Gracepoint is still struggling to get off the ground thanks to bad pacing and bad dialogue, and episode 2 is not providing any hope that this will be corrected soon.
The second episode of Gracepoint followed the first episode’s suit by having a lot of potential but falling short of engaging. Here’s why:
Tennant gives another impressive performance in this episode just like he did in the last one. However, the real standouts in this episode are the parents of the murdered boy. As Danny’s mother, Virginia Kull portrays her character like a swimmer caught in an undertow: she’s fighting tooth-and-nail to keep her head above water but is slowly losing her strength and knows she’s going to slip under soon. Michael Peña, as Danny’s father, does an amazing job of giving a realistic performance by showing that his character consciously struggles with constraining his actions and emotions so that he can be strong for the rest of his family. Kull and Peña’s best moments are when they are silent. Many people do not understand how much harder it is for an actor to communicate without dialogue. Whether a character is lying or telling the truth, so many aspects of dialogue1 inform the viewer about a character. Silence can be much more difficult to successfully utilize, but Kull and Peña masterfully use their bodies during silence to convey more information about where their characters are mentally than the other actors on the show.
What didn’t work
The pacing and dialogue.
Too much time is spent on establishing shots and superfluous shots of people staring at things or other people. One thing that British television is very good about is tight pacing. A British television season is almost always significantly shorter than an American season. Whereas an American season might be 13-22 episodes, a British season will typically be 6-10 episodes2. This lack of extra episodes causes British television shows to use every moment to their advantage: the pacing is tight, the dialogue serves a purpose and is not used indiscriminately3, and plots move forward with a momentum that keeps the audience engaged4 It seems Gracepoint is a victim of American television’s favorite dramatic flourish: the slow burn. Since American television seasons are so long, American showrunners will draw out the action of a plot to span more episodes than it should. Sometimes, this serves a purpose, like in Breaking Bad where the mundaneness of Walter’s character needed to be firmly established so that the end of the series had such an obvious contrast5. As I mentioned in the previous article, Gracepoint does not have this luxury of time: it is only ten episodes and has already wasted two.
The other element that is working against this series is the dialogue. Since there are so many scenes that drag on, the dialogue feels forced and unnatural to accommodate these bloated scenes. Often, it feels as though the actors couldn’t figure out why their characters are saying what they are saying so they just gave the dialogue their best shot, and it didn’t work. An example of this is when Anna Gunn’s Miller tells Tennant’s Carver that “most people have a moral compass,” and he replies with “compasses break.” This dialogue might not have seemed so television-y if it had not been preceded by an actual good line of dialogue: Carver matter-of-factly tells his fellow detective that “It’s a simple truth, Miller: anyone’s capable of murder, given the right circumstances.” Ending the scene on that line would’ve been like banging a gong and allowing the reverberations to echo. Tacking on the Law & Order-esque exchange about compasses is like banging a gong, then grabbing it to silence its sound, and blowing a kazoo instead.
The first two episodes either should have been half an hour each or combined together to make one hour-long episode. Two 2 hour episodes feel languid6 and unneeded. Hopefully, the action will pick up, the pace will tighten, the dialogue will improve, and the wonderful actors on this series will have better material to showcase their incredible talents.
- tone, cadence, the meaning of the words spoken, words not spoken, actual selection of words, length of sentences, etc ↵
- sometimes, it’s as short as 4 episodes, but the amount of story in those 4 episodes is comparable to 13 American episodes ↵
- even pointless conversations are informing you about characters themselves, character relationships, or other important elements ↵
- Best example: Luther. You should stay in one Saturday and binge watch it on Netflix. You won’t be disappointed. ↵
- although, truth be told, I think that show could’ve been told just as well in 4 seasons as it was in 6 ↵
- that $5 word is for you, Mom, and your unending struggle of getting me to study vocabulary until I went to college ↵