplistic way: you thought one lost child was bad? Think how bad two lost children will be! If Tom is intended as a thematic retread, affirming the pain of losing a child, query whether the time couldn’t be better spent with the Solanos. If his is a plot-based disappearance, it feels even more crass and unearned, the easiest route to a foregone conclusion.
The other stories going on tonight bleed together largely because none of the side characters has ever been distinctive or well-drawn enough to pull me in. There’s blood, and money, and Owen being a babysitter, but none of it really registers beyond “Oh, so this is how we’re spending these minutes.” Focus isn’t necessarily what Gracepoint needs (though I maintain that a more careful use of time and character work could benefit this show immeasurably), but “Episode Seven” feels scattershot even as it endeavors to build to a crescendo.
So far, Gracepoint’s efforts to distinguish itself from its predecessor consist of doing basically what it did at the beginning, again, only much closer to the end. What little character work we do see here is lazy stuff—I could have told you exactly what would happen in the subplot about Carver and his daughter without watching the episode—and much of the dramatic heft of this twist is swallowed up by the way the episode forgets to focus on the Millers for long enough to let their fear truly sink in. Even Ellie’s breakdown in front of Lars, the backpacker she believes may have taken her son, feels less like an authentic moment and more like a chance to let Anna Gunn remind us all how fantastic she is when given material to play. If this is what Gracepoint looks like standing on its own two feet, I’d almost rather it lean. My excitement over the show blazing its own path, finally, has been dimmed by this episode, but not extinguished. For all its flaws, “Episode Seven” is sort of like a pilot, where missteps deserve to be overlooked as a show finds its footing. This is the first episode that hasn’t relied almost exclusively on Broadchurch for a template, and while it isn’t very good, its also not atrocious or unwatchable. Gracepoint has three episodes left to figure out whether it has a story to tell beyond “this worked in England, and most of you didn’t notice,” and even if its first steps on its own are falters, it may yet learn how to stand on its own. Either that, or its destined to be a mere footnote appended to the legacy of the show it’s aped, a forgettable trifle that basically convinced us David Tennant can do a pretty ok American accent if he has to. Let’s just hope the rest of the show gives him a reason for using it.
- “You assume the worst of people at every turn.” “Sometimes I’m right.”
- “All you care about is other people’s children.”
“Episode Seven” feels scattershot even as it endeavors to build to a crescendo.