Mare of Easttown
You think you know someone. Of course, that statement could apply to any sort of crime-focused TV show, movie, book, or whatever other form of media. HBO’s last flashy series about the murder of a beautiful young mom, The Undoing, was similarly about this very concept, as was the book on which it was based, You Should Have Known by Jean Hanff Korelitz. Most of us spend our entire lives craving, and building toward, intimacy, camaraderie, and solidarity with people. You make friends, you fall in love, you might have kids. You have parents, and maybe siblings. You have co-workers and people you begin to recognize from the gym or the grocery store or wherever else you go. You build a network, and it’s easy to assume that everyone in that network is a good person.
And then you have a place like Easttown. Is everyone in Easttown “a good person”? Absolutely not. Somebody killed Erin. Somebody took, or killed, Katie. Opioids are clearly a problem, and they unfortunately drive people like Beth’s brother Freddie to crime. Erin’s father Kenny is hotheaded and probably was abusive toward his daughter. Erin’s boyfriend Dylan is smug and was clearly an asshole to her. Dylan’s new girlfriend Brianna is unhinged in her cruelty, from the terrible catfishing scheme and attack she dreamed up for Erin to the horribly vicious way she spits at Mare, “No wonder your son killed himself.” This second Mare of Easttown episode, “Fathers,” doesn’t so much peel away the layers of Easttown’s dysfunction as it shoves them directly in Mare’s face.
These are the people she’s known her whole life, in the town she’s lived in her whole life, and all of them seem to be hiding something. And in her attempts to figure out what happened to Erin and Katie, Mare isn’t making many friends. She’s eyeing up suspects and collecting enemies, and Kate Winslet’s gruffness remains impressive. She wears the emotional weight Mare is carrying, and makes plain how much Mare is taking the town’s rejection of her personally. Some of this is caused by the job and the fact that Mare’s failure to find Katie is common knowledge, recently brought up again by the crusading Dawn. But more of Mare’s frustration and resentment is the simmering, slow-burning kind that comes along with disappointment.
Disappointment that the higher-ups would distrust her enough to bring in outside assistance in the form of wunderkind detective Colin Zabel (Evan Peters). Disappointment in her family for continuing to stay in touch with her son Kevin’s former girlfriend and Drew’s mother Carrie (Sosie Bacon), who is trying to stay clean and get her life back together, but whom Mare blames for her son’s addiction and his death. And disappointment in her ex-husband Frank, who Erin’s best friend Jess (Ruby Cruz) says might be Erin’s son DJ’s father. You think you know someone.
“Fathers” begins with the discovery of Erin’s body and Mare reporting to the scene, during which Winslet nails Mare’s combination of dread, recognition, and regret. Physical evidence is going to be difficult to find, with Erin’s nearly naked body being dumped in the creek in Sharp’s Woods. Mare knows this, and she also knows how impossible it is going to be to tell Kenny — who also happens to be her best friend Lori’s cousin-in-law — that his only child is dead. That scene was excellent, devastating stuff, and Patrick Murney’s performance as Kenny reminded me of another HBO crime series moment: when Brad Carter’s Charlie Lange learned in True Detective that his ex-wife had been murdered by his ex-cellmate Reggie Ledoux. There was a feral quality to how Charlie raged in response to that discovery, and Kenny does the same thing: He pushes away his cousins, he yells and cries, and he threatens Dylan. He’s convinced that Erin’s ex is the person who killed her, and at this point, I tend to agree!
Mare has no other leads, no other possibilities. The tension between Erin and Dylan was common knowledge: She was angry he wasn’t paying for the $1,800 hearing surgery DJ needs; he disrespected all her requests to keep the vengeful Brianna away from their son. “He hated her for it,” Kenny says of Dylan and Erin’s choice to keep DJ, but: Kenny seemed to resent his daughter too, no? He complained about all the extra costs. He didn’t let her borrow his truck. He hated Dylan. I don’t think Kenny killed his daughter, but I’m not sure he was a good father, either.
Was Dylan a good father? I’m also going to go with no on that. A good father, I think, would be more cooperative with the detective investigating the murder of their son’s mother — or would have known where his parents keep DJ’s formula. Dylan, however, is decidedly unhelpful, and we see him tell lie after lie. He lies about Brianna being his new girlfriend. He lies about seeing Erin in the woods. But Dylan, and later Brianna, both seem impervious to Mare’s blunt threat of “If you’re lying to me, it’s going to be very bad for you.” They don’t seem to take any of this very seriously. Is that because they’re innocent? Or because they’re smug about a crime they think they can get away with?
“What do we say to one another when faced with an unspeakable tragedy?” asks the clearly a bad guy Deacon Mark (James McArdle) during his sermon, and “Fathers” filters a number of answers to that question through Mare. There’s her initial distrust of Zabel, whom she keeps at arm’s length but who eventually wins her over with his intense corniness (“Teamwork makes the dream work!”). There’s her fight with Siobhan, who ignored all her phone calls and messages, and who clearly doesn’t have a good relationship with her mother — much like Mare herself doesn’t have a good relationship with her mother, Helen. Unexpectedly, the conversation of greatest self-revealing substance that Mare has this episode is not with a family member or with new love interest Richard but with Drew’s pediatrician, whose simple question about her son Kevin’s diagnosis after he started exhibiting childhood tics sparks a sprawling answer from Mare. Kevin’s health problems, and Mare “not being able to figure him out” before his death, are clearly traumas still she hasn’t gotten over. She might reject the idea of therapy, but man, does Mare need it.
Drew’s pediatrician extends a helping hand to Mare, Colin extends one too, and in another surprise turn, so does Dawn, who steps between Brianna’s angry father Tony and her former basketball teammate. But sometimes a helping hand isn’t enough. Tony still throws that gallon of milk through Mare’s window, littering her gas-station sub with broken glass. Kenny, thinking not of his grandson DJ and the possibility of leaving him an orphan, kidnaps and shoots (and maybe kills?) Dylan. And finally, there’s Jess’s accusation against Frank, who admitted to Mare earlier in the episode that he, as Erin’s algebra teacher, got the sense that things weren’t good at home between Erin and Kenny. Did Frank Sheehan try to help? And, if so … how?
A Different Line of Work
• Guy Pearce report: This week, he does not get laid.
• Lori wearing a vintage Dave Matthews Band T-shirt was a perfect touch.
• Carrie wanting custody of Drew is obviously going to come up again down the line. Note that Mare’s family knows she hates Carrie, and Carrie also hates Mare. I’m assuming they each blame the other for Kevin killing himself, and that’s agonizing, grueling stuff. But do I think Carrie should have custody of Drew, who is now doing “the blinking thing” again? I can’t even begin to answer that question.
• Putting a neon flashing “BAD GUY” sign over Deacon Mark couldn’t make him more obviously suspicious than he already is!
• Mare hiding the spit-out duck pâté in the cushions of that couch really makes me worried about the cleanliness of her house.
• Re: Mare’s ten-minute smoke breaks — can someone actually vape for ten straight minutes? That seems like a lot to ask of one pair of lungs.
• When did Evan Peters become a grown-up? Or is it how good he is in a blissfully not-Ryan-Murphy project that has me so surprised?
• I hope Winslet submits that scene of Mare arresting Brianna in her family’s restaurant for her Emmy reel. That was Mare at her most brittle and her most vengeful, and the best indicator of how Mare tends to act first, think second. Potentially not the best quality for a detective!
• Siobhan doesn’t seem to like her mother very much, but even in terms of that established dislike, “Lower your expectations” was pretty harsh advice for Colin.
• “I’m assuming I’ll be the maid of honor?” was the funniest moment in an otherwise so, so bleak episode.
• Where is Erin’s bike?