When a young boy is found dead on the beach of a small friendly coastal town, the residents lose control, trust and fall deep into a paranoid pit. Secrets flow through the town as people who once appeared as friends are listed as suspects. Detectives fight against the clock in the face of minute evidence to find Danny Solano’s killer.
Last Thursday night saw the conclusion of Fox’s much divisive and debated miniseries, Gracepoint, in which a killer was revealed and a soft cliff hanger left in its’ wake.
Firmly, reflective of its British predecessor, Broadchurch, Gracepoint carried over the same show runner and leading man in Chris Chibnall and David Tennant respectively.
Supplementing the British creator and actor were baits of established American talent and upcoming young stars. Breaking Bad’s Anna Gunn, Fury’s Michael Pena and 3 time Oscar nominee Nick Nolte headlined the supporting cast whilst fresh talent in the form of Virginia Kull and Stephen Louis Grush stole the show.
A few days have passed since the killer was revealed, a different one to that of the British show, so it becomes opportune to reflect on what the American remake did right and what it did wrong.
3 things Gracepoint did right
- The casting.
Whilst, the show may have benefitted from casting an American actor in place of David Tennant, it is no surprise that he is the route of the show’s best arc. The story of a struggling and weak Detective may be one too common in modern narrative but Tennant plays it to a tee and takes you on a familial ride along the way.
Anna Gunn is fantastic in everything she does and this is no exception here. Her character, Ellie Miller, is always on the move, hectic and conflicted and you feel it. Nick Nolte, although underused, brings and air of sophistication to a young and unknown cast.
Virginia Kull plays the grieving mother, the former athlete and the forgotten wife. She steals the show and often carries it with tear filled scenes of remembrance and better ifs. Her take on reconciliation towards the end of the show is natural and heartwarming.
Aforementioned spotlight stealers sometimes show up the supporting cast but they play to a wider audience and go far to play troubled and almost schizophrenic characters without appearing too hammy.
- The direction.
I myself have often complained about the current trend in the media to depress and sadden through grit and reality but for a story exploring repercussions of murder the tone is just right.
The imagery of waves battering a small coastal town is supported and reciprocated as the murder sends shockwaves through everyone’s lives. Just as rocks crack and expose the dirt underneath, Danny’s murder sees Detectives burrowing under unaccounted nights and delving into suspect’s pasts.
- The dense character backgrounds.
I have no idea how the overall show was written but I assume that every character was accounted for. When you watch the show little snippets of information are dropped in for no reason but to seem real and tangible.
Supporting characters that appear for a total of 15 minutes or so in the entire miniseries are treated to development and background that lead characters wouldn’t even dream of in other lacking network shows and it makes sense.
Everyone has a story and a past and it is no different for Gracepoint. In a way the writer’s present to us every single possible murderer and dare us to point the finger. In the case of the real killer, I doubt many who guessed were right but we’ll get to that very soon.
3 things Gracepoint got wrong
- The killer’s identity.
Now, before you read on please understand that must have obviously watched the show, in its entirety to join in the discussion. As the final episode started and rolled on, Detective Miller’s husband, Joe Miller, confesses to the crime. We later find that the murder was an accident – it was actually Joe and Ellie’s son, Tom that killed Danny by hitting him on the head with the shovel when he thought Joe was about to molest Danny. Yes, a total mouthful right?
The writers of Gracepoint all know that whomever they pinpointed as the killer would never be accepted. By the finale audiences would already have their pick and whatever the real killer they were wrong. Audiences hate being wrong. Having said that, revealing the murder to be an accident at the hands of Joe and Tom Miller who just happen to be the family of Ellie Miller, the detective investigating the case, who in turn just happens to be best friends with the Solano’s is far too coincidental to be accepted without debate.
The writer’s want major shock factor and they want to surprise us with our choices but this all led to a flat finale that failed to live up the labyrinthine and tense 9 episode lead up.
- Tom Miller.
Now, I never like to single out child actors because they are very early on in their development stages and still figuring out who they should be. But, and this is a very big but, Tom Miller is an exception.
When the entire reveal and conclusion hinges on the delivery and performance of Tom Miller (Jack Irvine) you need to find some real talent. Irvine, understandably, was stiff, unbelievable and in some cases laughable in scenes otherwise intended to emote.
His delivery left me wanting more from the character and more from the reveal. It almost felt as though the writer’s were lying to us, telling us that Tom wasn’t the accidental killer, that there was another episode to reveal who really killed Danny Solano.
Alas, this is not the case – Danny Solano really did die from a shovel to the head and it was monotone Tom Miller that delivered the final head numbing blow.
- The need to end every episode with a cliffhanger.
This is a trope of all mystery show – end the episode with a mini-cliffhanger. But I don’t like nor respect that idea.
Gracepoint, more often than necessary, took standard plot points and manufactured them to appear shocking in a way to entice us to watch the next episode. Volunteers finding a bicycle became a cliffhanger, finding a skateboard became a cliffhanger, the list goes on and on.
The show would have excelled and benefitted far more had it followed a natural free flowing progression. Let the story play out, you will find natural places to take pauses and breaks not ill conceived ones that don’t leave you looking forward to next week.