After finally settling down to watch the seven episodes of Mare of Easttown, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Crime shows usually feel one-and-the-same to me, and I don’t often enjoy them; this one was different immediately. From the avoidance of cliché to the way the interpersonal relationships felt realistic, I was welcomed in and made to feel as if I knew the characters myself.
The story is of a murdered girl, Erin McMenamin (Cailee Spaeny), and the disappearance of other local girls—Katie Bailey (Caitlin Houlahan), and Missy Sager (Sasha Frolova). We follow the life of Mare Sheehan (Kate Winslet), the main detective on both cases, and get an insight into her personal life and the way she works. The town the story is set in is very small, and Mare seems to have some kind of relationship with the majority of the locals. Even the people she does not have personal relationships with know who she is. 25 years ago, Mare won a basketball game for the town with an amazing shot in an important match. This made her somewhat of a local hero long before she pursued her career as a detective.
From the very first episode, it was clear that this show was about more than chasing a murderer. The relationships between the characters and the idiosyncrasies of their home and family lives are written to feel very real. The main character, Mare, is incredibly relatable and feels like a more honest representation of a protagonist than the romanticised versions we are so often met with when we turn on our televisions.
I also enjoyed the unpredictability of the twists and turns. Brad Ingelsby, the series creator and head writer, managed to avoid cliché throughout the show, which made this an even more realistic and life-like storyline. Whilst not everything unfolded in a linear way, those twists and turns were as unexpected but typical as they might be in your life or mine.
In the second episode, Colin Zabel (Evan Peters) arrives to help Mare with the cases. The two don’t hit it off straight away, and their awkwardness and difficulty getting to know one another feels realistic, their characters humanly flawed. After confiding in one another at a bar, however, the two seem to have an understanding of each other—despite their verbal clashes remaining frosty.
They begin to work together, but when Mare is suspended for planting drugs to keep custody of her grandson she continues to work with Zabel on the down-low. She gives him help and advice now that he is leading the girls’ cases. This mutual benefit—Mare keeping up with the case and Zabel using her local knowledge and detective experience to keep the case moving—created a deeper bond between them. Visiting Zabel at home, Mare met his mother and learned more about his personal life. Zabel, too, picked up on clues about Mare. There were traces of admiration in his communication with her, and, in some ways, she started to appreciate him back.
The relationship between the two is very surface level, after Zabel’s initial oversharing at the bar. Despite this, the actors manage to convey the affection that develops between the characters. Mare starts to smile more when she is around him, and seems flattered and intrigued when he kisses her.
As the series continues, we piece together that Mare’s son killed himself a couple of years prior, and that the mother of his child—a woman who has struggled with drug addictions and violent tendencies—wants custody of him. The conversations that go on in the Sheehan household are full of realism, and the way they are shot—camera angles as if you are sat round their table with them, woolly-socked feet on tables, beers resting all over the kitchen—create a sense of knowing and understanding the intricacies of the family.
It is in the kitchen especially that this is particularly noticeable. The set is done up so well to look messy as if the mess were an accident or the product of busy lives rather than a kitchen with a few things out of place. The care taken to make sure the mess is random and not carefully arranged is obvious. The children’s bedrooms look authentic and mismatched—the way real children’s rooms might look. You can see the sense of style in each, but they don’t have the polished look that some on-screen bedrooms sometimes have which often ruins their authenticity.
Mare’s insistence to speak back to her mother and mark her territory feels familiar and almost comforting in its honesty to family relationships, as does the way she speaks to her children.
It becomes clear that Mare has a lot to live up to in her role as a detective. Her father was also a detective before he died during her childhood, and she is still processing feelings of guilt and inadequacy after her son’s death. None of these things are over-done, but they are all addressed so that we can see that Mare has her own ghosts outside of her work.
When Mare and Zabel do track down their kidnapper by his vehicle, Wayne Potts (Jeb Kreager), we see quickly that they are in a very dangerous position. They have realised that the man whose house they are in is very likely to have the missing girls, but, with Mare being on leave at this point, it is only Zabel with a weapon. I was ready to watch an elaborate chase, a miraculous dodge, or an action-filled escape. But instead, Potts draws his gun just a split second before Zabel does, and shoots him dead before we have a chance to catch up.
This shocked me, and, much as I adored Zabel’s character, I loved the boldness of this narrative decision. I have always resented characters that live because they are beloved when in reality their escape would have been very unlikely. But because of the classic ‘survival of the beloved‘ trope, I did not expect either character to die. (after all, these are our main characters!) Zabel’s death was as refreshing as it was shockingly devastating. Inglesby’s inclusion of the frailty of life again felt like a jolt of realism in a fictional world. I felt the shock that Mare must have felt watching her partner and new friend being suddenly killed.
When the kidnapped girls are recovered, it’s clear that the perpetrator is not Erin’s murderer. I loved that the kidnapper was not a character we had met before. This narrative decision again made the story feel more real—I would have sighed at the cliché of the kidnapper being somebody Mare had known all along. That being said, keeping Erin’s murderer and those who helped cover it up as central characters made sure us couch detectives didn’t feel hard done by.
Instead of having a eureka moment where everything led back to one “bad guy” that we have known all along, Mare Of Easttown once again reminded us that, in life, darkness can creep up from the unknown just as easily as it can from the things we know to be afraid of.
Colin’s death had dashed any hope of Zabel and Mare ever having a romance—and in the end, there is no cheesy, romantic ending of any kind for Mare. Early on, things with Richard (Guy Pearce), Mare’s other potential love interest, seem to be going well. But even this ends realistically when Richard leaves the city for work. Inglesby wants us to know that the main characters don’t always need a partner to feel whole and complete at the end. There is more to this story than a happy, loved-up ending—in fact, there is no ending: this is Mare’s life and we exit after the closure of Erin McMenamin’s case. The final scenes show her going into the attic where her son died and, we hope, moving forward with her life. Things feel perfectly wrapped up without any of the typical concluding tropes, and I love the series all the more for this.
This dedication to realism stretched outside of the show itself. Winslet rejected promotional posters that had Photoshopped her wrinkles and refused to have her body slimmed and edited in post-production during her nude scenes. In an interview, she stated, “I know how many lines I have by the side of my eye, please put them all back.” She also told Dowd that she deliberately creased Mare’s outfits and chose unflattering cuts. Winslet reminds us that, as a mother, this story of families that will protect their children at all costs felt deeply personal to her. This dedication to keeping Mare’s character real is then reflected back in the episodes themselves.
Mare is flawed and vulnerable, with obvious hang-ups in her parenting and self-love, but she is very real. Winslet does a superb job of bringing her to life and keeping her honest. She is a very likable character because we can see her fighting to do the right thing, but still having times where she is moody or makes mistakes. This is evident even in the final episode, where Mare is powering on, despite not knowing what she is getting into, and it makes her mistakes feel realistic. So often I find myself shouting at the screen and begging a character not to do something that is clearly stupid. Usually, this comes from plot holes or a character behaving a certain way just to push a plot point or ill-fitting narrative, but with Mare, her actions and mistakes always fit in with her character and her realness.
In the scenes where she steals drugs to plant on her daughter-in-law, Carrie Layden (Sosie Bacon), in order to maintain custody of her grandson, Drew (Izzy King), the desperation and obvious lack of forethought make her seem all the more human. Sometimes shows go too far to make characters rational in order to make them seem realistic, but it is the chaotic and random thought we see from Mare at times that feels much more real. I believe in her character and feel as though I know her. This is a show that I couldn’t help but watch all at once, and it will stay with me for a long time.