Mare of Easttown
In his 1942 essay “The Myth of Sisyphus,” philosopher Albert Camus wrote of Sisyphus’s eternal, cyclical task of pushing a boulder up a mountain, watching it roll down, and then starting again, with a kind of resigned, begrudging acceptance. With his focus only on the task at hand, Camus theorized, Sisyphus had no time for the gods, no time for larger questions about his own existence, no theories about the purpose of life. His god was that boulder, his existence was pushing it upward, and his purpose was chasing after it whenever it rolled down, and starting his task again. “Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night-filled mountain, in itself, forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy,” Camus wrote. Finding beauty in tedium might be the only way to keep oneself sane.
I bring up Sisyphus not just because this fourth episode of Mare of Easttown is titled “Poor Sisyphus,” but because this mythical figure, and the sort of existential inevitability he represents, comes up often in pop culture about detectives. There are so many sad detectives, from Matthew Rhys’s Perry Mason to Matthew McConaughey’s Rust Cohle to Olivia Colman’s Ellie Miller to Morgan Freeman’s William Somerset to Dominic West’s Jimmy McNulty. Think of what Wendell Pierce’s Bunk Moreland told McNulty, more than once: “You’re no good for people.” These are figures tortured by the fact that all the good they do — catch a bad guy, lock him up, get some drugs off the street, solve a murder — can’t undo the bad that has already been done. Some of it even by themselves!
Their obsessiveness pushes them away from people, because they’re so committed to the job. They can’t hold down relationships, because they’re so committed to the job. They can’t trust anyone, because they’re so committed to the job. Is all of this some level of copaganda, because it suggests that a pure desire for justice is the cause of this martyr-like behavior? Sure! No argument from me! But I think the best TV shows or movies of this genre show how the system corrupts, how bureaucracy stalls justice, and how an entrenched kind of power makes for selective morality. I’m not surprised that Mare, now sidelined from the job because she planted heroin on her grandson’s mother, is still working the case and still trying to figure out what happened to Erin — and, as we now know, what is still happening to Katie Bailey and now Missy Sager (Sasha Frolova). Mare has done bad things. Does that make her entirely a bad person? Maybe. If so, would that somehow make her more equipped to catch another bad person? Also maybe. “Right now I just want to drink these beers and talk about finding these girls, if that’s okay,” she says to Colin when he asks her why she’s suspended. What does that diversion mean? That at least on some level, Mare still has the ability to feel shame.
We see a chastened Mare from the very beginning of “Poor Sisyphus.” She stalls on telling Helen and Siobhan about what she did to Carrie and that she’s since been suspended; she gratefully accepts Lori’s “No, I won’t let you” when Mare asks whether her best friend is ready to give up on her, too. Is resting her head on Lori’s shoulder the only gesture of physical affection we see Mare make toward someone else? Drew doesn’t count; she loves that kid maybe too much. And sex with Richard doesn’t count; sex isn’t always the same as intimacy. Whatever bond Mare and Lori have might be the most important relationship in the former’s life. When Mare says to Colin, “Trust me. Teenage girls are fucking sneaky,” is she thinking of whatever the two of them used to get up to? And was any of it remotely close to what Erin was forced into doing: joining an online escort service under the fake name Jasmine so she could pay for DJ’s ear surgery, which neither Kenny nor Dylan wanted to pay for?
Questions, questions. Let’s try another one: Who is DJ’s father? It’s not Frank or Dylan, both of whom test negative. Is it Deacon Mark? Colin, working on the case without Mare, certainly seems to be leaning that way since he was tipped off that Mark ended up in Easttown after parents of a 14-year-old girl at his last parish accused him of sexual misconduct. (The little sardonic grin Peters slides into after he says to Deacon Mark, “I was beginning to think you were avoiding me. Were you?” — the actor is really showing something solid, which I admittedly didn’t anticipate.) What about Kenny? Uncle Billy? You never truly know what families are like — not from the outside as a bystander, and not from the inside, where perspectives and opinions can vary from person to person. Think of Siobhan’s documentary on her brother Kevin, which taps into her lingering affection and love for him; think of Mare’s memories of Kevin and Carrie, strung out and breaking into her house, stealing her money to use on drugs, calling her “a fucking liar” and a “stupid fucking bitch.” Again, what Mare did to Carrie is wrong. But these memories, at least from Mare’s point of view, certainly make me understand why trusting Carrie’s sobriety is so hard for Mare — and why she worries so much about the possibility of losing Drew.
Especially because loss feels like it’s catching in Easttown. A year after Katie Bailey disappeared, her mother Dawn suffers a new pain as the victim of a con by Beth’s addict brother Freddie, who tries to swindle $5,000 from Dawn by pretending to be Katie’s kidnapper, and telling her that he’ll release Katie if she pays up. Everything about Dawn’s story this week — the reveal that she’s taking care of Katie’s daughter; her journey to the meet point with the man she doesn’t yet know is Freddie, in particular the shot of Dawn walking up to the abandoned house in the pitch-black nowhere — was heartbreaking stuff. And it’s doubly painful because Dawn doesn’t know what we do: that Katie is still alive, and is being held by the same man who now has Missy. He’s targeting sex workers, and he’s holding them at what looks like a run-down restaurant: Bennie’s Tavern. Colin is on the right track that these two cases are connected, but where does that leave Erin?
And, speaking of Colin: Where does his adorably bashful asking out of Mare leave them? They’re not partners anymore, now that she’s suspended, and in fact, they were never really officially partners at all, since they work for different units. Mare doesn’t exactly say yes, but I think the very tiny smile she gives him leans in that direction. Notice how she described Richard as a “friend,” not a “boyfriend” or, more honestly, “the guy I’m sleeping with.” Why not? Mare is nothing if not brutally direct. Maybe what Colin said earlier got to her: “This is my Mare.” She doesn’t like him enough to tell him the truth about why she went back to Jess’s apartment, or about finding Erin’s journals, but Mare’s self-preservation instincts don’t seem to quit. Too bad. If Mare paused for a second while pushing her boulder up that mountain, standing beside Colin for a bit might be kind of nice.
A Different Line of Work
• Our latest “Oh please no, don’t do this” scene: Dylan hovering over DJ’s crib with that pillow in his hands.
• How do you determine the order in which six people take a dump in one car trunk? How do you even position your body to do that?
• “A what? What the hell’s a ‘family meeting’?” explains so much about the Sheehans. Related: You know things are bad when Helen calls Mare by her full name: Mary Ann!
• I’ve seen some theories floating online that Father Dan Hastings could be the real abuser of Erin, and Deacon Mark is just covering for him. I don’t think there’s any show evidence yet to suggest that, but since Neal Huff played a survivor of sexual abuse by a Catholic priest in Spotlight, that would certainly be a swerve.
• “Do you ever give yourself a break?” Richard asks Mare, and hey man, that lady ended up with two dates for Saturday night! She’s doing something right!
• Where are Erin’s journals? And what is the significance of the date on the necklace of Erin’s that Mare finds hidden: May 29, 2017? If it were DJ’s birthday, why hide that pendant?
• Mare and Helen are definitely going to have a conversation with Siobhan about Anne, right? I don’t know how big of an age gap this is — Siobhan is a high school senior; Anne is either a college freshman or sophomore, I think? — but Mare describing the latter as “that woman” doesn’t bode well for the future of this relationship.
• Dawn had Obama 2012 and Bernie 2016 bumper stickers on her car, which puts her among the to-the-left majority in Chester County: It went for Hillary Clinton in 2016 and Joe Biden in 2020.
• Helen hiding ice cream in a bag of frozen vegetables? Genius.
• “Let the healing begin!” Mare starts therapy, and honestly? Stick with it, lady, you need it.