The following contains spoilers for the Mare of Easttown finale, Episode 7, “Sacrament”
I can’t believe that seven weeks have come and gone. It feels like just yesterday we were introduced to Kate Winslet’s Mare Sheehan waking up to go investigate some peeping tom incident. Now, here we are finding out the answer to the big question: who killed Erin(Cailee Spaeny)? Mare of Easttown’s finale gives us that answer but also allows closure on its exploration into the titular character’s struggle with overcoming grief.
I hadn’t been familiar with the theories going around the interwebs. An acquaintance had recently filled me in on the fact that people were blowing up the shot of Chief Carter (John Douglas Thompson) holding the photo from Episode 6 trying to make out who is in it. Angourie Rice, who portrays Siobhan Sheehan, had done an interview where she was asked for her favorite theory and responded with how some fans thought it was the turtle. The times I’ve checked the Mare of Easttown tag on Twitter I’ve been met with countless comments of how spot-on Kate Winslet’s accent is, and that Helen (Jean Smart) was once again playing Fruit Ninja, but never any ideas on who could have potentially murdered Erin. I even had my own theory. It was nice to see that aspects of it were spot on even if I was wrong when it came to naming the actual killer.
For those who had thought John Ross (Joe Tippett) had been the one to kill Erin, they were somewhat correct. No, he wasn’t the one who pulled the trigger, but he was the one who made the continuous decision to have an incestuous relationship with his niece. That decision caused a chain reaction of events that led to his son Ryan (Cameron Mann) accidentally killing Erin in a poorly orchestrated attempt at scaring her.
John should have never put the burden of his infidelity on Ryan because at that moment in Ryan’s head he was led to believe that it was his job to keep his family together. I have never connected more with Ryan than I had at that moment when he expressed his reason for doing what he did. I was about his age, and also the oldest child, when I remember being trained to lie to social workers about the conditions I was growing up in. I was told to teach my siblings what to say to social workers in order to keep us from being placed in the foster system. I wanted to do anything to keep my family together because, as a child, I was afraid of what could happen if we weren’t. Ryan was scared of seeing his family unit be separated and so he decided that “scaring” Erin would prove to be the better move. My lying about my life didn’t keep us out of foster care and Ryan’s attempt at scaring Erin backfired in the worst of ways.
Remember all those times Detective Colin Zabel (Evan Peters) had made those passive comments about Mare Sheehan knowing absolutely everyone in town, and how much I disliked his character for being used for that plot device? I guess I have to apologize because it seems as though he was correct in making that assumption. I give you all full permission to do the Grace Adler “I told you so!” dance next time you see me in the streets or at a convention.
The Sheehans and the Rosses have been interlocked for the entire time thanks to the close relationship between Mare and Lori (Julianne Nicholson). As the title says, “sometimes the job sucks,” and this is one of those times. For seven weeks we had taken a deep dive into the world of Mare Sheehan and the one big constant in her life, the one thing that has kept her sane is her close friendship with Lori. These two are practically sisters with this being the one relationship in Mare’s life that she has not messed up with the “Mare Sheehan Bubble”.
Mare of Easttown’s finale offers up the question for us as viewers, where do we draw the line? How far does a friendship, no matter how close, find itself lasting when your family is put at risk? We learned that John was unfaithful before, but Lori took him back because she wanted their family to be together. She lives for her family. Even after this time when John is placed in prison and she is asked to take in DJ to keep him in the family, Lori agrees. She hates it—you can see it every time she looks at DJ that he has become a constant reminder of the time in their life where everything went wrong—but she still does it out of the need to protect her family unit.
On the other side, there is Mare Sheehan who has been throwing herself into work because allowing herself to focus on others’ grief means that she will spend less time on her own. In order to do this, of course, she will follow any lead if it makes itself known. She had made a promise to uphold the law, but it’s in these times where that promise comes at a price. Mare understands that everything changes the second Ben Carroll (Patrick McDade) tells her the only thing stolen and then returned from a break-in was his revolver (which matches the murder weapon for Erin), and that the only other person with the key was Ryan who cuts his lawn. It’s at that moment that Mare has to decide to be the detective or be the friend. This case had proved, through Zabel’s keen eye, to be a major conflict of interest for Mare. Discovering that her best friend’s son was the actual killer brings the conflict of interest to an entirely new level.
Lori had already walked the line with Mare over lying to her about Billy’s involvement, which almost led her to arrest the wrong man. By not coming to Mare when she found out it was Ryan and lying, even more, to cover it up is an obstruction of justice. Lori asks Mare to turn a blind eye and look the other way because Ryan is her blood but Mare understands what could happen if she does. She’s had her job on the line before for the incident with Carrie (Sosie Bacon) and she’s learned to not let her personal feelings cloud her judgment, so she makes the call and arrests Ryan.
From Episode 1, Mare of Easttown has always been a show about healing. In the cases of the Rosses, the healing of their marriage and family. For the Baileys, the healing of a year of trauma brought on by the disappearance of a loved one who was thankfully returned. Then there are the Sheehans, who are healing from the suicide of a member of their family.
As Decon Burton (James McArdle) says in tonight’s finale, “We’ve come out of a tunnel. Arrived at the next level of healing.” For the past six weeks, that tunnel has been long, dark, and full of misdirection. Every choice that we’ve seen made by people was done in a place of fear. For Dawn Bailey (Enid Graham) it was the fear of ever seeing Katie again, but now that she’s been found they can work together to rebuild Katie’s life for the better.
Lori had been afraid of losing her family and so created a web of lies to keep things in her control. What she hadn’t fully realized was that Mare has always been part of that family. Their friendship is the closest thing either has to a sisterhood, which is why the moment Mare invites herself over to Lori’s is such a powerful statement in moving into the next stage of healing. For Lori, Mare is the physical representation of the thing that caused her worst fears to become a reality, but she is also Lori’s light. For the two of them to share that moment by the stove where neither of them speaks more than a name is far more powerful. At that moment it’s not two friends, but two mothers who are going through grieving the loss of a child. It’s this grief that allows them to reconnect and exit the other side together and stronger.
The biggest journey back into the light that Mare of Easttown’s finale explores is Mare’s journey to finding acceptance in her son Kevin’s death. For weeks I have spoken about how she has used his death as the building blocks for keeping people out, and through each episode, she has been taking down that wall one stone at a time. Tonight’s finale saw her make the biggest strides yet. She has become a woman who has stopped running from her emotions. She becomes brave enough in her own self to have an adult relationship with Richard (Guy Pearce) even when he has to move on to a different college. The Mare of the early episodes would have closed herself off and refused to put in the work, but this Mare is willing to put in the time and care because she is living for herself and not for anyone else.
She allows herself to open up to Siobhan and act more like a mother to her than she had in a long time. This allows Siobhan to process what she wants and make the decision to head off to Berkeley to follow her own passions. Mare’s therapy even helps in reconnecting her broken relationship with her mother. Helen admits to having anger over her life not having worked out the way she planned and taking that out on Mare. As someone who is still waiting to hear their mother admit to their faults, this scene hit a core with me.
Mare also finds patience with Carrie, who has begun to use again, and takes the moment to not scold her but comfort her. She’s seen Carrie attempt the work and has seen through Kevin what happens when a negative approach is taken. Mare’s goal is for Carrie to be well enough to be in Drew’s life and she’s willing to work with her on it.
The biggest feat for Mare comes in the final moments of the episode. It has been established that her son Kevin had committed suicide by hanging himself in the attic, and Mare had since not been able to find her way back up there. The ongoing goal for Mare throughout Mare of Easttown was for her to be able to properly grieve her son and to realize that it wasn’t her fault. If this series has taught us anything with Mare, it’s that her actions speak far louder than any words she could possibly say. For the final sequence to be Mare finding the courage to go up to the attic speaks volumes of her progress. It means that she is willing to accept his death. The scene is far more powerful than anything they could have made Winslet say and it’s with these types of moments that Mare of Easttown has been such a superior exploration into character-driven dramas.
This series could have played into the many tropes that come with being labeled a crime drama, but it managed to dive deeper. Mare of Easttown used its characters to explore mental health and the act of processing trauma. In a time when mental health still holds such a stigma, it’s important to see a series like this explore that mental health doesn’t know classes or races, but is a human issue that affects everyone. Therapy shouldn’t be seen as some horrible thing but as a device to help improve your well-being. We are only as good as our support systems, and allowing Mare to enter into that attic means that she has closed this chapter of her life and is ready to see what Easttown, Pennsylvania holds for her next. Just because there has been justice brought to Erin McMenamin doesn’t mean everything stops. Easttown is a community and a community continues on, so maybe one day we’ll meet Mare Sheehan again. I certainly hope so.