Gracepoint: “Episode 6” Season 1 Episode 6 Review

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A tightly written episode is somewhat brought down by subpar acting.

Gracepoint isn’t an easy show to watch, and I mean that as a sincere compliment. A series that deals with the murder of a child, the grief of a family, and a small town full of painful secrets does not make for casual viewing. What pulls me into this show each week, however, is how relatively authentic everything feels. The characters are fleshed out, and all of the performances greatly help to establish the close-knit nature of the town.

Well, almost all of the performances. Six episodes in, and I still find myself being frustrated and confused by Michael Peña’s portrayal of Mark Solano. It seems that Peña is going for some sort of purposefully restrained acting, but everything he does comes off as distant and uncaring. His face barely moves, and he never seems to register the terrible news that’s delivered to him. His son dies—stone face. His wife confronts him about the affair—stone face. Even in his supposedly “emotional scenes”—such as a heated conversation he has with Vince this week—he seems to be forcing some sort of feeling.

Again, there’s a chance this is all on purpose. I constantly find myself wondering, “what is Mark really thinking?” This could be exactly what the show wants me to question. With Gracepoint‘s mystery moving further and further into original territory, everyone still remains a suspect. Mark had an alibi, but perhaps he’s not so innocent after all.

It’s still a bit of a letdown, though. “Episode 6” is one of Gracepoint‘s most well written entries yet, and Peña’s stoic delivery soured things for me. A lot of this episode centers around what can happen when a small group of people begins to turn on their neighbor—something Paul warned about in his sermon last week.

The most climactic moment arrives when Mark confronts Jack, who’s been tarnished as a pedophile by the press. Jack admits the truth of his misconduct, revealing himself to be not so different from Mark in the process. With this confession, Nick Nolte is able to elevate his character from more than a one-note plot device. Peña, on the other hand, remains unfazed, which took me out of the scene’s intensity temporarily.

Perhaps the reason this one actor’s performance is so irksome to me is because everyone else on the show is so damn good. Virginia Kull continues to deliver heartbreaking animosity toward her situation. I especially enjoyed the moment when she tells Mark she’s pregnant and he tells her she “has to” keep the baby. “I don’t have to do anything,” she fires back with an almost sadistic smirk. Later, she goes to Gemma’s bar and starts breaking glasses with reckless abandon. With so many terrible things happening to Beth in such a short period of time, it’s almost as if she gets pleasure out of these small moments of power, which is incredibly fascinating to watch.

Anna Gunn continues to be a mesmerizing presence as well, keeping a calm professionalism in the face of so much trauma. Her character’s warmness brings about a sense of safety to those around her, like Kathy after she tells her about Susan’s rape comments. Gunn can maintain her own stone face, but the difference between Ellie and Mark is that you can see the cracks under the surface of her armor. When she later goes to visit her drug-addled sister, she tries to be civil, but is forced to leave before she gets too hostile.

Equally as appealing is the growing relationship Ellie has with Emmett. David Tennant brought a surprising amount of levity to the show this week, proving that his character is becoming less hard-boiled the longer he stays in this town. My favorite interaction of the week occurs after the police chief tells him not to go back to the church, and he quickly snaps, “Well we better hope it’s not him then.” Later, he teases Ellie about her awkward run-in with the CSI investigator, and it’s clear that she’s rubbing off on him just as much as he is on her.

Plot-wise, the episode moves forward at an excitingly brisk pace. Word travels fast of Jack’s past, leading Vince—who’s a capital A asshole—to march with an angry mob to his front door. This, along with Mark’s warning that it isn’t safe for him in this town, lead him to tragically take his own life. I’m sure the full ramifications of this will be revealed next week, but what’s interesting is the ripple effect that Danny’s murder seems to have caused. Several ancillary crimes have been admitted to, and now someone else is dead as a result of public outrage. The size of Gracepoint is starting to feel more and more claustrophobic with each episode.

Meanwhile, Jacki Weaver continues to exude creepiness as Susan. Her ties to the other characters are still clouded in mystery, but they’re more important now than ever. She has Danny’s skateboard, she’s somehow related to the emotionally volatile Vince, and now she’s inviting Tom to come walk her dog (bad idea, Tom). I’m assuming we’ll get more of a backstory on her soon, but the more antagonized she becomes, the more I want to see what she’ll do next.

All of this, and some more potent family drama from the Solanos. It’s exciting to see Gracepoint nail both it’s shocking plot twists and emotional beats. With only four episodes to go, I’m anxiously waiting to see which townsperson will snap next. If Peña is able to move his facial muscles as well, then I’ll consider it an added bonus. Grade: B+

 

By Mike Papirmeister

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