Roush Review: Everyone’s a Suspect in the Gritty ‘Mare of Easttown’

Review
HBO

You don’t mess around with Mare. That’s a given if you live in the rural Pennsylvania burg of Easttown, where she’s a no-nonsense, easily exasperated detective sergeant. Take it from the local priest: “I won’t even look you in the eyes — and I’m your cousin.”

Kate Winslet (an Emmy winner for HBO’s Mildred Pierce) is a ferocious marvel as Mare of Easttown, inhabiting this determined antihero with grit, weary wit, and a born cynic’s knee-jerk suspicion of anyone who admires her. That short list includes a newly arrived visiting professor (Guy Pearce, another Emmy winner for Pierce), a one-hit literary wonder who also knows about disappointment. When she’s teamed with a young hotshot county detective (American Horror Story’s Evan Peters) who begins to see through her prickly facade, she sets him straight.

Kate Winslet Is 'Mare of Easttown' in First Look at HBO's Crime Drama (VIDEO)See Also

Kate Winslet Is 'Mare of Easttown' in First Look at HBO's Crime Drama (VIDEO)

The limited series centers around a small Pennsylvania community with some dark secrets.

“Doin’ something great is overrated,” says Mare, who hates being reminded of her one moment of glory as a high school athlete. “’Cause then people expect that from you all the time. What they don’t realize is you’re just as screwed up as they are.” She speaks from truth.

Mare’s life is a hot mess, and the chip on her shoulder is the size of a boulder. When we meet her, she’s raising her grandson after a family tragedy, with her hypercritical mom (the wonderful Jean Smart) forever hovering and her ex’s happier home life visible from the backyard.

There’s a pungent authenticity to this series, attributable to series creator Brad Ingelsby hailing from the region. He knows the turf, and is so invested in Mare’s realism that on the rare occasion when she does something unforgivably stupid and petty, we’re not surprised that she doesn’t get away with it.

Kate Winslet Mare of Easttown Episode 7

Sarah Shatz/HBO

Ingelsby has crafted a terrific character study that’s even better as a slow-burning thriller, with the tone of a moody British mystery transplanted to the Northeast. As in the modern classic Broadchurch, nearly everyone’s a suspect and everything’s personal in this close-knit town when Mare investigates a teenager’s sordid murder that may be connected to the disappearance of another local girl a year earlier.

Like a blue-collar version of The Undoing, the red herrings and shocking twists pile on relentlessly. HBO made five of the seven episodes available for preview, and by the action climax of the fifth hour, I was left as breathless as Mare.

Mare of Easttown, Series Premiere, Sunday, April 18, 10/9c, HBO