Review: Mare Of Easttown finale is deeply satisfying
After many red herrings, all the storylines get resolved with maximum emotional impact and awards-worthy performances
MARE OF EASTTOWN (Craig Zobel). Series finale now streaming on Crave. Rating: NNNN
After last week’s cliffhanging penultimate episode of Mare Of Easttown, people were placing bets on who killed Erin McMenamin, the troubled teenage mom whose murder kicked off the seven-part miniseries back in April. But what were the odds that viewers would be ugly crying every ten minutes during the series’ 66-minute finale? Note: there are spoilers ahead.
Like last year’s massive HBO hit The Undoing, Craig Zobel’s show never shied away from planting red herrings and pointing fingers at suspects, usually near the end of each episode. But what made the show so absorbing was the complexity of its characters and the gritty, incestuous realism of its working-class milieu. And in the finale, Zobel provides emotional payoffs for pretty much everyone, especially the flinty, vape pen-smoking title character played by Kate Winslet.
Winslet’s Mare begins the episode heading to the fishing spot where John Ross (Joe Tippett) has just fled with his brother Billy (Robby Tann), who had more or less confessed to the crime. But intercut with this scene is the interrogation of Erin’s friend Jess (Ruby Cruz), who revealed that the photo she swiped from Erin’s journal was one of Erin in bed… with John. So John’s the killer, right? And it looks like he’s going to make Billy take the fall and shoot him so no one finds out.
When Mare, after some hilarious expletives, tells John to “put the fucking gun down,” John aims the gun at himself, but then Billy stops him by wrestling him into the river. Eventually Mare, soaking her arm cast, captures John.
Mystery solved? Not so fast. For one thing, at this point we’re only a few minutes into the episode. And even after John confesses to shooting Erin and, after the hearing, poignantly asks his wife Lori (Julianne Nicholson), Mare’s best friend, if she can raise D.J., Erin and his biological son, there are a few loose threads. A ballistics expert says a different gun – a Colt special – killed Erin. And when Mare runs into the woman whom John had had an affair with, she curses her and the woman claims she’s been faithful to her husband since the affair ended five years earlier. What’s going on?
Meanwhile, a bunch of storylines are resolved. Mare tells her daughter Siobhan she should go to Berkeley. Mare’s friend Dawn, thanks to mutual friend Beth, gifts her own daughter Katie (who’d been abducted for a year) with the home of Beth’s late brother. After the wedding between Mare’s ex and his new wife, Mare and glamorous novelist Richard Ryan (Guy Pearce) part, but not before Mare reveals, with uncharacteristic candidness, her feelings for him. Outside a mediation hearing for the custody of Mare’s grandson, Drew, Carrie (Sosie Bacon), Drew’s mom, tells Mare she’s been using again and is heading to rehab. Most moving of all, Mare’s bitter, hard-drinking mom, Helen (Jean Smart), reveals why she was so hard on Mare when she was growing up, and hopes Mare will forgive herself for her son’s death.
With all that out of the way, Zobel and writer Brad Ingelsby can proceed with the whodunnit. In an echo to the series’ opening scene, Mare makes a house call to the elderly Glen Carroll, who’s a tad forgetful since his wife died and mentions how things have gone missing…. like his gun. The make of gun? A Colt special, which he keeps in his shed. The only other person who has access to the shed is the boy who mows the lawn… Ryan Ross.
Some of the best TV of the year
From there on in, the episode is some of the best TV I’ve seen this year. All the pieces start to fall into place. Mare visits Ryan’s school, and Ryan, seeing Mare, runs home, knowing she knows. Under interrogation, Ryan – who was deeply upset by his dad’s affair five years earlier – says he found out about his dad’s new affair with Erin and wanted to keep his family together by scaring Erin off. John confessed to Erin’s murder to protect his son. Lori lied to Mare to protect her son. And now Mare’s discovered the truth.
What’s brilliant about the series is how we’re concerned less with the whodunnit than with how everything affects the characters. After Ryan’s interrogation, a distraught, furious Lori tells Mare that her whole family is gone because of her. Mare has been in this spot a few times, of course; before she discovered the abducted Katie, her friend Dawn had blasted her for not doing her job well; and just last week, the mother of killed detective Colin Zabel blamed Mare for her son’s death.
All of these women grieve the loss of their children – you could even include Carrie in here, since she’s temporarily giving up Drew. And meanwhile, Mare hasn’t come to terms with her own grief over her son.
It’s this kind of thematic richness that makes this series so emotionally powerful. And then there’s the acting. Rewatch John’s interrogation scene and you can now see Tippett subtly lying about the murder (no eye contact) to protect his son. Helen’s tearful confession to Mare is so spontaneous it evokes a lifetime of pain and guilt. And Lori’s turmoil is like something out of a Greek tragedy; the scene where she and Mare wordlessly share their grief by collapsing to the ground is unbearably moving. Expect Emmy nominations for both Smart and Nicholson.
But it’s Winslet who holds the series together. Her barely contained contempt when she’s interrogating John; the way her face falls when she discovers, on home video footage, that Ryan took the gun; the break in her voice when she calls for backup before heading to pick him up; her understanding with Carrie and her tears of happy sadness as she sees Siobhan off to collage; her brave, quiet final scene in which she’s finally ready to confront her son’s death – these are all emotionally fraught moments. And Winslet nails each one.