Three Pines

4 out of 5

Created by: Emilia di Girolamo

covers season 1

Amazon’s Three Pines, based on Louise Penny’s Inspector Armand Gamache novels, uses a most ideal structure of two-episode arcs, connecting for a larger murder mystery across its eight-episode first season. Procedurals tend to be episodic or one narrative for a season; the compromise employed by Three Pines gives each case room to let the detective work shine – Gamache (Alfred Molina) and his team can prove their skills, as opposed to the show just telling us that he / they are particularly gifted, and rushing twists at us – and also leaves time for that larger plot to get referenced along the way, so that it ends up feeling successfully woven into the story. While none of this ultimately moves us out of “standard” territory in terms of mysteries you’ll guess, and a quirky-town-with-secrets setup we’ve seen a million times over, telling a familiar story well definitely elevates that story, and the character work here – brought to life by several great actors – definitely shines.

While stirring up some political trouble in looking into the disappearances of several Indigenous women, Inspector Gamache is shuffled out to the boonies – Three Pines; a village in Eastern Quebec – to check on the death of a socialite whom no one much cares is dead. Despite the open-and-shut vibe of the case, Armand and his team identify it as murder, and go about plying secrets from the locals, who are very much sticking together. This case gets solved, and we end up having three more reasons to bring Armand back to Three Pines, and to find out more secrets, while simultaneously uncovering some bad business back home regarding the disappearances he’d been pursuing.

The tone strikes the right balance of humanism or kook: sure, there’s an old woman who swears a lot and has a pet goose (Clare Coulter), but much like all the Pines’ villagers, we have our initial impression and then warm to her as a “real” person; the series doesn’t play the town interrelations as coldly as Broadchurch-esque series, where everyone lies to everyone, and that’s very refreshing. There are the aforementioned secrets, but there’s also a sense of community, with the more organic pluses and minuses that involves – as opposed to the forced red herrings / roadblocks mystery series often rely on.

Some of the symbolism can be a bit too forced, but it at least proves thematically relevant; that said, the final episode gets perhaps too cheeky with some of this, taking some hard swerves to hook us for a second season. But by then, the show has had its say, and has left a very positive impression amidst genre peers, earning it a star above the norm,.