in Television

‘Gracepoint’ Pilot Review: Offers Up Dark, Intriguing Mystery & Mostly Solid Characters

Gracepoint is less of a television show and more of a dream. A bad one. (Anything about a child in a small town dying, where any of the neighbors could be a suspect could be nothing but a terrible dream.)

The way the camera twists around corners, lingers a little too long on the scenery, and captures characters from static angles suggests a nightmare scape. Given that, this intro to the 10 part miniseries offered up less of a realistic aesthetic than anticipated – more like a less fantastical Twin Peaks than The Killing.

But bad dream doesn’t necessarily equal bad pilot; despite the editing and atmosphere, all the character reactions are on point. The main players here are David Tennant as hardened city detective Emmett Carver, and Anna Gunn playing small town murder-rookie Detective Ellie Miller – and both of them offer up good performances. Tennant (who has played this role before in the UK version, Broadchurch) in particular gives an interesting performance as an ex-San Francisco officer who has seen too much and needs to escape city life for an unspecified but botched case. Ellie, meanwhile, must reconcile the loss of a promotion to Carver, while wrestling with her duty as a neighbor and mother with her duty as a member of law enforcement.

The aforementioned dead child Danny Solano’s parents, Mark (Michael Pena) and Beth (Virginia Kull), are fantastic and sad as they mourn the loss of their son. Beth’s run down a traffic-clogged road to the beach where she expects to find her dead son is incredibly chilling, and just as chilling is the fact that Mark could very well be wrapped up in the death, as her paranoid mind begins to suspect towards the end of the episode.

Also chilling? Ellie’s son/Danny’s best friend could be involved as well. If anything, Gracepoint does creeping suspense pretty well.

We are first introduced to the ensemble cast of characters as the camera follows Pena’s character through town on his way to work. While everything seems ’50s small town on the surface, there’s a certain claustrophobic air to the procession; anyone can be a suspect in what we know is coming.

The one major weak point in the show is Ellie’s nephew and Gracepoint Journal reporter Owen Burke (Kevin Zegers). His obvious desire to advance his career, feelings of parents be damned, felt cliche. The inclusion of the subplot makes sense, since the relationship between the media and the police would be an integral part of such a small town investigation – I just wish the specifics felt less boilerplate.

Overall, though, the first hour offers up an intriguing mystery and a batch of characters that require more study. It would be nice if some of them were not relegated to creepy stares in the background of scenes (looking at you, Jacki Weaver) but I’m sure more is coming from them soon.

Gracepoint is dark, to be sure, but it’s the kind of darkness that is fascinating to watch and brings with it a soft human core that is easy to empathize with.