Can’t Miss Episode of the Week: ‘Mare of Easttown’ Finale Sticks the Landing
Welcome to our new weekly column Can’t Miss Episode of the Week! Every Saturday we’ll be spotlighting a different episode of television from the previous week that we thought was exceptional and a must-see. Check back every Saturday to see if your favorite show got the nod — or to learn about a new one!
In an age of bingeing, it’s exciting when a show becomes a cultural event, when everybody watches week to week, and each new episode becomes fodder for passionate water-cooler talk the next day. One show that did that recently was HBO Max’s The Undoing last October, but when it came time for the series finale, it failed to live up to the hype. So, when HBO recently came out with a new murder mystery drama that took viewers by storm, we all had to wonder, would Mare of Easttown pull an Undoing, or would they stick the landing? Well, the series finale (it was intended as a limited series, but we’ll just have to see if it goes all Big Little Lies and The Flight Attendant on us with an announcement for a second season) aired on Sunday May 30, and we can all breathe a sigh of relief, because it was a massively satisfying ending.
Mare of Easttown, if you haven’t been watching it, is a gritty drama that takes place in the backwoods of Pennsylvania, and follows detective Mare Sheehan (played by Kate Winslet with a pitch-perfect Delco accent) whose life has been marred by personal tragedy. And while yes, a couple of major cases (which it turns out, are not related) dominate the series, what grounds this otherwise generic dark and twisty “murder durder” show are the characters, and the specific world they inhabit. The finale leans into those elements, and is a big part of why it’s so successful.
It’s true, unlike The Undoing, that the answer to who murdered the teenage mom Erin (Cailee Spaeny) is actually a big twist, and one that the show smartly saves for later in the episode. The majority of the finale, however, focuses on Mare doing the work to heal herself and her family. She’s arguably gone through more than any one person can bare, what with dealing with her son Kevin’s (Cody Kostro) suicide, the breakup of her marriage, and, more recently, watching her partner (and almost romantic interest) detective Colin Zabel (Evan Peters) get shot and killed right in front of her. But here’s what’s different about Mare now from how she was at the beginning of the show: She wants to get better. This episode, we see her continue to work with the therapist the department set her up with, who suggests that now that both cases have been solved, maybe Mare can finally confront her grief over losing her son.
The scene that best exemplifies how far Mare has come on her emotional journey is where she is sitting having a meal with her daughter Siobhan (Angourie Rice), her ex-husband Frank (David Denman), his fiance Faye (Kate Arrington), and Mare’s mother Helen (Jean Smart). In the season premiere, Mare was at odds with her family over Frank’s getting remarried, but in this scene, Mare is actually sitting and laughing with Frank and Faye. It’s real evidence that she’s trying to move on from the past. She even has an open and honest discussion with Helen in this scene, about why they’ve had a rocky relationship. It seems Helen’s been doing some thinking of her own, because she apologizes to Mare for not always being the best mother.
The murder mystery, it turns out, was just a catalyst for the show to dig into these characters’ lives, and make us care about them. It’s what makes the show more than just a series of plot twists, but something for all of us to come together over, and keep talking about long after it’s over. The final shot of the entire series will likely remain in viewers’ minds for a long time, as we watch Mare climb up the attic stairs to finally confront the place where her son killed himself. In just one image, the show manages to convey exactly what it’s all about. Now that’s cinema.
Other observations that we thought made this episode stand out:
- There are numerous other instances this episode that show Mare’s growth that we couldn’t even list them all here, but some of them are: Mare having a healthy (if somewhat brief) romantic relationship with Richard (Guy Pearce), going to to Frank’s wedding, and encouraging Siobhan to go away to college, among others.
- After the fake out at the beginning of the episode where it seems like Billy (Robbie Tann) murdered Erin, the show does an excellent job of dropping hints that the case isn’t over. And after we do find out who the real killer is, a lot of details click into place – like why Lori (Julianne Nicholson) would lie to Mare about Billy.
- Mare’s friendship with Lori is one of the best relationships in the show, and it wouldn’t have felt right if they ended things on a sour note. Thankfully, the series realizes this, and has a moment of reconciliation between the two.