Alfred Molina Shines in a Solid Louise Penny Adaptation

Jan 4, 2023

Upon first hearing the title Three Pines, my mind inexorably jumped to Twin Peaks. Sure, the numbers are different, and, yes, one refers to trees instead of mountains. However, this new series does begin as being about an outside investigator, played by Alfred Molina, coming to a small community to look into a murder. When it starts to throw in some occasional visions here and there as it peers deeper into darkness, it almost feels like a light echo of that iconic show is reverberating through it. It even has its own version of an insightful yet eccentric Log Lady, albeit one who has a duck as her companion. Alas, all of this has been molded into being a more straightforward mystery story that doesn’t quite have the same multilayered intrigue and commitment to creeping dread. With all of that being said, the series still manages to settle into a rhythm that explores a few different cases from across Louise Penny’s detective novels while a larger and tragically overlooked one perpetually looms in the background.

Driving this is Chief Inspector Armand Gamache (Molina) who is established as being a compassionate yet troubled fellow who is carrying a loss of his own that dates back to his childhood. One opening scene sees his department being protested for its failures to investigate the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada. While his colleagues are uncaring about said protest and even move to arrest those who are demonstrating, Gamache intervenes in an attempt to prevent the situation from escalating.

Despite this, in a recurring element that will become increasingly important the longer the series goes on, he is too late to prevent one officer from shoving a woman, Arisawe Two-Rivers (Georgina Lightning), to the ground as her terrified family watches on. Still, he manages to cut in between the police and drives the family home. It is then that we learn they had come to try to get someone to look into the disappearance of their family member Blue (Anna Lambe) who has been gone for over a year. Though Gamache promises that he will look into their case further, he is soon sent away to the small community of Three Pines to investigate a separate murder in what is a clear punishment for his initial actions during the protest.

RELATED: ‘Three Pines’ Trailer Shows Alfred Molina Investigating a Small Town Murder Mystery

He will then unite with the intrepid Isabelle Lacoste (Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers), the gruff Jean-Guy Beauvoir (Rossif Sutherland), and the eager Yvette Nichol (Sarah Booth) to get to the bottom of four mysterious deaths told in two-episode arcs that make up the eight-episode season. The structure brings some sense of narrative closure to the cases that Gamache has been assigned, but this only brings into focus how the Two-Rivers family continues to wait for answers. It is a balancing act that the show often struggles to strike as it will jump from the occasionally outlandish shenanigans of Three Pines to the more grim and all-too-real suffering of the surrounding world, all of which will soon come rushing in to take hold of the story.

While said story is correct in highlighting how Indigenous women are ignored by a society that has deemed them disposable, the series often feels like it is replicating that. Though we get an early introduction to Arisawe and Missy (Crystle Lightning), both played by strong performers who recently appeared in the gone-too-soon Rutherford Falls, their characters aren’t given the same development that others receive. It puts an unfortunate damper on what certainly seems to be a well-intentioned and sincere grappling with the way the horrors of the past continue to have a grasp on the present. The show is at its best as it gets closer to the end where the Two-Rivers’ and the family member they’re desperately searching for are made far more central in a crushing conclusion.

What helps the show hold together until then is Molina’s performance. Though episodes can often get swept up in the machinations of a plot that telegraphs its reveals and teeters precipitously on the edge of being predictable with more than a few clunky components, he is a compelling central figure. Even as we are introduced to him as being abundantly compassionate as he approaches his cases with care, he has a fatal flaw: naïveté. As another character remarks in one of the show’s most emotionally-driven and revealing conversations, Gamache is a man who looks for good even in the worst of places.

Image via Prime Video

It is a nice sentiment, but the darker underside of that ends up highlighting how he fails to see many other truths until it is too late. Without tipping off who or what he is missing, the moment when he realizes what he has been overlooking hits him like a truck. Molina captures the terror that consumes the more stoic man, but it is also tempered with a dread that Gamache could and should have seen this all coming much sooner. For all the ways he is willing to listen and be more open-minded than others, he also gives far too much leeway to some of those closest to him. It ensures the portrait of him that could have been overly valorous and superficially congratulatory is made just a bit more complicated as it carries on.

At times, there are moments where the series feels like it is following most in the footsteps of the recent Mare of Easttown. Though not nearly as polished in either its visuals or storytelling, there’s also the sense that Three Pines similarly has more on its mind. While many of these types of crime shows can follow a safe pattern of seeing the always competent police resolving each case and being done with it, Three Pines looks a little deeper beneath that surface. Sure, the bite-sized cases usually get wrapped up rather quickly and easily with everyone mostly going home in one piece. What makes it a little more nuanced is when we see how and when the failures of the broader world manifest themselves in these individual incidents.

We all like to imagine that the way to resolve crime is to track down the culprit, but the reality of the situation goes beyond that. In nearly every episode, there is a moment of more measured musical reflection as it is clear that the pain goes much deeper in this community and those surrounding it. Though our team is always on the case with coffee in hand, there is a growing grimness where we see how frequently they might not be able to fix everything. As we observe Gamache begin to be haunted in his dreams, we see that he has begun to realize this too. It is in its more melancholic and macabre moments that Three Pines stumbles upon something more sinister that elevates it a bit beyond a standard mystery tale.

Rating: B

You can watch the first two episodes of Three Pines on Peacock starting December 2 with two episodes released weekly until the finale on December 23.

Disclaimer: This story is auto-aggregated by a computer program and has not been created or edited by filmibee.
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