The difference between an all-time great TV show and a disposable one is not as vast as one would think. There are too many competent-to-talented people involved in the entertainment industry to produce anything that is awful on a technical level. A bad artist can paint a picture of a cat that comes out looking like a dog but even the worst TV shows will still usually look and feel like a TV show.
That’s why it’s sadly not unrealistic to envision talented people like creator Chris Chibnall* and Anna Gunn on the set of Gracepoint saying “Guys…I think we’re kind of nailing this.”
*Lovers of Broadchurch are going to need to start speaking out in the comments. I’m having a hard time imagining Gracepoint’s source material as anything other than monumentally bad.
Of course we now know that they have categorically NOT been nailing it. Through four episodes Gracepoint has proven itself to be, if nothing else, a bad television show. “Episode Four” reveals another uncomfortable truth: no one involved is even vaguely aware of this. And that confidence is going to start to make the show even worse – something I wasn’t even sure was possible.
“Episode Four” (so annoyingly titled) shows that Gracepoint, in all its bluster, thinks it really is a show about everything. The murder of Danny Solano is really just a jumping off point to exploring all of the ugliness lurking beneath the waves of this small coastal town. This is an admirable goal for any narrative art. The fact that Gracepoint cannot succeed in having its characters resemble anything close to a human being, however, means it is far too ambitious.
The episode brings up two concepts that have been simmering in the background (or as much as anything on this dud of a show can “simmer): mental illness and religion. It’s as though Gracepoint is on a mission to save the world through the young Danny Solano and mental health and religion are just the first two things small enough it can “fix.”
The phone number found sewn into Danny’s clothes from last week belongs to Lars Pierson, the bandana-wearing hitchhiker that Nick Nolte* told Carver he saw Danny with a few weeks ago. Finally police have a lead! And conveniently everybody they show the picture to is 100% positive they’ve seen him. Forget for a moment that first-hand memories are some of the least reliable pieces of evidence in existence and Pierson isn’t wearing a bandana is his picture; Nick Nolte knows that’s who he saw.
*Holy crap, Nick Nolte is still on this show.
And Beth has seen him too as it turns out. He came in to Beth’s work asking about hunting permits. Why would Beth remember this guy so crystal clearly? Well she wouldn’t. But the guy did innocuously ask about pictures of her kids, so she did.
Obviously Lars Pierson had nothing to do with Danny’s murder because again: episode four and he would have no emotional impact when revealed as a murderer. Still it’s clear why Gracepoint has even bothered to include him. Carver mentions early in his briefing that Pierson has been in and out of Veterans Hospitals and is on mood stabilizers. Spooky! But later on in the episode, we see Carver receive a package of pills to go along with his injections and he has a bafflingly flirty discussion with Gemma about her SSRI use. See, America? People who take SSRIs aren’t murderers. Gracepoint is here to help.
The message would work a lot better if all of Gracepoint’s characters weren’t offensively, cartoonishly insane. Witness Carver and Miller’s plot with the only other suspect in their investigation, Chloe’s boyfriend Dean.
Carver and Miller approach Dean where he works at the docks. Dean, having stunningly bad situational awareness makes a run for it. Carver and Miller run after him and actually draw their guns. It’s a shame we won’t get to see the mountain of paperwork that would cause because watching Miller and Carver fill that out would be infinitely more interesting than what comes next.
They eventually capture Dean and instead of exploring more in-depth the lunacy of running away from the cops when you know you recently brought a now-murdered child along on a drug deal, the show uses the opportunity to reveal that Danny wasn’t an angel. He wanted to come along with Dean for the excitement and even made a side trip to steal some magazines. * insert surprised emoji here * This seriously leads to the following exchange:
Carver: “Our angel wasn’t much of an angel after all?”
Miller: “What does that mean, that he deserved it?”
Jeez, get it together Miller. It’s like you’ve never heard rejected Law and Order dialogue before.
And of course, Gracepoint also decides to briefly add racism into the mix of Big Issues it must conquer. Dean makes a parting comment to Carver about locking up a black man upon being exonerated by his alibi. Don’t go there, Gracepoint. You’re the one who made the only black character on your show a drug dealer. Don’t get high and mighty that the police arrested a known drug dealer after he run away from them during a murder investigation.
As previously mentioned, religion also falls under the unfortunate gaze of “Episode Four.” Beth is religious, Paul Coates is a preacher* and Mark is the walking embodiment of r/atheism. All are dumbasses. And all of largely abandoned their own mourning of a murdered loved one in place of an existential pissing match.
*There is not one but two shots in this episode where Paul sits in a dark, silent room, silent stroking photos of Solano family members. On any other show this would be presented as troubling behavior. On Gracepoint, it’s Tuesday.
Gracepoint is doing what it should be doing: using a traumatic event as a launching off point for an exploration of a small-town America. Unfortunately it still fails at even the most basic tenets of storytelling and instead of examining important institutions it’s just a series of scenes of stupid people yelling at each other over stupid things.