The end of “Episode Five” marks the halfway point of FOX’s Gracepoint experiment. The show is a borderline disaster and will likely not be picked up for a second season and may not even survive for its remaining five episodes. Still, if only for our only sanity, it’s worth taking the time to ponder how Gracepoint can become, if not a good show, at least a better one for its back half.
“Episode Five,” while ultimately yet another disaster, at least offers a little heart monitor blip of hope. If there is any chance for Gracepoint, it is in reforming its uninteresting, unrealistic characters. “Episode Five” doesn’t accomplish this in one fell swoop (no one episode could) but it at least gives a damn.
Nick Nolte’s Jack Reinhold is a good example. For four episodes Nick Nolte stuck out like a sore David Tennant smile*. The fact that the costume department decided to make him look like the fish sticks guy didn’t help. Then, out of nowhere, Nolte reminds you why producers would seek out such a big name in the first place by turning Reinhold into an interesting, legitimately mysterious character – or at least as interesting as this show can manage.
*Bearded David Tennant has a weird frog face. There, I said it. Come at me, Whovians.
Immediately following the police’s press conference regarding a boat filled with evidenced being lit on fire, Renee and Owen approach Carver and Miller with some intel on Reinhold. It turns out he was convicted of sex with a minor in an era before the sexual offender registry even existed. This is refreshing enough as is – that at least two people in the town actually realize the job the police are doing is important and not a weird inconvenience, but it also leads to a legitimately entertaining scene in which Reinhold is interrogated.
“I pity you: seeing depravity in perfectly normal behavior,” Jack tells Carver. This is an absurd sentiment for a man convinced of a sex crime who still refuses to tell the police what it is despite being a suspect in a murder case*, but Nolte somehow sells it through sheer Nolte-ness alone. He’s such a commanding presence physically that lines like that and talking about reading Infinite Jest aren’t nearly as silly as they should be.
*Why won’t any of these Gracepoint citizens talk to the police? This is not The Wire’s Baltimore, this is small town America with a crime rate of 0. Are they all in secret gangs?
And he uses that physicality well through the rest of the episode, first by intimidating Owen when he comes to interview him for the story he’s running and then at the end where he crashes the Solanos post-funeral dinner, begging Mark to believe he would never hurt Danny. That scene in particular is a marked improvement over any other raw display of emotion the show has attempted yet. And it’s because Nolte is even scarier when in a vulnerable position, like a wounded animal. Carver and Miller receive further evidence that Jack is a murderer and he ends the episode in cuffs. Of course, he’ll be out of them by the end of next week because Gracepoint has turned narrative dead ends into an art, but for one week they had a compelling, even sympathetic villain.
Virginia Kull as Beth Solano also gets in some decent licks at creating a sympathetic character. For four weeks Gracepoint has treated Beth as its emotional punching bag. Everyone else is so caught up in either being a suspect, chasing a suspect or just being a flat out dummy that Kull is forced to shoulder the emotional weight of the whole show. In that pretty great final scene before Jack crashes the proceedings, Beth asks Danny friend’s Tom for a hug. It’s a quiet, effective moment.
Save for an intriguing conclusion and some solid performances, the rest of “Episode Five” is still vintage Gracepoint. The creepy trailer lady, Susan Wright (who may not be named Susan Wright we find out) seems to belong to a different show entirely. She shows up to the Gracepoint Journal offices and tells the Editor Kathy to stop investigating her and that she “knows men who’d rape you.”*
*Can we all agree that a show can’t earn the right to even say the word “rape” until it cracks 80 on Metacritic?
And Paul Coates is just baffling. He finally takes a break from staring at photos of Solanos in the dark to stand around aimlessly at 4 a.m. and spectacularly fails his interview with Carver and Miller. He also gets to be the centerpiece to what should be the biggest scene of the series thus far and fails that too. The funeral for Danny Solano gathers the town of Gracepoint together for the first time and the camera lingers over each townperson/suspect in what’s supposed to be a deep, provocative moment. It’s not. And that’s in large part thanks to Paul’s ridiculous sermon, which couldn’t be more on the nose if he danced around the pulpit singing, “I’m not guilty! I’m not guilty!”
Everything else that’s not unrealistic or weird is just inconsequential, like Owen being cheated out of a byline by Renee or Carver passing out and waking up in a hospital. Sure, I guess we could worry about those things…or we could just continue to worry about finding a child murderer. Thankfully, “Episode Five” at least offers one moment of relevancy and truth: Detective Carver is a terrible boss.