Mare of Easttown Episode 5: Second Chances? What Are Those?


Detective Zabel (Evan Peters) on the phone
Photograph by Michele K. Short/HBO

The following contains spoilers for Mare of Easttown Episode 5, “Illusions”

I must start by saying if you are a viewer who has been watching Mare of Easttown purely for Evan Peters, I am truly sorry. I’ll admit that ever since Peter’s Detective Colin Zabel made his introductions in Episode 2 I was not his biggest fan. I understand his role is being the outsider’s view, which they made obvious with the number of times he joked about Mare Sheehan (Kate Winslet) being related or friends with someone.  

When he wasn’t making quips at Mare he was desperately crushing on her. I get it. I am finding myself crushing on Mare as well. What Mare of Easttown doesn’t need is a love triangle. I am not one to begrudge someone younger attempting to court someone older. I’m surrounded by relationships like that and support each and every one of them. What I do begrudge is trying to force a subplot between two people who clearly have zero romantic chemistry. I would really like to know what Kate Winslet has done to make her have to suffer through this again? From the moment he started making heart eyes and flirting with Mare, she has shown no interest. When he mentions how his mother told him that Mare only wants a date with him because he’s close to the case she was booted from, Mare agrees.

A love triangle happening between Zabel, Mare, and Richard Ryan (Guy Pearce) doesn’t add anything to the story being told for Mare. If Mare of Easttown is to continue past being a limited series then perhaps down the line it would make more sense for Mare to have multiple suitors and conflicting emotions over which to pick. As of right now, Mare of Easttown has honed its focus to be about Mare’s journey to processing the traumas that have caused her to shut people out. A relationship with Richard makes sense because he is helping her to become a better person. He’s begun to knock down her walls and has given her a space in which to be vulnerable. This has allowed her to be open to the idea of pursuing therapy and begin healing. The whole plot point with Zabel feels like it was just added in randomly, or maybe to award Evan Peters with one quick smooch to Winslet before he gets bumped off.

Mare (Kate Winselt) drinks coffee by a river.
Photograph by Michele K. Short/HBO

I think the thing that bugs me most about Detective Zabel is the fact that from his second episode it was clearly visible that he had no clue what he was doing. Here is this character that was sent from the high-ups to help in an investigation because he was able to solve another unsolvable case. Yet, when it came to physically doing detective work he always seemed in a state of complete shock when Mare discovered something new. I don’t know if it was fully Mare of Easttown’s intention to make Zabel’s limitations so abruptly visible, but that is how he came off. It’s for that reason I could never fully trust him, and then tonight we discover that he did indeed not solve that missing person’s case. Having him admit that he took credit for someone else’s work didn’t really win back any brownie points with me. 

That said, he also broke the number one rule in all cop dramas, which is—always take back up. There’s a reason when the police arrive at an incident there is more than one. This is not to say Mare wouldn’t have done something similar. This is the same episode where Mare abruptly follows a figure, unprotected and by herself, that she assumes is a creeper who turns out to be an old man with dementia. To Zabel’s credit, at least it was he who figured out that the man they were speaking with was the kidnapper of Katie (Caitlin Houlahan) and Missy (Sasha Frolova), and potentially the murderer of Erin (Cailee Spaeny).

With Captain Zabel’s death and wrap-up of the two big cases (Katie’s and Erin’s) occurring at the end of Episode 5, the question on everyone’s mind is “What’s next?”

Lori (Julianne Nicholson) looks for her son.
Photograph by Michele K. Short/HBO

It’s clear from the rest of this episode that Mare of Easttown is moving away from its crime drama roots and becoming a communal drama. I don’t know if “communal dramas” are even a thing, but if there’s a “family drama” subgenre why can’t there be a word for a drama about a community? Either way, that’s what I’m calling it, and it’s true because the real highlight to this episode was the amount of time given to many of the minor town’s people.

The episode opens with the tragic death of Betty Carroll (Phyllis Somerville), the nosy neighbor who hasn’t really been able to mind her own business since the series started. Betty’s untimely demise is also probably due in part to Phyllis’s actual passing back in July 2020. Mare of Easttown hadn’t finished filming due to COVID, so to address it once they had begun to shoot again was a nice touch. Betty’s character was the quintessential nosy neighbor. The one in the neighborhood who loves to gossip and likes to become the target of those she’s been spreading drama about. Her death lays down the groundwork for the payoff later when it’s discovered that Betty’s husband had an affair with Mare’s mother, Helen (Jean Smart) after he confesses at Betty’s funeral.

This discovery led to perhaps my favorite moment so far in the entire season. Mare’s reaction to the reveal at the funeral was nearly choking on her beer, but the real gold was shortly after in the awkward car ride home. Helen is trying to desperately correct the situation by explaining her side of things, but it’s really having the opposite effect on Mare. Meanwhile, Mare had managed to keep composure over the incident but all bets are off the second they are in the car. She breaks down in a fit of uncontrollable laughter. It’s a small scene, but it really showcases how far these two have come from nearly biting off one another’s heads a few episodes back when it was discovered that Carrie (Sosie Bacon) wanted her son, Drew, back. This is basically establishing for Mare that her mother is just as messed up at her life as she is.

Betty’s husband wasn’t the only one potentially getting frisky tonight. During the big blackout caused by Betty driving herself into a pole, Lori (Julianne Nicholson) overhears her husband, John (Joe Tippett) pleading to their son Ryan (Cameron Mann) about keeping a secret. This drives Ryan to such a spot that the kids at school are constantly bullying his sister, Moira (Kassie Mundhenk). The rage of keeping John’s secret wants to be released so much that Ryan goes over to the boys bullying her and whacks them with a tray. Part of it could certainly be because his sister has Down syndrome.

I of all people know what happens over time when you are forced to keep your family’s secrets. I am still working through years and years of lying that I was forced to do as a child that has affected my relationships and created chronic anxiety in myself. The rage of keeping quiet becomes too much. 

At first, I believed that this was going to turn into John having some creepy connection with Erin (besides the actual blood relation). I’ve been living in crime drama land for far too long, and the subject of sexual assault is a constant. Mare of Easttown has already dealt with recovery, addiction, grief, depression, and suicide. They’ve hinted that John’s brother Billy (Robbie Tann) is potentially sexually assaulting Erin when during a discussion over Erin having stayed at Billy’s, he kept avoiding Mare’s questions.

Brianna (Mackenzie Lansing) speaks with Dylan (Jack Mulhern) outside.
Photograph by Michele K. Short/HBO

My other favorite moment of the night also has to go to hot-headed Brianna Del Rasso (Mackenzie Lansing) who manages to let down her guard to Dylan Hinchey (Jack Mulhern). When he tells her that his family is expressing interest in taking in Erin’s son DJ even though he’s not Dylan’s. We came in with his relationship being rocky with DJ, and then once it was known that he wasn’t the biological father Dylan thought of turning his back. Guess what Dylan, you don’t have to share blood to be that baby’s father. You became his father the second you decided to take that responsibility. He decided to keep this responsibility that night in the hospital when he got out of the bed to DJ crying to be held and cradled him.

The real important moment in this scene isn’t Dylan’s decision to accept his role as DJ’s father, but it’s Brianna’s decision to acknowledge how her actions have consequences. Due to her actions in assaulting Erin, she understands that her plans of leaving home are now gone. Everywhere she goes people will look and discover what she has done. She may not get jail time but the simple task of being stuck in Easttown, let alone Pennsylvania, is a prison in itself. She’s become just another statistic proving that most small-town families never leave. There is a moment in Brianna’s face as this hits her and her eyes well up with tears. She may be a not-so-nice person, but the pure realization that this one act that she can never take back is officially going to haunt her for the rest of her life is a cruel reminder of the world we are all currently living in. We have become a society where there is no longer tolerated in the mistakes dumb teenagers make because they think they know everything and really don’t. We’re in a society that will jump to “canceling” someone for a difference of opinion instead of allowing them time to discover why they thought that way, to begin with. 

There are clearly no excuses being made for Brianna’s behavior, but as someone who has seen their childhood bullies evolve with simple time, everyone deserves a second chance. She will be beating herself up for the rest of her life over the fact that her actions potentially led to someone’s death. You can see it in her eyes as she’s telling Dylan her plans. It breaks me to watch Brianna realize that she may never get one. All she can do is just lie and say she’s fine with it when in reality she’s not.

These minor characters being able to pull leading statuses is just another reason I am just going to continue to compare Mare of Easttown to Twin Peaks. Both are fantastic shows that set the standards on what communal drama should be. It should not only be the main character that showcases how life doesn’t just stop after that particular chapter ends. There are so many new questions and roots from episode five of Mare of Easttown. What will be Dawn’s (Enid Graham) reaction to learning that her daughter has been found alive? Will we be able to explore the effects of being hidden for over a year by using Katie? Are Mare’s walls going to go speeding back up with guilt over Zabel’s death? Mare of Easttown has just two episodes left, and no murder mystery left to solve. I say, bring on the character drama!

Written by Katie Bienvenue

Katie is a writer, cosplayer, craftswoman, and Barista. When she isn't talking about Chainmaille she is usually found discussing some television series, film, or how to properly make one's latte.

One Comment

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  1. This is not an advice to the lovelorn show for Chrissakes. Can’t believe you’re complaining that Mare’s relationship with Zabel makes no sense. THAT’s WHY ITS SO REAL AND POIGNANT. They are not a good match but she and Zabel are more honest with each other by the end than anybody. Richard didn’t do a thing help her. His advice was meaningless cliches. You’re making this up as you go along. Watch the show a few times before you write about it.
    You complain about Zabel’s police work as if you were his superior officer! This is a story with characters—-flawed characters! Which is one reason it’s so great. You want perfect cops watch reruns of Dragnet. This review reads like you watched the show while half asleep and wrote about it in 10 minutes. Your other reviews were good.

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