Three Pines season 1 review – meaty mysteries with an artistic flair

November 29, 2022 (Last updated: last month)
Adam Lock 8
Amazon Prime, Streaming Service, TV Reviews
3

Summary

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.

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3

Summary

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.

What did you think of the Amazon Prime Video series Three Pines season 1? Comment below.

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8 thoughts on “Three Pines season 1 review – meaty mysteries with an artistic flair

  • December 3, 2022 at 8:47 am
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    The books are good. What the screen writer and the director have done with them is not. Anyone expecting anything close to Louise Penny’s characters and story lines will be disappointed if not seriously ticked off. I know I was.

  • December 3, 2022 at 2:08 pm
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    Love the books. Not so much the video series (so far). The books develop characters – both the staples and those newly introduced (often for the murder mystery). These characters – their personalities, quirks, strengths, vulnerabilities, warmth – are what set these murder mysteries apart from other books and what draws me in to read yet another and then another… Central to this character development is Armand Gamache, a “grandfather figure” who has wisdom beyond his years, intellect that spans an unending list of disciplines, and an admirable devotion to goodness .

    The other key to the success of the books is that the reader participates with the inspectors in solving the mystery. Evidence is introduced which can or cannot be relevant and because of that, leads the reader to sort through with the inspectors to suspect then dismiss ‘people of interest.’ It is complex and therefore, satisfying (even when I totally have it solved wrong!).

    Season 1, Episode 1-2 totally missed what propels the book series. Instead it was just another murder mystery with a slight signature. It felt rushed, so rushed that the audience got no depth, no opportunity to try to solve the mystery, no chance to begin building a relationship to any of the characters. I understand that total development of the characters can’t be achieved in just two hours, but these two episodes made very little effort in helping the audience get to know the main character (Gamache). His few words of wisdom came about awkwardly and often with no context or development. They just hung there.

    I’ll watch a few more episodes in hopes that the screen writers make an about face. If not, I’ll quit them. In the meantime, I have a handful of Gamache books yet to savor 🙂

  • December 4, 2022 at 9:13 pm
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    Having just finished Penny’s latest book, I was curious to see what would be done with her work in a different format. Incidentally, I am a big fan of the series and its characters. I often find, Game of Thrones being an example, that the vision in my head is not matched by what ends up on video.
    Having finished the first episode on Amazon Prime, I am afraid I feel that they haven’t gotten the essence of Gamache, nor for that matter Three Pines and it’s inhabitants, right. Tt’s more Disney than the reality that lives in my head.
    And did we really need Ruth in a bathtub?
    I’ll try to continue watching, but I haven’t much hope.

  • December 10, 2022 at 1:08 am
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    I have to agree with all the other commenters. If you’ve read the books you will be disappointed. This is especially true because by ignoring the first book—Garmache’s and the reader’s introduction to the town and its inhabitants—the showrunners have skipped over the bond developed between us all.
    These complex books, their plots, and characters cannot be distilled into two episodes, especially with a brand new storyline threaded through. I’d rather have at least four episodes devoted to each book so we could get all the character development we get from the books. I love these books because I love the people of Three Pines and the relationship they come to have with Gamache. his family, and his team. I am honestly surprised Louise Penny has given her stamp of approval to this.

  • December 12, 2022 at 3:27 am
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    I agree with all these comments. Casting is way off from the books. I would never see these actors as the characters in the books. Three Pines is a small village, Bulit around the center green & the three pines. The video is set in a town. I would like to see the videos more like the books. The plots need to be developed more slowly on one story & not jumping all-round. I hope they will stay closer to the book’s stories & characters in the future.

  • December 13, 2022 at 12:09 am
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    Agree with all the comments. The books are MUCH better. Casting is a but off and much of the acting (with a few exceptions) feels very stiff and contrived.

  • December 26, 2022 at 11:54 pm
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    I love this show. It has a mystery to me that I don’t see in a lot of other shows. And, Molina is a gem, respectful and smart. I however, have not read the books. I hope there is a season two in the future.

  • December 26, 2022 at 11:57 pm
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    I love this show. It has a mystery to me that I don’t see in a lot of other shows. And, Molina is a gem, respectful and smart. I hope there is a season two in the future.

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