Gracepoint is the American adaption of popular British crime drama Broadchurch, and focuses on tragedy striking a friendly small town on the coast of Oregon; when 12-year old Danny Solano is found murdered on the beach, detectives Emmet Carver and Ellie Miller strive to bring the killer to justice. The makers of the show have reported that in order to make the experience worth it to those who have already watched Broadchurch, they have chosen a completely different character to be the murderer. In my opinion, this well-acted and well-written show is worth watching whether or not you are familiar with its origins.
Due to the nature of this small town, the citizens of Gracepoint are not accustomed to dealing with serious crimes; in fact, the first episode names Gracepoint as the town with the lowest crime rate in all of Oregon. As a result, this community that had been rocked by tragedy must also cope with the new big-city detective that has recently come to town. David Tennant reprises his lead role from Broadchurch as Emmet Carver, who makes Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes seem as sociable as a waitress at Applebee’s. He is gruff, informal, and ridiculously callous, showing complete dedication to police procedure and almost zero consideration for the feelings of others. He’s a man defined by his occupation; the viewer barely learns anything about his personal life until he gets mildly drunk in the fifth epidsode, and even then we only learn that he has a daughter and is divorced (big shocker). On the other hand, his partner, local detective Ellie Miller, is compassionate, sympathetic, and feels awkward investigating the people she knows. Played by Anna Gunn from Breaking Bad, Ellie provides a awareness of life in Gracepoint from an authoritative perspective, and her association with the affected community often creates conflict between herself and the hardened Detective Carver. It’s a classic dynamic between the experienced cynic and the fresh-faced idealist, but this time it’s the cynic that is out of his element, and the idealist must work to get him familiarized with the social norms of a small-town culture. It’s an incredibly strained relationship that is enjoyable to observe.
No matter who the killer turns out to be, Gracepoint ensures that you will want to see him or her brought to justice, through incredibly powerful scenes that depict the Solano family and the rest of the Gracepoint community dealing with grief. The actors are all incredibly talented, which makes for a multitude of emotional, heartbreaking scenes. One scene in particular stands out to me: when the Solano family receives confirmation that it was Danny, his sister and mother fall apart in hysterics. At the same time, his father is rubbing his face slowly, a glassy, shell-shocked look in his eyes. He looks to his wife, then to his daughter, like he doesn’t know which one he should console first. Finally, he drapes his arms over both of their shoulders and they collapse into him as he says, “it’s alright,” which comes out as little more than a whisper. Similar responses from Danny’s priest, mentor, and best friend produce an air of grief that fills every scene, even if the main focus is Emmet and Ellie investigating a lead. This clearly expressed emotion makes it so the viewer sincerely wants to see the killer brought to justice, no matter who it may be, just to see this tormented family receive some closure. This is not something that crime dramas do often enough; the victim is introduced, we receive a few scenes of the grieving family, the cops investigate things and eventually catch the villain, case closed. It is nowhere near that simple in real life; the loss of a loved one leaves an emotional scar that never heals, and no amount of closure can change that. Putting such a deliberate, realistic focus on the grieving characters ensures that Danny Solano matters as a beloved, missed character, and not just a dead body used to motivate the conflict.
With its compelling plot, well-written characters, and scenes full of emotion, Gracepoint is an incredibly satisfying whodunit that just about perfects both the crime drama genre and the particular focus of a small-town mystery. I look forward to following this thrilling series to its conclusion, at which point I will likely check out Broadchurch to enjoy its source material and see how it differs from the remake. As long as I see justice served for Danny’s family and relative peace restored to this complicated small town, I know I won’t be disappointed.