[Warning: General spoilers ahead.]
Kate Winslet is a genius. Those are the table stakes on anything she does. She’s going to nail it. That much we know. It’s how the project fills in around her that’s of greater interest to me, and there is no shortage of talent all across HBO/HBO Max’s Mare of Easttown, which reaches the halfway point of its season tonight.
In the series, Winslet firmly inhabits the space that Mireille Enos deftly set up shop in over four seasons on The Killing. Here she plays the titular, complex, and complicated Mare Sheehan. A former high school championship-winning athlete now on the edge of 50, she’s since assumed the roles of single mother to a teenage daughter and single grandmother to her late son’s young son.
She’s also a detective on her small Easttown, Pennsylvania, police force, following in the footsteps of her late father, but the badge wears heavy in the wake of her inability to bring home the missing daughter of one of her former teammates, Dawn (Enid Graham), who’s also now battling cancer. As the series begins, the case has dragged on, there’s renewed scrutiny about it, and her Chief, Carter (John Douglas Thompson), tells her the state is sending someone to help look at angles that Mare may have missed.
She’s both annoyed and threatened by that. And so very tired. She’s the go-to for every little thing, and it becomes a running thread of the show that everybody knows everybody and Mare’s no exception. She gets calls on her cell for peeping Toms that should go to the station but instead come to her. Same with a familial breaking and entering case. By the pilot’s end, there’s a homicide case that lands square in her wheelhouse and also bleeds painfully into that six degrees-ness of things.
Before that happens, though, Mare has a flicker of promise when she meets author Richard Ryan (Guy Pearce), a visiting instructor at the college. Their beer-fueled hookup has the potential to become something else if she’ll let it. She has to put a pin in that, but she makes an effort to not just disregard him.
On the homefront, she’s nervously watching her grandson, Drew (Izzy King), for signs he may have developmental issues and worrying about whether she might lose him to his now clean and sober mother, Carrie (Sosie Bacon), who levels Mare with her assessment of why she’s the better placement. Mare’s mother, Helen (Jean Smart), sees the reality that Carrie’s his mother but Mare only sees how it can go wrong.
Her ex-husband, Frank (David Denman), with whom she has a semi-amicable relationship, is now literally living across the backyard in the house behind hers. Her teenage daughter, Siobhan (Angourie Rice), is a budding musician when she’s not in school and their relationship gets a little fractious when she’s tangentially involved in the newest case.
The state investigator, Colin Zabel, played astonishingly well by Evan Peters, is coming off a resolved kidnapping but he’s not arrogant about it. Quite the contrary. He legitimately wants to learn from Mare. His eagerness that starts out grating eventually becomes a source of amusement and appreciation when Mare realizes he just a young, early career guy who really likes his job and they might actually teach each other something.
Her BFF, Lori, is played by my Julianne Nicholson, who I’ve missed since Eyewitness was deprived a second season. She’s awesome as usual as the one person who knows Mare best and can therefore at least try to talk her down and out of her head and call her on her bullshit.
The series is gritty–visually, it’s gray and squarely working class and emotionally, the characters are sometimes horrifically blunt with each other. It’s a manageable level, though, and a good step below the shenanigans over at Big Sky that leave me wanting a Silkwood shower. Thankfully, it so far hasn’t lingered on the violence in a way that veers into torture porn.
As Mare, Winslet locks in on that world-weariness of someone still motivated to do the job even when it takes over everything else, and maybe precisely because it does. Mare’s at a point that she’s starting to take stock of where she let it do that, and what she forfeited in the process–time and relationships she can’t reclaim. We also see that she just barreled past her grief over her son into a kind of numbness.
Heading into the fourth episode this week, Mare is reeling from a really bad decision that strips her of a significant piece of her identity. The season is only seven episodes, so it’s a tight arc, which I’m totally fine with when it’s done well, and so far it’s been done very well.
The mysteries are tightly woven into the fabric of the town. That community interconnectedness, which Zabel notices immediately, ultimately means that whomever is revealed to be involved in Dawn’s daughter’s kidnapping–and the homicide–is going to ricochet off all of them, including Mare.
The series treads the same territory as The KIlling (streaming now on Hulu and IMDb TV) and CBC/WGN America’s Bellevue (which is only streaming in Canada on CBC Gem now that WGNA is defunct). I was all in on those, and I’m all in on this. All seven episodes were written by Brad Ingelsby, who wrote The Way Back, which was directed by Gavin O’Connor, who produces here. Director Craig Zobel helms the entire season.
Mare of Easttown airs Sundays at 10 pm ET on HBO and HBO Max, where you can catch up on the first three episodes. You can watch the first episode for free Here’s a sneak peek of the season, and behind-the-scenes vignette on how the show came together.
Photos and Video Courtesy of HBO.
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