Broadchurch devotees may have gotten a bit worried in last week’s episode at Nick Nolte’s performance, which felt too tough when compared to the bruised turn of David Bradley, who played the same role on the British series. As this reviewer (and, I suspect, many fans of Broadchurch) believes that Jack’s devastating final hour of woe and misfortune on that series was its finest, Gracepoint offers a poignant, enthralling episode that also ranks as its best so far. And Nolte’s wounded turn this week, commanding and deeply moving at once, had a lot to do with it.
Jack Reinhold wakes up on a sparkling day to find that all has gone sour: Owen and Renee shared a Globe byline exposing the old man’s past as an admitted pedophile. However, as some reporters are wont to do during a slow period in the midst of an extensive, exhaustive investigation that isn’t going anywhere, they jump on and sensationalize trivial details. As Jack knows well, using his affair with a woman from more than 30 years prior to implicate him in a brutal crime is a foolish move. Ellie and Carver know this, as well, but they are not much of a support system. However, some of the more inflamed townspeople, either searching for a scapegoat or hoping to cover up their own part in Danny Solano’s death, rile up and vandalize the dock and entrance to Jack’s home.
There is a much more heartbreaking story that Owen and Renee are not privy to. The woman who Jack admitted to having a sexual relationship with was the woman he would later marry and have a son with. That boy would be taken from him much too early. In Gracepoint’s most arresting scene so far, Jack goes through this story to an inquisitive Mark Solano, who also feels like a stranger now that Beth reveals she knows about his affair. Nolte’s face loses some of its tight knotting, his normally grouchy dialect scaled back to hurt and heartbreak. “I miss my son,” he explains, adding that no man should have to bury his child. Nolte’s casting in the part felt wasted until this week, further buoyed by the actor’s legal difficulties and regrets from the past – ones public enough that his character’s shame and dignified anger seemed recognizably colored by the real events from the actor’s life.
Nearly as masterful while doing much less is Pena, who gives his best performance in a Gracepoint episode so far, understanding both Jack’s alienation and intense affection for a son whose life was cut short. Jack’s revelations to Mark magnetizes their relationship, since they know there is somebody to share their grief with. (Also good news: Mark goes straight home to look through some photo albums with Beth, getting out of their frustrations together instead of suffering alone.) However, for Jack, the support is too little, too late.