Gracepoint Review: “Episode 2” (Season 1, Episode 2)

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The strength of Tennant’s and Gunn’s performances creates effective tension. Gunn continues to impress: her scene in the park was wonderfully nuanced, showing how Ellie is trying to move away from her friendly demeanor to become more cautious toward the friends (and potential suspects) around her. Meanwhile, Tennant’s American accent is still a bit knotty but not as distracting as it was in the pilot. Gracepoint seems to foreground the familial pain from Carver’s old life rather early, in comparison to the British version. This week, the writers focus on moments of him sneering and sifting through old memories. He even has a needle to jab into his leg where he gets bleary-eyed and feels constipated, which will be explored in later episodes.

Aiding the flow and pace of this detailed procedural is excellent photography and direction. James Strong helms the sophomore episode and gives the small town a gentle, chilling feel. The opening shot of an empty swing on a child’s playground and a nifty transition later on from a blue-hued painting of the shoreline to the crime scene on the pictured beach shows how small props and furniture all feed back into the central mystery.

One point that feels awkward, however, is a ghostly hum on the soundtrack, which plays above a lot of moments that are not chilling enough to earn it. (It would fit better on Broadchurch or even The Killing, where the overcast weather created a dismal atmosphere. Gracepoint, on the other hand, is sunny and clear, and the color intrudes on the sadness.) Gracepoint is one of the best looking series on television, even if it does imitate some of the beautiful camerawork from the British series.

Despite its scope, smaller moments bring a lot of, ahem, grace to the proceedings. Another strong moment, featuring a few supporting characters we do not know well, is in a local tavern. The two patrons, local Ned and priest Paul (Kevin Rankin), talk with the bartender about how the crime affects the area. “Now we’re a murder town,” Ned says, discussing how no tourist will want to come to see the whale sightings that happen just off-shore. In a wry note, Ned leaves a healthy tip, explaining the bartender will need it. Another bit of comic relief comes from Pete, a liaison assigned to the Solanos, who lets on a bit too much when he says that he is “out of the frying pan” and just finished his training.

Meanwhile, the week’s standout is Virginia Kull, who gives a suitably wrenching turn as Beth, wound up from the overbearing grief. In the episode’s most powerful sequence, she walks, drained and fatigued, around a supermarket. Beth tries her best not to look at the mournful eyes watching her and she struggles to hold it together in the breakfast cereal aisle. Broadchurch was filled with these anguished, deeply moving moments that brought feeling within a labyrinthine whodunit, and Gracepoint is starting to act like more than just a shadow of its counterpart.