October 30, 2014, 9:00 p.m. (EST), FOX
The deeper we get into Gracepoint the more fascinating I find it. Not, unfortunately, because the show is improving. It isn’t, really. What I find so interesting is the show’s continued ability to mine Broadchurch for its most conventional elements and to centralize those while downplaying the grace notes that made that series so good. At this point, Gracepoint is still functionally a beat-for-beat remake of its predecessor, and yet it has failed to achieve even a modicum of that show’s success. Perhaps this is just a case of my opinion being poisoned by this being a retelling for me when it is something new for many viewers, and if so, I would love to hear from fans of this show who find it stands on its own as good television that transcends cliché.
To understand what I feel this series is missing, let’s look at Jack Reinhold. The full scope of Jack’s story has not been revealed of yet, and I’ll not spoil anything about where it is going should it follow in Broadchurch’s footsteps. But here we have some really solid work by Nick Nolte as a man with a past he is fighting to forget that is coming back to haunt him in ways he couldn’t have imagined. On Broadchurch, this is played with a tragic inevitability, and David Bradley’s quiet resignation lends an aching subtlety to the story. Here, however, Gracepoint feels more interested in how Jack looks as a suspect than how he is as a person. The show is caught up enough in the “whodunit” element that it forgets to let Jack resonate as a fully formed character. Nolte is great in the role, but he’s fighting an uphill battle against a script that doesn’t care who he is outside of what the evidence tells us about him. Any sympathy the show evokes comes straight from Nolte’s panicked delivery, rather than from the show’s pausing to consider not just whether the man is a killer, but whether the rest of his life is worth stacking up against that.
Virginia Kull’s work as Beth continues to be the bright light in this series, and the moment when she asks Tom to hug her, while also a straight lift from Broadchurch registers because of her emotionally raw work here. Beth’s increasing isolation and growing bitterness work like nothing else on this show because the series is spending time building her up, exploring her world and her reactions to it. It is treating her like not just a potential suspect (as the incessant ads keep reminding us, everyone is a suspect), but as a person who has experienced great loss, and who has seen some things uncovered in the wake of that loss she might rather have left buried.
There are hints, here and there, that this show is figuring itself out and learning how to be an independent entity. Take Carver’s fantastic speech about the pointlessness of calling people by their names. He paints it as logical and obvious, when in fact all it reveals is his selfish detachment from those around him, the distance at which he willfully keeps those around him. Yet just a few scenes later, when he wakes up in a hospital bed, he refers to the innkeeper as “Gemma,” in a moment of naked need. He requires something from her, yes, but it doesn’t seem like manipulation when he does it. It seems like Emmett Carver reaching out, displaying vulnerability he’d rather hide. Tennant plays the moment perfectly, and it’s the sort of subtlety this show needs more of going forward.
Gracepoint isn’t entirely hopeless, then, or at least, the show has settled into a groove that has forced me to develop Stockholm Syndrome towards it. I can’t say I liked this episode, nor that it made me care any more about virtually anything that is going on outside of Beth’s struggles, but it did provide hints that this show might yet find itself and figure out how to be something other than a bad Xerox copy of its predecessor. That’s a vague remix of a criticism I lobbed at this show way back in “Episode One.” It would make me feel like a hack if it didn’t feel oddly apropos to reappropriate old material in evaluating this series. In a few weeks, we should be in uncharted waters, if the reports by the creative team behind the show are accurate, and if it does start to diverge from Broarchurch, “Episode Five” has given me the first glimmers of hope that the road it takes might be interesting as something more than just bald comparative analysis. Until then, though, I’ll be missing David Bradley, even if I’ll coldly tip my hat at Nolte’s performance.
- “I pity you, seeing depravity in perfectly normal behavior.”
- “I don’t get why we need to use first names anyway. If I’m looking at you, you know I’m talking to you. I don’t need to say your name three times to congratulate myself on remembering, or to create some, some…false intimacy.”
- “You’re a terrible liar.” “And you’re a terrible boss.” “I knew it. Touche.”
At this point, Gracepoint is still functionally a beat-for-beat remake of its predecessor, and yet it has failed to achieve even a modicum of that show’s success.