Kate Winslet shines in a compelling, complex drama.
For a murder mystery series, Mare of Easttown spends an astonishing amount of time on stuff that has nothing to do with the murder. When I first saw Easttown during the height of the pandemic, that struck me as a negative. Chock full of distractions, red herrings, and mundane interactions, the story seemed to meander. It was only after a second viewing that I could set aside my desire to know whodunnit and realize that it was never really about the mystery in the first place.
Kate Winslet is amazing as detective Mare Sheehan, rocking a Philadelphia accent so well I forgot she was British. From Mare's practical wardrobe to her relatable fails (like twisting her ankle jumping over a fence in pursuit of a suspect), Winslet makes Mare feel like a fully three-dimensional character. Mare is tough and capable, but she also has flaws—big flaws. She's abrasive, troubled, and willing to break the rules or manipulate people for what she sees as the greater good.
While this is unquestionably Mare's story, Easttown itself is as much a character as Mare is. A working-class town where everyone knows everyone, Easttown showcases how trauma can ripple through a community. "Is there anyone here you're not related to?" a new detective asks Mare at one point. He's joking, but Mare's crisp, "No," in response reflects just how much those connections drive the story.
Half the town, it seems, features prominently in the story. There's Mare's family; her best friend and her family; the victim and her family; the victim's ex-boyfriend and his family... the list goes on. It was really tough to keep track of them all (and their relationships) the first time through. I kept wondering why we were spending so much time on things that didn't feel connected to the main plot. On the second viewing, with some basic context for who's who, I could better appreciate the subtle ways their stories intertwined.
The murder investigation is well-written. There are enough legitimate suspects to keep you guessing, and the clues flow more-or-less organically. Sometimes key information just drops conveniently into Mare's lap, but never in a way that strained credulity.
It's really the relationships that drive the story. I love the bond between Mare and her best friend Lori (played by Julianne Nicholson). Lori's not afraid to call Mare out on her nonsense. When she points out how Mare is pushing everyone away, Mare asks, "What about you?" Lori replies easily, "No, I won't let you." Mare also has a fraught relationship with her mother Helen (played by Jean Smart), who lives with her. At one point, after Mare does something boneheaded, Helen has the most priceless response, "My God, Marianne. I don't even know what the hell to say. (beat) Oh, wait. It just came to me. That was stupid!" Beneath all that sniping is a core of love and a bit of humor.
At its core, Easttown is a story about grief and redemption. Even setting aside the central murder, almost every main character comes in with a tragic backstory or has more heaped on them. Despite this bleak mood, the show maintains a thread of hope that things can get better—that the characters can learn to "live with the unacceptable," as Mare herself says. I think that message is what made it resonate with people during the pandemic, and makes it into more than just a murder mystery.
- Princess Power:
- Bechdel Test: Pass
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