‘Mare of Easttown’ Premiere: Kate Winslet Shines in Grisly New Crime Drama (RECAP)
[Warning: The below contains spoilers for Mare of Easttown Episode 1, “Miss Lady Hawk Herself.”]
Kate Winslet‘s return to HBO continues the trend of Hollywood stars transitioning from the silver screen to the small screen. It’s not a new trend by any means. The past few years have seen a host of A-listers try their hand at serialized dramas, perhaps kicked off most significantly with Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson in True Detective — a show that shares many similarities with Mare of Easttown in topic and tone.
Sometimes these series come off as merely a vehicle for the movie star(s) to flex their acting chops, with the story itself being undercooked. That’s certainly the case in recent HBO dramas such as The Undoing and Big Little Lies season 2, the former propped up by the performances of Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant and the latter by a guest-starring Meryl Streep. When you crack beneath the star quality, there isn’t much substance or originality in the narrative.
There is no doubt that Winslet is the main draw of Mare of Easttown. She plays the titular Mare Sheehan, a dour detective of the Easttown Police, who wears a perpetual “over it” look on her face. Mare is practically in every scene of this premiere, as we’re introduced to the various aspects of her life, from chasing down prowlers and burglars at work to inhaling a can of Cheez Whiz at home. Mare arrives almost fully formed and, as expected, brilliantly performed by a glammed-down Winslet.
As for the story, there is nothing particularly groundbreaking here, so far, at least. It’s yet another gloomy crime drama about dead and missing girls in small-town America and the troubled detective assigned to investigate. The gray skies and brown-bricked tones of this dreary Pennsylvania town set the atmosphere from the opening moments. This is not a show where you’re going to see a lot of laughter or happy, smiling faces.
Easttown very much feels like a place stuck in time. The peeling paint of the houses suggests a town in desperate need of refurbishment. And that’s also true for the characters that live there. Mare, especially, feels like she peaked early in life and has been flatlining ever since. Her crowning achievement seems to be a State Championship-winning shot in a high school basketball game 25 years ago, something she and her old teammates are being commemorated for in this episode.
Mare’s life is equal parts tragic and comedic. And if there is a strength to Mare that might set it apart from other series of its ilk, it’s that it isn’t afraid to show flashes of humor. It’s not a laugh-out-loud romp, but there is a certain misery-loves-comedy element to Mare’s ramshackle life. There is something comical about her limping (after busting her ankle in a police chase) from one calamity to the next or her ex-husband Frank (David Denman) living in the house adjacent to hers and inviting basically the entire town to his engagement party.
There is a sense of being trapped for Mare, within Easttown itself and her own home, where she lives with her mother, Helen (the brilliant Jean Smart), who interrogates her about rolling in at 3 in the morning, despite Mare being a grown woman. Mare also has to worry about her own teenage daughter, Siobhan (Angourie Rice), who appears more interested in her band than applying for college. Then, there’s her young grandson Drew (Izzy King), whose father presumably passed away based on the conversations (and Mare’s hallucination of a young man) in this episode.
Things are made worse for Mare due to an unsolved missing person’s case that’s been sitting on her lap for a year. It doesn’t help that the missing girl’s mother, one of Mare’s old high school teammates, is on the local news badmouthing the police. There are no leads or current suspects, but Mare believes she’s exhausted every avenue. And with the girl being a known drug abuser with a history of prostitution, Mare thinks she’s probably already dead and unlikely to be discovered.
However, the end of this episode suggests there is more to this case than meets the eye and will perhaps give Mare a chance to redeem herself. Early in the episode, we meet Erin (Cailee Spaeny), a single teenage mother struggling to care for herself and her baby boy. The child’s father is a deadbeat who refuses to pay for the baby’s ear surgery, and his new girlfriend, Brianna (Mackenzie Lansing), is a foul-mouthed bully. And Erin’s own father isn’t exactly the kind and caring type either.
Sadly, things do not get better for Erin. She’s tricked into meeting up with a boy she’s been texting, only for it to be a ruse by Brianna, who faked the whole thing. Brianna and her buddies beat up Erin before she’s rescued by Siobhan and her friends, who were partying in the woods nearby. A bruised and bloody Erin heads off alone into the woods, only to be found hours later dead and naked in a stream. And that’s where we end the episode, with Mare receiving a call about the discovery of a body.
Presumably, we now have a murder investigation on our hands that will tie into the missing person’s case. And with this episode doing a solid job of introducing the townsfolk and various characters, we can already begin drawing up a list of potential suspects. Obviously, the first that comes to mind is the stranger in town, Guy Pearce’s Richard, who is guest lecturing at the nearby University.
Mare meets Richard at a bar following her high school reunion. There’s some awkward flirting, a lot of drinking, and eventually a one-night-stand (with the option for more). Winslet and Pearce have great chemistry (they worked together in Winslet’s last HBO series, Mildred Pierce), and their scenes here are perhaps the only time Mare cracks a smile across the entire episode. But there will always be red flags surrounding the enigmatic stranger when it comes to a murder mystery, so let’s not put our hopes into a happily ever after for this relationship yet.
As far as introductory episodes go, this one does a wonderful job of world-building and setting up the various pieces going forward. Despite the drab color palette and grim atmosphere, there is enough intrigue and character here that suggests Mare could be more than just a show reliant on Hollywood name value.
Mare of Easttown, Season 1, Sundays, HBO