Three Pines has all the necessities for a successful detective series. Molina is a solid lead, and the mysteries are intricately crafted. But the script is far too pretentious and formulaic at times to sustain its initial quality for the entire season.
We review the Prime Video series Three Pines season 1, which does not contain spoilers.
Well-established actors will no doubt have a bucket list of all their dream roles. These will consist of real-life icons, courageous heroes, or even a masterful villain or two, but there is always an adoration for the wise detective character of yesteryear, made famous by the stories of Sherlock Holmes, Poirot, and Miss Marple. Alfred Molina looks like he had a similar itch and can now cross that role off his bucket list after landing his own crime series. In Three Pines, Molina plays Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, an endearing detective with his own dark past.
The lead sleuth is just another in a long line of protagonists who appear almost saint-like in their convictions while battling with something more sinister on the inside. Armand is known to get obsessed with his work, and in the show’s first episode, he takes on two new cases, at once, around the Christmas holiday season no less – now that’s commitment. The first is a missing person’s case involving 18-year-old Blue Two-Rivers, and the second takes us to the titular village of Three Pines. It feels like these two separate stories will eventually interconnect as the narrative develops, but for now, these plots remain completely apart.
Blue’s case sparks debate over the cruel treatment of the indigenous population in Canada and the police’s indifference to their plight, while the second case explores the cultish stereotypes of idealistic villagers and the artsy elite. The first murder case in the village, concerning CC de Poitiers, comes with an unexpected, delicious hook. The most hated woman in the village is killed in broad daylight, essentially in front of all the other locals. And any one of them could be the killer. It’s a tantalizing premise that is built upon over the following installments.
See, Three Pines is structured in a unique way. Each week, Prime Video will be dropping a double bill of episodes. Each two-parter focuses on one specific murder case in the village, while the Two-Rivers’ missing person’s case plays alongside these separate atrocities in real-time. This format means that the double bill concentrates on a singular storyline, while there’s an overarching, season-long narrative as well. It’s a clever structure, although it has the tendency to make the series quite repetitive at times. The first episode of the double bill sets out the case and the suspects, then everything is resolved by the second installment.
Three Pines itself is an odd place, home to kooky characters, one of which keeps a goose as a pet. These snobbish locals all seem to be hiding their own deep, dark secrets and the village has an unpleasant past of its own. There’s a large cast to get acquainted with and the villagers are instantly hostile towards the police presence, leading to one classic scene, where a restaurant filled with laughter and chatter quickly goes silent on their arrival. The quaint village works as a scenic backdrop to all this murder and mystery, with the Canadian winter adding an atmospheric edge.
The initial mystery will draw viewers in, although the show quickly reverts to a standard structure after the first two entries, one that becomes quite predictable on a weekly basis. The artsy, pretentious motifs can be quite distracting too. Armand has an unusual relationship with a bird (a bit like Prince Philip in The Crown), and some of the dream sequences feel a little out of place. This detective drama is clearly going for highbrow art but falls short overall. It can be formulaic and repetitive, while the overarching story feels drawn out.
It’s a shame because this series has the potential to be a hit, addressing cultures and aesthetics that don’t normally get the crime series treatment. The inspirations are obvious (True Detective and Twin Peaks come to mind), but it has a style of its own. Molina makes for a strong lead, and the murder cases are well-thought-out mysteries. Three Pines season 1 is a professionally made crime series with lofty expectations. It just relies too heavily on whimsical philosophy or heavy-handed, repeated themes to get its message across.
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