October 23, 2014 9:00 p.m. (EST), Fox
Most murder mystery stories are, on some level, about how we never really know anyone. They are stories about monsters in our midst we happen to overlook. Partly, they are metaphors for our own inability to fully see the people around us. But partly, they are accurate. Think of the clichés that is spouted whenever a serial killer is revealed: “He seemed so normal.” “He was just like everybody else.” “He seemed like a nice guy.” We never really know the people around us, because we can’t, not fully. All we know is what we hope. And when something bad happens, that hope is often torn apart.
This is a theme that would be easy to explore through our mismatched detectives, and yet Anna Gunn and David Tennant have failed to find anything resembling a rhythm. Gunn is a fantastic actress who feels completely adrift as Ellie, incapable of finding a beat she can play, much less a through line that lets her understand the character. In her hands, Ellie is perpetually underwhelmed by what she sees, and slightly annoyed by what goes on around her, but never entirely sympathetic or relatable. Her righteousness registers only in response to Emmett, and even that feels forced somehow.
Meanwhile, Virginia Kull is tearing into whatever she’s given as Beth, who spends “Episode Four” realizing that central truth I laid out above, and lashing out at various people as a result. Beth learns how little she knows about anyone in her life, and rages against all of them for failing to be who she hopes or expects. Even the ghost of her son manages to disappoint her. Its hard not to feel for Beth, who is learning a basic lesson in horrible ways at an awful time, and Kull manages to make each of her revelations gut-wrenching and meaningful, even when they push towards being something else. It is marvelous work, a performance that sets itself apart from Broadchurch in a way little else about this series has.
Much like that former show before it, Gracepoint is spending far too much time on Raymond Connelly, a “psychic” whose revelations all feel trite. The show seems to be torn between condemning Raymond for his lack of vision, sympathizing with him for how ostracized his delusions make him, and completely buying into what he says. I have no idea what Raymond knows or doesn’t know within the context of this version of the story. All I know is this was a failing of the former series that is being too heavily emphasized again here.
Everyone has something to hide. This is a prevailing theme of mystery series underlined by the website that continuously popped up throughout this episode’s airing. But it is also true of all of us in the real world. You aren’t completely honest with the people in your life. You have secrets. You tell lies. If the police began prying into your life, they could find holes, they could discover things you’d rather they didn’t. Both Gracepoint and Broadchurch lose ground on this theme by how willingly all the characters open up to the police, and yet this idea persists. Each character has their skeletons they hope are not revealed. Everyone has mistakes they’d rather cover up. Only one of them killed Danny Solano, but all of them have wronged in ways they would like to keep secret. So have all of us.
Gracepoint continues to fail to set itself apart from its immediate predecessor or from most shows in its genre. After four episodes, it still feels like a standard murder mystery, where everyone has secrets and no one can be trusted. The problem is it has failed to make that theme and its implications matter. It fails to say anything beyond “you don’t ever really know someone,” and even that theme is obscured from scene to scene as it asks us to care about characters and dynamics that haven’t fully registered. As a fan of Broadchurch, I openly recognize that most of my criticism can equally be lobbed at that series (from which we are still drawing heavily), yet that how rarely felt as listless and drifting as this one does. Perhaps its because Broadchurch had a stronger sense of place. Perhaps its because Olivia Colman brought such warmth to her portrayal, warmth Anna Gunn eschews in favor of self-righteousness and resignation. Perhaps it is simply the lingering feeling that none of this really matters because all of this is a gussied up redo of things we’ve seen before. In any case, four episodes in, Gracepoint still feels like a series that doesn’t know itself.
- “Who decides that his messages are any different than yours?”
- “Teaching him the Eighth Commandment while you’re buying cocaine?”
- “Everyone’s got something going on.”
- “I hope you’re happy.” “Why is everyone saying that to me today? I’m never happy.”
Gracepoint continues to fail to set itself apart from its immediate predecessor or from most shows in its genre..