‘Mare of Easttown’: Shocking Secrets Emerge as Murder Investigation Begins (RECAP)
[Warning: The below contains spoilers for Mare of Easttown Episode 2, “Fathers.”]
In last week’s recap, I mentioned how Mare of Easttown shares similarities with other gloomy crime dramas and specifically referenced True Detective. However, following the second episode, there is another show Mare draws a more obvious comparison to, and that’s Broadchurch, the popular British serial that also revolved around a murder in a small, close-knit community.
There are clear surface similarities: a female police detective tasked with interrogating close friends and acquaintances, the male investigator brought in to help from out of town, the way everyone in Easttown is connected and hiding secrets, there is even the noticeable vernacular (except the Dorset accents have been replaced by the distinct tones of Delaware County). And, like Broadchurch, Mare brings all of this together to create a compelling mystery rich in character.
This episode picks up where we left last week with the discovery of Erin’s (Cailee Spaeny) body. With one girl still missing and now another dead, Chief Carter (John Douglas Thompson) has no choice but to bring in outside assistance, much to detective Mare Sheehan’s (Kate Winslet) reluctance. In steps Colin Zabel (Evan Peters), the hotshot young cop with a great track record in solving missing person’s cases. There is an initial iciness to this new partnership, but Colin starts to crack through by the end of the episode as he proves he isn’t here to take over; he’s here to bring an objective perspective and help Mare.
It’s not as if Mare couldn’t use the help, even though she’ll never admit it. Not only does she have the unsolved Katie Bailey case hanging over her and all the public backlash that comes with that, but now she has a dead 17-year-old girl who was well known to the neighborhood. Mare now has to navigate running a murder investigation while maintaining her relationships with the Easttown locals, many of whom she considers friends, or, at least, who consider her a friend.
When she breaks the tragic news to Erin’s father, Kenny (Patrick Murney), she does so in as comforting a way as Mare can, even bringing along Kenny’s cousins for emotional support. But she still has to do her job as a cop and ask this distraught father where he was last night. In Kenny’s mind, only one person is responsible for killing his daughter, and that’s Dylan (Jack Mulhern), her ex-boyfriend. Kenny tells Mare that Dylan never wanted a child and resented Erin for having the baby.
Dylan, however, pleads his innocence, claiming never to have talked to Erin the night before and that he was back home from the party in the woods by midnight. Even though Dylan is later caught on camera alongside his new girlfriend Brianna (Mackenzie Lansing), who assaulted Erin, there isn’t anything specific to charge him with, though Mare threatens to dig into his past and uncover all his secrets should he not comply with the investigation.
Brianna isn’t so lucky, as Mare makes a public show of arresting her at work in front of her parents and a restaurant full of customers. This doesn’t go down well with Brianna’s father, Tony (Eric T. Miller), who spends the rest of the episode stalking Mare around town and making thinly veiled threats. He even launches a milk bottle through Mare’s window, though that isn’t enough to distract her from chowing down on a hoagie — she just brushes the broken glass off her shoulder and keeps eating.
But this is an example of how difficult it is to conduct a murder case with people you know personally. There is more emotion attached. Mare is judged harshly no matter what she does. It’s why she’s so furious at Siobhan (Angourie Rice) when it’s seen that she’s in the video helping Erin after Brianna’s attack. That Mare didn’t know about her own daughter being a potential witness only reflects negatively on her. This is why Colin being new to Easttown is a blessing, even if Mare doesn’t quite realize it yet.
Mare doesn’t seem to accept help in general, both at work and in her personal life, which comes with its own problems. Not only does her ex-husband Frank (David Denman) live behind her, but she’s also caring for her grandson, Drew (Izzy King), who suffers from various tics and behavioral problems. And if it’s not hard enough looking after a troubled child, there is the looming threat of Drew’s mother trying to gain full custody, something Mare’s own mother (Jean Smart) tries to keep secret.
These family issues shed some light on Mare’s background and what happened to Drew’s father, Kevin. This information is brutally brought to our attention during Brianna’s interrogation when she calls Mare a “bitch” and tells her, “There’s no wonder your son killed himself.” Losing a son in such a way explains a little about Mare’s personality and attitude. Her aloofness and unwillingness to open up and accept help stems from a sort of self-protection, bottling up her feelings and disengaging with the reality of the situation.
Mare pretty much states this outright when she meets with a doctor regarding Drew’s ailments. She explains how her own son suffered from similar tics as a child, which then developed into further problems, something she and Frank could never fix or figure out. Eventually, it got to a point where Mare just mentally checked out. And now Kevin isn’t here anymore. The doctor suggests that Mare talks to someone to help cope with the grief of losing her son, but Mare essentially scoffs at the idea.
Instead, Mare loses herself in her work, even against her mother’s advice that she should take a little time for herself. She does eventually take a short break to attend Richard’s (Guy Pearce) book celebration party. It doesn’t exactly go to plan, though, as Richard is tied up with adoring fans, and Mare is left alone, spitting out ill-tasting hors d’oeuvres and stuffing them in a napkin down the back of a sofa. It’s only by the grace of Richard’s deeply apologetic rambling that she decides to stick around. “You’re not getting laid tonight,” she makes clear.
Meanwhile, Kenny decides to take justice into his own hands and ambushes Dylan. With a gun pointed at the back of Dylan’s head, Kenny orders him to drive out to a dark country backroad. Dylan desperately begs for his life as he’s told to step out of the vehicle, pleading that he had nothing to do with Erin’s death. But Kenny isn’t thinking straight, he’s consumed by revenge, and as Dylan makes a run for it, Kenny lets off two shots in Dylan’s back, presumably killing him, though it’s not confirmed.
But is Dylan the killer? It doesn’t seem likely. It’s way too obvious for a show like this. And what Mare does well, the same way Broadchurch did, is introducing an ensemble of characters that could all be potential suspects. The characters all seem to have connections to Erin, some small, some more significant, whether it’s the deacon of the church that Erin helped out as a kid, or her former math teacher, Frank. And it’s Frank in the spotlight at the cliffhanger of this episode.
Early in the episode, Mare asks Frank, who is a high school teacher, if he knew Erin. He says he taught her algebra for a brief period and that she was a quiet girl who he could sense had troubles at home. But he didn’t really know her. However, a bombshell from Erin’s best friend Jess (Ruby Cruz) throws into question Frank’s claims. Jess reveals that Erin told her a secret, that Dylan isn’t the real father of her baby, and while Erin never told her who the real father is, she has strong suspicions it’s Frank.
If Mare thinks it’s challenging to juggle a murder investigation with real-life relationships, things will only worsen when she finds out her ex-husband is potentially involved. But she doesn’t know yet, as Jess chose to tell Mare’s best friend Lori (Julianne Nicholson) first, rather than bring such a loaded accusation to Frank’s ex-wife. However, given how connected everyone is in Easttown, one imagines it won’t be long before this news does the rounds.
Mare will unlikely ever make you say, “Wow, I’ve never seen anything like this before,” but there is almost a sense of comfort in these crime drama tropes when they’re done well. And so far, Mare is doing them very well by building a well-realized ensemble of characters and dangling some intriguing questions for us to chew on like a delicious hoagie.
Mare of Easttown, Season 1, Sundays, HBO