The following contains spoilers for Mare of Easttown Episode 2, “Fathers”
Morning has come to Easttown, Pennsylvania, and with it the discovery of Erin McMenamin’s (Cailee Spaeny) body. The problem with living in a small place like Easttown is that there’s no way of separating one’s work-life from personal. I’ve seen my fair share of shows like Crossing Jordan, Law and Order SVU, and CSI where it’s been crammed into my head that murder is usually caused by someone close to the victim. For Mare Sheehan (Kate Winslet), who has lived with these people all her life—seen the town’s children grow from infants—it must be hard to believe that someone she is close to could be a murder.
The groundwork for who could have committed the crime was laid out last week. Was it her baby daddy Dylan (Jack Mulhern) and his current girlfriend Brianna (Mackenzie Lansing) who were last seen assaulting her? Perhaps her father, Kenny (Patrick Murney) whose temper can get heated?
Mare of Easttown is quick to address this. All too often in these shows, the parents are suspect number one. Last week would have me instantly screaming “It was him!”, but this show has proven already with the layout of their first episode, they are not here to give us your run-of-the-mill tropes. They are here to tell a compelling story and that means changing the game up.
Kenny’s journey in his grieving process feels like a companion story to how Dawn Bailey (Enid Graham) is still struggling to get over her daughter, Katie’s, disappearance. She’s exhausted with the police not doing anything and so she protests and fights for answers.
The difference between Dawn and Kenny is that she wouldn’t take the law into her own hands. She may want justice, but she also wants our system of law to be fixed in how they handle these types of cases. Kenny on the other hand acts out of impulse and rage. This is why his relatives, John (Joe Tippett) and Billy Ross (Robbie Tann), take turns staying with him. When they aren’t, he sneaks off into the back of Dylan’s truck, kidnaps him at gunpoint, and brings him to the same area where Erin was killed to reenact his revenge.
Deacon Mark Burton (James McArdle) can quickly remind us of Arthur Darvill’s Reverend Paul Coats from Broadchurch. In small communities, religion can play a very important part in people’s lives. It’s their belief system and sometimes the glue that holds the town together. In Broadchurch, Rev. Coats is seen as a comfort to Jodie Whittaker’s grieving Beth Latimer, but also as a potential suspect. Deacon Burton offers us a very moving and deeply personal sermon that leads us to question how close he was with Erin. According to him, he only remembered her briefly from an afterschool program, but I highly doubt that.
There is a line of questioning with the teenagers, including Mare’s daughter, Siobhan (Angourie Rice), and Erin’s best friend Jess (Ruby Cruz), that had seen Erin last which comes up empty at the time. Later Jess decides to go to Lily’s (Julianne Nicholson) house to reveal to her that Erin didn’t believe Dylan was her son’s real father. Although she never fully told Jess, Jess believed it to be Mare’s ex-husband Frank (David Denman). Could it have been Frank? He just became engaged and Erin was struggling to find the money to get DJ’s ear operation. She could have gone to him in hopes of getting him to help her?
Mare of Easttown managed in its second episode to weave Erin’s presence throughout the town, and quickly link many of the characters who last week felt like randoms. It’s very reminiscent of Twin Peaks, making Erin Mare of Easttown’s Laura Palmer.
In one episode, Mare of Easttown managed to create a community full of interesting people. They are people we quickly became invested in, which is why Detective Colin Zabel’s (Evan Peters) introduction feels as though you are meeting a long-lost relative for the very first time. You know they are supposed to be there, but it still doesn’t make the situation any less uncomfortable.
I can hear the screams of internet fangirls crying out with joy at the introduction of Evan Peters after he was absent from last week’s episode, but there’s something with his character that bugs me. Most know Peters from his work on Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story where he’s been able to flex many of his acting muscles and those muscles certainly get stretched here, but something about him feels out of place.
Detective Colin Zabel was briefly mentioned last week as being a county detective assigned to help Mare on Katie Bailey’s cold case. Mare is quick to shrug him off and resist working with him, even though she knows she has no choice, and he spends much of the episode trying to win her over.
The rest of his time in Episode 2 is spent telling Mare what the audience can already see, that she’s too close to her two main cases. When they go to arrest Brianna at her family’s restaurant, Brianna’s parents, Patty (Connie Giordano) and Tony Del Rasso (Eric T. Miller), are quick to treat her like she’s any regular. When Zabel witnesses this he makes the first of his many comments, “Are you, friends, with these people?” Yes, Zabel. Yes, she is. She’s pretty much on a first-name basis with nearly every person in town, so you better catch up.
I’m not giving up hope that Detective Zabel will be fleshed out. Mare of Easttown is about a community so it makes sense that the outsider wouldn’t carry much depth just yet. The thing I’ve really been enjoying with this series has been the fact that the people who have lived here their entire lives are made to feel as though we have known them for that long. Detective Zabel is an outsider and so he is being portrayed, as of now, like a one-dimensional police officer. Hopefully, as Zabel becomes deeper and deeper into the community, he’ll also become deeper and deeper into some character development and feel less like a weak link to this series.
I wouldn’t be able to talk about Mare of Easttown without talking about Mare Sheehan herself. With each episode, I have fallen more and more in love with this complex and troubled woman (I understand it’s only been two episodes, but it feels as if it’s been more). Everything about her feels completely realistic. You can relate to her successes as much as her failures. There were times in Episode 2 when she wasn’t the best person. In fact, she kind of sucked. (Not you Kate! No, you just keep on proving that you deserve that Emmy!) She could have easily made Brianna’s arrest less dinner theater, but I feel she was putting on a show for Detective Zabel to show who was in charge.
Last week I mentioned how Mare wears many masks, and that certain things will trigger when those masks come off. While Mare was interrogating Brianna in Episode 2, and not holding back, there came a moment that could easily be compared to throwing a rock and smashing a window. Mare is the window and the mention by Brianna that Mare’s son Kevin (Cody Kostro) had committed suicide was the rock. The moment Kevin’s suicide is brought up, the fake coldness that Mare puts on when she’s in “detective mode” gets interrupted, causing the real insecure Mare to poke through. This moment mimics the confrontation she had with Dawn last week at the reunion ceremony.
Mare has a lot of baggage, and it feels as though she’s just been compartmentalizing everything. She doesn’t know how to focus on her home, personal, and professional lives, so each suffers from it. Her family is a mess.
There doesn’t feel to be any connection between herself and Siobhan. When Siobhan makes it home the first words out of Mare’s mouth aren’t, “How was your day?” they’re “Where were you last night?” because finding out that Siobhan had a connection to Erin’s murder is more important than finding out what has been going on with her life. I get it and I’m sure Siobhan gets it. You’re a detective and this is your job Mare, but this isn’t your entire life. If she had better communication skills with her daughter then maybe Mare would realize that Siobhan is struggling in a relationship with her bandmate Becca (Madeline Weinstein) who is constantly acting irresponsibly.
Her mother, Helen (Jean Smart) feels more like au pair than a parent. She came to take care of things after Frank left, but Mare has become too reliant on her. When it comes to taking Drew to go visit his mother, Carrie (Sosie Bacon), it’s Helen that does it. When Drew begins to twitch his eyes like his father had, it’s Helen that mentions it to Mare. Even after Mare has a yelling match with Tony about ruining his daughter’s life while on her way out to meet up with Richard (Guy Pearce), Helen is left to calm down a hysterical Patty. I wouldn’t put it past Mare to have left the broken window and spilled milk from Tony’s retaliation for Helen to clean up in the morning.
Mare is so observant when it comes to detective work but when it comes to her own family she chooses to be oblivious. She told Drew’s pediatrician that she had to “check out” when it came to her son because it came to be too much for her. When his suicide happened that guilt caused her to stay checked out and to instead build these walls higher to keep herself from processing. This is why her relationships with those close to her have been crumbling.
I’ve seen what not allowing yourself to grieve does to you. It makes you age faster, and become a black hole of negativeness. No matter how much you attempt to make your life better the shadow of your guilt looms over and refuses to ever leave unless you seek help. You can push it as far down as it will go, but things have a habit of resurfacing.
Guess what Mare? No matter how much you attempt to fix your own mistakes by raising Drew, there was one thing you can’t ignore. That one day Carrie would want to take back her responsibilities for being Drew’s mother, and that moment was tonight. Carrie dropped the bomb on Helen, and Siobhan and is ready for a battle.
The list of people Mare allows herself to be vulnerable and open with is short. Richard is still new and considered an outsider, but you know what they say? “It’s easier to open up to a complete stranger than it is to turn to someone you’ve known for so long.” Given that Mare has basically known this entire town her whole life, Richard is a godsend.
Richard has had quite the effect on her too. Mare isn’t the type to get dolled up for an evening. If you don’t believe me, look at how many unused lipstick shades she’s collected (I’m interested to know the time in her life where she wanted to wear that blue). Yet, she decides to go to Richard’s party and finds herself for once in an environment where no one knows her. She’s no longer Lady Hawk, but awkward Mare Sheehan who learns quickly that she doesn’t like duck pate. When she spits it out into her napkin trying not to be noticed, I couldn’t help but think this is something Rose would have done in the Titanic dinner scene if she wasn’t trying to be so proper. This is not Mare’s environment, but she’s there because she wants to try with Richard. I don’t think she would have done this for Frank if the opportunity presented itself.
Mare of Easttown is using Erin’s death to explore how not only a small town deals with tragedy, but how different people process grief. People like Dawn choose to fight their battles by using their voices. Mare is a woman that Dawn could easily despise because of everything that has happened to her and yet when the time presents itself Dawn still chooses to protect Mare. People like Tony and Kenny like to take action into their own hands causing them to act out in forms of violence as a way of processing. Kenny shot Dylan and now he has to face what’s to come. Then there are the people like Mare who are struggling to keep it together. She has a lot of walls and a lot of grief to rummage through, but Erin’s death might just be the final push she needed in order to begin that journey.
Mare of Easttown airs Sunday nights at 10 PM EDT on HBO and HBO Max.