Writer Brad Ingelsby and director Craig Zobel's whodunnit series, Mare of Easttown, explores grief in all its complexity. In a rural Pennsylvanian town called Easttown, local cops, headed by detective sergeant Mare Sheehan (Kate Winslet), are facing tremendous pressure with their failure to solve the disappearance of a 19-year-old Katie Bailey.
Mare's worn-down appearance hints that there is more to her than the strength of a small-town cop. She faces the brunt of the backlash over the case, given that the majority of the town seems related to her.
Suddenly, there's an even bigger mystery when Erin (Cailee Spaeny), a single teenage mother, is found dead in the woods. Soon, another teenage woman, Missy Sager, disappears. Unlike most whodunnits, Mare of Easttown doesn’t bank just on its plot developments to entertain you. There is an attempt at painting a layered picture of characters in the town, with their respective complexities.
From the onset, Easttown comes across as an unkind town, with its inhabitants facing battles on their own. And yet, you see that there is love, emerging from its small pockets, that binds this community together. It’s an intimacy that gets disturbed when a threat is found to be lurking.
For all its complex inhabitants, Mare still stands out. She is a doting grandma, a grieving mother, a caring friend, and a brilliant detective. She's a mother even when she’s a detective and vice-versa. She doesn’t shirk from following a clue, no matter how bizarre, and yet, it’s fascinating that the townspeople don’t hold her in high regard.
She is also flawed in her own way, and this makes the show seem real. For instance, she frames a relative with a drug abuse charge, simply to get custody of someone. She is dealing with the death of a loved one and often uses the job as an escape, refusing to deal with the actual grief. We root for her to find happiness, and this attachment keeps us invested.
I have no hesitation in declaring that this series is one of the best explorations of grief on television. Grief, like love, takes us by surprise. When it rattles each of the many characters in this series, the reactions are telling and have profound ripple effects on each other.
And the worst affected seem to be the mothers in this story. As a mother, do you save your child or do the right thing? The series poses deep questions and raises many ethical questions.
For almost the entire eight-hour duration, the mystery of Erin McMenamin's killer is kept alive. We are introduced to several characters and each of them is a potential suspect. One clue leads to another, and by the time we reach episode 5, there are more options than we are prepared for.
One such suspect is Deacon Mark Burton, a Catholic deacon in the local Church, who has a history of sexual misconduct allegations. His arc is a reflection on how larger real-life narratives can easily change the notions of the masses.
Also beautiful is the arc of Siobhan, Mare’s daughter. Despite her story hardly overlapping with her mother’s, it lends a beautiful completion to the story. Similarly, the moments between Mare and her mother Helen Fahey are cherries on this cake.
This series is bound to draw comparisons with another Brit crime drama series, Happy Valley. It also got me thinking of another series, Defending Jacob. But unlike these TV shows, Mare of Easttown does not restrict itself in its deep pursuits, like its exploration of grief, for instance. It’s also careful not to take on more than it can handle. At the end, you are thrilled, sure, but more importantly, you are left with a smile.
Director: Craig Zobel
Cast: Kate Winslet, Jean Smart, Guy Pearce, Julianne Nicholson
Streaming on: Disney+ Hotstar