Why You Need to Watch Three Pines, Based on Louise Penny’s Beloved Novels

The Amazon Prime series is a loyal adaptation that also features a new storyline centred around the MMIWG2S crisis.

A photo of a man with glasses speaking to a woman with white hair. Both are wearing winder coats and the woman is carrying flowers.

Alfred Molina plays Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. (Photo: Courtesy Amazon Prime)

Based on Louise Penny’s wildly popular and award-winning Chief Inspector Armand Gamache books, the new Prime Video series, Three Pines, brings the beloved inspector to the silver screen. Starring Alfred Molina as Gamache, the series follows the Sûreté du Québec (SQ) chief inspector as he’s sent to the small Eastern Townships village of Three Pines to investigate a grisly murder. Soon, more strange things happen in the seemingly sleepy hamlet, spurring Gamache to dig deeper into both the town’s secrets and his own dark past. The first eight-episode season tackles four mysteries, each spanning two episodes. There’s also a new, season-long storyline exclusive to the series that follows Gamache as he tries to solve the disappearance of a young Indigenous woman from the nearby Mohawk community. Spoiler: It’s the strongest part of an already strong series.

Here, all the reasons Three Pines is must-see TV.

It engages important Canadian conversations

While the show’s main plot follows its source material, the TV adaptation weaves in a storyline surrounding missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. The show’s opening scene depicts a protest in Montreal against police inaction and indifference towards the MMIWG2S crisis as Gamache watches on. One case in particular is brought to the inspector’s attention: the disappearance of Blue Two-Rivers, a Mohawk woman whose family is a part of the protest. Gamache drives the Two-Rivers family home from the protest and learns more about their story, eventually promising them that he’ll solve the case after their concerns have been ignored by other authorities.

Three women in red parkas at a MMIWG protest.

A scene from a protest in support of MMIWG2S as depicted in Three Pines. (Photo: Courtesy Amazon Prime)

This additional plotline, which takes up just as much space as Penny’s original stories, adds a rich layer to the otherwise straightforward plots. The first two episodes are adapted from Penny’s second book, A Fatal Grace, and follow Gamache as he and his crew try to solve the murder of local socialite CC de Poitiers. The difference between how the SQ treats de Poitiers’ and Two-Rivers’ cases is stark. Even as de Poiters is hated in town, she’s a well-off white woman whose death mobilizes the provincial authorities, while Two-Rivers’ disappearance continues to be swept under the rug.

Its setting is reminiscent of towns all across the country

Three Pines, the titular Eastern Townships village where the series takes place, is fictional, but Penny based the town on her own hometown of Knowlton, Que., about 100 kilometers east of Montreal. The fictional town has all the makings of an excellent mystery-book setting: a cast of quirky townies, beloved local establishments that serve as key locations for the plot and community events that are the perfect backdrop for inciting incidents (in the first episode, de Poitiers is murdered at a Boxing Day curling match).

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At the same time, Three Pines doesn’t shy away from the darker aspects of its setting. The third and fourth episodes of the series have Gamache and his crew solving a murder that happened in a former residential school in town, and the legacy of the residential school system is another key plot point throughout the series.

It recasts key roles

Aside from additional plots, the Prime series rewrites two key characters to be Indigenous. Town leader Bea Mayer, played by iconic Cree and Métis actress Tantoo Cardinal, runs the local cultural centre, which displays a collection of Indigenous art.

Detective Isabelle Lacoste, who becomes one of Gamache’s mentees, is also Indigenous in the adaptation. Played by Elle-Maija Tailfeathers (who has starred in films like Blood Quantum and Night Raiders), this version of Detective Lacoste brings new nuance to the character as she struggles with what it means to be an Indigenous person working within a system that oppresses Indigenous people.

A woman in a dark jacket and toque walking across the street.

Elle-Maija Tailfeathers plays Sargent Isabelle Lacoste. (Photo: Courtesy Amazon Prime)

There’s lots of Indigenous talent behind the camera

The series is adapted for TV by British screenwriter Emilia di Girolamo who serves as Three Pines’ showrunner and previously worked on popular shows like EastEnders and The Tunnel. But in addition to di Girolamo and the rest of British production company Left Bank (which also produces shows like The Crown and Outlander), Three Pines enlists the talents of Indigenous artists to bring the story to life. Among them is Mohawk director Tracey Deer, whose 2020 film Beans, about the Oka Crisis, won best picture at the Canadian Screen Awards last year. Deer directs two episodes and serves as a consultant for the entire series. Also serving as consultants are actress Katsitsionni Fox and IllumiNative, an organization dedicated to increasing the visibility—and challenging the narratives about—Native people. The soundtrack also includes Indigenous musicians like Eliaspie and The Bearhead Sisters.

If you’re a fan of the books, you’ll love the series

Fans of Penny, the Armand Gamache series and the fictional town of Three Pines will love the new adaption. Molina plays the beloved gentle and moral chief inspector Gamache perfectly. Readers will also relish in the adaption’s faithfulness to the setting, characters, plots and themes.

But it’s the changes to the source material that are the strongest parts of the adaptation.The season-long arc surrounding the disappearance of Blue Two-Rivers offers a jumping-off point into larger conversations about the Canadian police’s mishandling of MMIWG2S, their mistreatment of Indigenous people, the cultural genocide enacted by the Canadian government and the continued struggles faced by Indigenous communities. These additions and edits are where the series strikes gold, elevating the original work from Agatha Christie-esque mysteries to a broader exploration of Canada’s dark history.

Three Pines is available to stream on Prime Video. Two episodes are currently out, with two episodes dropping every Friday until the season finale on December 23.

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