Not simply another small town murder mystery
Photo: Michele K. Short / HBO
Review: Mare Of Easttown
On the surface, Mare of Easttown looks like any other small town murder mystery. And it does share many similarities with shows like Broadchurch. While the broad description doesn’t sound particularly original, the execution and details are spot on, as with the best entries in this genre.
Mare Sheehan’s (Kate Winslet) life is messy. She is a Delaware County detective in Easttown. Although Easttown is apparently located somewhere in Pennsylvania, it is really ‘anywhere America’ where not much usually happens. This is all shattered when a murder of a young mother rocks the town and begins an investigation that covers the whole seven episodes of the first season of this excellent drama.
Mare has her fair share of issues, her son — a drug user suffering from severe depression — has taken his own life, and Mare can’t seem to grieve his loss. Mare is a grandmother and currently has custody of her grandson because her son’s wife is also a drug user and unable to look after her son. Mare is angry about, well, pretty much everything — raising her dead son’s little boy, risking losing custody of him, and grappling with the fact that her ex-husband (David Denman) is about to remarry.
Mare does her job as a way of not having to think about much of her life. Dealing with other peoples issues helps her avoid her own. While there is a murder mystery as a core driver of the story, Mare of Easttown is about so much more than this. The show deals with themes of forgiveness, grace, redemption and finding the strength to move past grief and tragedy.
That element of grace includes the character of a local Deacon (James McArdle), who comes under suspicion during the investigation, prompting Mare to tell him, “Wherever you go after this, I hope they treat you better than we did.” But he chooses to stay, accepting the town for all its failings, with parishioners seeming to reciprocate that generosity.
Perhaps the key to the whole series is that the final episode of the season is entitled “Sacrament”. In Christianity, a sacrament is an essential religious rite; various branches of Christianity recognise different sacraments. In general, they agree on the core idea that performing a sacrament can provide God’s grace. In Christian sacraments, confession and forgiveness remain of particular importance.
While the above is not necessarily a spoiler, it is a framework to approach the entire series.
This review might make Mare of Easttown seem like a grim undertaking for a seven-part series, but it is a rewarding and affecting television. It’s easy to see Easttown as a bleak, suffocating place. Abusive family dynamics, wayward teenagers, drug addiction, abducted and murdered women, the men doing the abducting and the murdering. Parents and children who can’t seem to stand each other, and neighbours turning on one another. But this would sell this excellent series short.
Kate Winslet’s performance is flawless (much has been written about her localised Delco accent) and will undoubtedly garner some awards next year. There are no plans to continue the story into a season two as the series has been billed as a limited series. All storylines are bought to a very satisfying conclusion with its seventh episode, and its creators seem happy to let the ending speak for itself.
As Australian actor Angourie Rice (who plays Mare’s daughter Siobhan) told Harpers Bazaar recently: “It’s not even that the end is an ending necessarily. It’s more of a departure from the characters. It’s letting them go. They will be okay without us watching. We know that they’re on the path to healing.”
All episodes of Mare of Easttown are currently streaming on Binge.