This review contains spoilers.
Mare of Easttown has, not one, but two twists.
The first, (which was not difficult to predict) had John as the man with the relationship with Erin, not Billy. Their subsequent fight in the river ends with Mare taking them both to the station, where John confesses to shooting Erin and moving her body in order to implicate someone else. Case closed in the first eight minutes of the episode.
Or so we think. John has vague details about the gun used to shoot Erin. Frank seemed horrified, as the family talks over the case later in between his choice of tuxedo to be worn at his wedding, when he relates to John’s ability to joke and tell stories about Erin at his engagement party, as if murdering Erin was as simple as a chore. And when Mr. Carroll calls, in order to file a missing items report, it is not only just a pizza slicer, but a colt service revolver that goes missing intermittently. Mare puts the pieces together and recovers footage showing John’s son, Ryan, breaking into Mr. Carroll’s shed for his pistol. Mare shows up at school and Ryan runs, back home to his mother Lori, where they follow him in order to bring him in for interrogation. in the same spot that his father was questioned not moments before, Ryan confesses to killing Erin.
One assumption made by the show, based on their choices throughout, is that foreshadowing has the same weight as investment. When Lori overhears her husband talking to Ryan about “our little secret” it is Ryan’s secret to share, not John’s. However, this foreshadowing, if missing the requisite character development, does not land with any resonance. If we knew little about John, and less about Billy, we know nothing about Ryan, who has outbursts that could have just been equally about John’s affair than it was about manslaughter. This mix up is a bug, not a feature, of the show’s thematic misdirections. Ryan murdering Erin is just as tragic as it is unlikely. Mr. Carroll confides to Mare that sometimes the revolver was missing intermittently, and for an unknown amount of time, but just as likely it turns up again; yet Ryan claims in his confession that he returned the revolver that night, implying that no one would know. And yet Mr. Carroll DID end up knowing something, which leads him to calling Mare. Plot elements obfuscate the twist as much as its tone. Ryan’s confession reeks of formal and abstract language that no kid would say. He “confronted” his father about his affair with Erin. What child confronts? Moreover, what child would use that word to describe it? Pragmatically, it is too much for a boy actor to handle. Deep down, it may be gut wrenching from the vantage point of the script, but when it finally plays out, it is nowhere near the gravitas of a twist like Broadchurch, which manages a foreshadowing as well as the investment in characters, to make the twist meaningful.
Two confessions back-to-back not only meddle with the pace of a finale, they also cut into the runtime. The second one especially, which features acted flashbacks, in order somehow to ground the accidental murder as more plausible, when the show desperately needed the characters to breathe for other purposes. There was already plenty on its plate: Mare had to climb the attic to confront Kevin’s suicide once and for all, after touching base with her therapist, as well as an imprisoned Deacon, not to mention offering some quick advice to Siobhan about college on the other side of the country. She had to make peace with her own mother, who admitted she took out her disappointment in her husband on her daughter Mare. They had to watch Frank get married. Katy Bailey needed a house. DJ needed ear surgery. Dylan needed to prove he loved the child he fostered. Mare and Richard decide on a long distance relationship. Jess had to explain, as awkward as it sounds, why silencing Erin by burning her diaries was the best way to protect her legacy. Mare’s problem with taking on her own grief, and the inability for the writer’s to give her that opportunity, are one and the same. The more one looks back at the episodes, the more one comes to the conclusion that, had the writer of Easttown invested more into Mare, more screentime, more dialogue with her family and friends, the less she would have to say. The amount of characters in the miniseries is a burden, not a benefit, and what a shame too, because Kate Winslet managed to give an indelible performance with what she was given. The show was unwilling — or, more likely, unable — to give her more.
Several details in the show prove themselves to be placeholders where true and meaningful explorations of Mare’s character and those around her could have happened instead. What, exactly, WAS Dylan doing on the night of Erin’s murder? Clearly it proved to be immaterial, as Dylan comes out of it as if touched by an angel. The last time we saw him, he was threatening Jess with a loaded handgun. In the finale, he’s donating hard-earned cash to DJ’s welfare. Last we heard of Frank’s fiance, it seemed as though she learned something of Frank’s past that implicated him in Erin’s murder. Yet here she’s laughing with Mare about Frank’s tuxedo choice, with all the nonverbal communication you could expect in someone making up for lost time. Was her trust in her future husband so low that any hint of his affiliation with Erin would be enough to forsake him? Frank, desperate to remarry, seems oblivious to this rapid change of heart. And after so many words written questioning Siobhan’s place in the whole show, it felt devastating to be proven right. From comedic twists and slapstick humor in her love life, to poignant displays of a young woman quite literally processing her brother’s suicide by editing footage into a school project, it all amounts to saying goodbye. Unfortunately, the show is not called “Siobhan Leaving Easttown” and it is shocking how little is gained from her character for the purposes of the show. While at the very least, other characters contribute to the procedural direction of Erin’s murder case, Siobhan does not even offer that. Nor, I believe, does she offer Mare much beyond a drunken cry and the quickest advice a mother could give. She is so clearly beloved by the writer of the show, and yet most unnecessary.
Mare’s involvement with Lori suffers hugely from these asides. Lori establishes herself early on as a character who is able simultaneously to put up with Mare’s hard shell, as well as allow Mare to open up intimately in private. Their relationship is where the situation of the case, as well as the story of being mothers in Easttown, collide. But the landing is muddled when the amount of space between them is not one, not two, but three male family members we barely know, as well as only a handful of discussions that do not pertain to the case. I do not think it is a coincidence that when Mare reunites with Lori after eight months, Lori loses all agency in hugging her. Her body simply gives out. It is a manifestation of what happens to these characters, where checking in with them at this brisk pace carries them all like white water rapids down the river of “plot”. And after all of it, what else is there to do but drop? She has no lies left to hold, and no one to protect. As they drop to the kitchen floor, where neither ends up having the tea Lori offers, it is all nonverbal.
Mare of Easttown is like getting two elaborate courses of a three course meal. The salad is exquisite, and features a house made dressing. It feels authentic and sourced from local ingredients. The tenderloin afterward, with the roasted potatoes, feels hardy, lean, yet juicy. The taste is robust, expertly crafted. Yet when the dessert arrives, we lower our eyes to the plate to find a sheet cake, like something picked up from a Walmart. To cut an extended metaphor short, it didn’t stick the landing. Is it on par with something like Game of Thrones, where the ending is so terrible that you begin to wonder if the entirety of the show was like this and you just never got wise? Or, is it simply a case of unaligned priorities, of missed themes, and the slightest wrinkle in the tapestry that makes it good instead of great? You could certainly do a lot worse when watching television, but just as likely the show leaves itself open to obvious criticisms that make a rewatch much harder to imagine. It is a good show, but it made for a middling miniseries.