Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Three Pines, on Prime

The married, middle-aged Chief Inspector Armand Gamache is sort of like a French Canadian Maigret. However, he also has some the erudition and emotional baggage of Adam Dalgliesh. Obviously, it would be folly to deceive the good Inspector, yet people keeping trying, with often woeful results. Despite the community’s lack of cooperation, Gamache keeps solving murders in titular Quebec village throughout the eight-episode Three Pines, adapted from Louise Penny’s novels by Emilia di Girolamo, which premieres tomorrow on Prime Video.

Gamache is so competent and well-respected, he won’t be fired when he shows up his snotty boss, Superintendent Francoeur, but he will be assigned to investigate a freak death way out in Three Pines. Apparently, the town’s least favorite self-help guru was electrocuted in her chair while watching a curling match. Yes, this show is definitely set in Canada. Nobody liked the deceased very much, but they don’t have much to say to Gamache’s team: moody Jean-Guy Beavoir, First Nations single-mom Isabelle Lacoste, and the annoying local cop Yvette Nichol. You’d almost think they were all trying to cover for the killer.

Somewhat like
Hjerson, Three Pines adapts several Penny novels in two-episode arcs, but it also maintains a series-long investigation into the presumed death of a missing indigenous teen, Blue Two Feathers. Gamache’s pal Pierre Arnot originally investigated her disappearance, but the trail has gone stone-cold, partly because Francoeur never allocates resources to such cases.

Tragedy begets tragedy when Gamache is next dispatched to Three Pines. The previous victim’s abandoned house, a former indigenous conversion school, has become the scene of a fresh crime. Bad karma seems to pile up in Three Pines, but it is not supernatural, in the
Twin Peaks tradition, which the title inevitably evokes—except maybe the spooky dreams related to the Two Feathers case that plague Gamache’s sleep.

Even when Gamache checks into a luxury hotel outside of Three Pines for his anniversary, Three Pines still finds him. In this case, the estranged sister of one of the villagers turns up dead, after inheriting the family fortune, much to everyone’s surprise. The final arc is roughly drawn from Penny’s novel
The Brutal Telling, in which a stranger is found dead after he inexplicably burst into the café to tell everyone they would get what’s coming to them, because he knew all their dirty secrets. It turns out that is not advisable in Three Pines. However, the case of “Arthur Ellis” gets squeezed to the margins, to make way for the resolution of the Two Feathers case.

The mysteries of
Three Pines are just okay, at least as adapted by di Girolamo, but Alfred Molina still makes the series worth watching. He is terrific as the kindly but disillusioned Gamache. He also has great workplace chemistry with Rossif Sutherland and Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers as Beauvoir and Lacoste. However, Sarah Booth’s bumbling shtick as Nichol clashes with the tenor of the series.

Frankly, the “secret” bad guy stands out like a sore thumb right from the start. It is like di Girolamo didn’t even bother to attempt any misdirection. That might be fine for an episode of
Cannon or Columbo, but it will irk fans of Penny’s novels—and there are a lot of them, which is presumably why the series was produced in the first place.

Of course, Gamache is the most important element and Molina nails him. The series really ought to be titled “Inspector Gamache” because that is how fans think of the series in-print. Maybe they will also recognize the name of “Three Pines,” but for non-fans, it is a bit misleading. You know this title must have come out of some marketing brainstorming session and just stuck.

There are cozy elements to
Three Pines, but the Two Feathers storyline addresses Canadian social issues in blunt, outspoken terms. It is arguably quite a testament to di Girolamo and the writers that they do not let these scenes overwhelm the series with an overly strident tone. It is a tricky balancing act that they mostly pull off. (It is probably worth noting nobody wants to defund the police. Rather, they want more police work done on behalf of the most vulnerable.) Recommended for Molina because he is the show, Three Pines starts streaming Friday (12/2) on Prime.