‘Mare of Easttown’: A Breakthrough in the Case Leads to Tragedy (RECAP)

Evan Peters in Mare of Easttown Episode 5
Spoiler Alert

[Warning: The below contains spoilers for Mare of Easttown Episode 5, “Illusions.”]

With just two episodes left to go, Mare of Easttown has resolved at least one of its mysteries in arguably the best hour of the season so far. It’s an episode permeated with dread and unease, broken momentarily by a big laugh in the middle before ending in a violent discovery that results in the death of one of the show’s main characters.

Given the magnitude of what happened, I’m going to start this week’s recap at the end, as Mare (Kate Winslet) and Colin (Evan Peters) track down the man responsible for kidnapping Katie (Caitlin Houlahan) and Missy (Sasha Frolova). After agreeing to go on a date with Colin (in an effort to stay close to the investigation), Mare persuades the hotshot detective to look into the unsolved case of a prostitute named Hilary who went missing in the area. If the kidnapper is purposely targeting working girls, there is a chance it could be connected.

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The audience knows these cases are linked before Mare and Colin find out, as we’re privy to a conversation between Katie and Missy where they talk about Hilary. Katie explains to Missy that she’s been held prisoner for a year in this house and that there used to be another girl, Hilary, but she got pregnant by him. “He didn’t like that,” Katie says. “And then one day, she was gone.” The conversation is interrupted as the kidnapper enters the room to chain the girls up so he can enjoy his poker night in peace.

Colin’s ego might be a little bruised after the awkward date comes to an abrupt close, but he follows up on Mare’s suggestion and tracks down a girl who worked the streets with Hilary. While Mare and Colin might not have much romantic chemistry, they work well as a detective duo and obtain valuable information from the girl, who had a run-in herself with the kidnapper. She gives a description of the man, right down to the cigarette brand he smoked, plus a partial license plate, which the system links to a blue utility van. “Time to go knocking on doors,” says Mare before a suddenly spontaneous Colin plants a kiss on her lips.

Sadly, that turns out to be Colin’s kiss of death. After knocking on a few doors of blue van owners in the neighborhood, the pair eventually come upon a busted old house with a bar in the back. Immediately, the man who answers the door gives off weird vibes. His eyes dart around the room as music blasts in the background. There are spy cameras fitted into the corners of the ceiling. And when Colin spots a packet of Winston’s cigarettes on the coffee table, he knows they have their man, and that’s before Katie and Missy start rattling the pipes to draw attention.

Evan Peters in Mare of Easttown Episode 5


However, before Colin can reach for his weapon, the man fires a bullet right into the detective’s head, dropping him to the ground and presumably killing him on impact. Mare takes a shot to the arm but manages to escape into another room as the man gives chase. She passes by the door where the girls are being held but cannot remove the padlock. It’s very reminiscent of the final sequence of Silence of the Lambs when Clarice suddenly finds herself in the home of Buffalo Bill. And, like Clarice, Mare eventually gets the upper hand and shoots her assailant dead.

It’s a dramatic, unsettling, and ultimately tragic ending. While there is a positive—Katie and Missy are now free—Colin lost his life in the process. It’s even more heartbreaking given Colin’s confession moments before his demise, when he admits to Mare that he didn’t solve the missing persons case for which he’s known. The link was found by a private investigator who ended up in the hospital; Colin inherited the files, allowing him to crack the case and take the credit. This could have been Colin’s moment of redemption, of actual good police work leading to the apprehension of a serial kidnapper/rapist.

Alas, that was not meant to be. However, this conclusion should put Mare back in people’s good graces and could possibly get her reinstated to the force, even if she did disobey orders by continuing to investigate. And Mare is needed back on the job because there is more to be done. Erin’s (Cailee Spaeny) murder has yet to be solved, and at this point, it seems more than likely that her death is entirely separate from the kidnappings. Given everything we know so far, Erin’s case feels far more personal and much closer to home.

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So who are the suspects? Let’s take a look at the likely candidates, starting with Deacon Mark (James McArdle). In this episode, he’s harassed by a group of teens who heard about the accusations against him. Mark breaks down and confesses to Father Dan (Neal Huff) that he met with Erin on the night of the murder. He claims she called for help and asked to be driven to a park, but then ran off after refusing to listen to his advice. This is why he had her bike, which he ended up throwing in the river because he didn’t think the police would believe him given his past.

I’m not sure I fully buy Mark’s version of events, but I also don’t think he’s the killer. He just acts mightily suspicious, the same as Dylan (Jack Mulhern), who is finally out of the hospital and being sketchy as all hell. He doesn’t have a solid answer when Brianna (Mackenzie Lansing) asks why he wasn’t at home on the morning after the murder. And he later meets up with Jess (Ruby Cruz) and another friend to steal and burn Erin’s private journals. There is definitely something Dylan doesn’t want people finding out about, and it probably relates to whatever it is that Jess pockets from inside one of the journals.

Another potential suspect is someone we’ve been hearing about since the premiere, the mysterious Prowler. Mare even tackles an innocent old man in this episode, mistakenly thinking he’s the guy. Resident complainer Betty (Phyllis Somerville) was the first to report the Prowler, but Mare brushed it off as a neighborhood kid just messing with the old lady. Perhaps it was something more sinister? After all, Betty winds up dead this week: Her car is found smashed into a power grid. A road accident? Or murder? This does lead to a great moment where, at Betty’s wake, her grieving husband confesses to the mourners that he had an affair with Helen (Jean Smart), a fact that Mare finds hilarious (“It was two times…maybe three,” Helen clarifies).

Julianne Nicholson in Mare of Easttown Episode 5


Speaking of affairs, that brings me to my final suspects, John (Joe Tippett) and Billy (Robbie Tann), Kenny’s (Patrick Murney) dodgy cousins. It comes out that John is cheating on Lori (Julianne Nicholson), who overhears him telling their son Ryan (Cameron Mann) to keep a secret. The pressure of keeping the secret bubbles over for Ryan as he beats the crap out of a school bully who was picking on his sister (the kid deserved it, to be fair). And based on the conversation Lori has with Ryan, this isn’t the first time John has had an affair, and it even appears to be with the same woman.

That makes me wonder what else John has been hiding. For example, does he know what is up with Billy? Because that guy has been shady from the start, constantly shuffling around in the background. And things get extra creepy when Lori mentions that Erin lived with Billy for a while. When Mare asks why, Billy explains that it was after Erin’s mother died, when Kenny was drinking a lot, adding that she stayed for a couple of weeks. Lori points out it was more like a couple of months. If that isn’t a red flag in itself, Billy’s flimsy excuse and hasty exit certainly don’t help his case.

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So, as we head into the final stretch, here are my predictions: The kidnapper had nothing to do with Erin’s murder. Deacon Mark is the father of Erin’s baby but didn’t kill her. The Prowler will turn out to be Dawn (Enid Graham), who spies on young women to feel closer to her missing daughter. Dylan has probably done a bunch of illegal stuff, like selling drugs, which he’s worried Erin talked about in her journals. And Billy is the one who murdered Erin, with John helping him cover it up. Oh, and as for Guy Pearce‘s Richard, he’s just a lonely writer who will live happily ever after with Mare. Surely at least one of these statements has to be right?!

Mare of Easttown, Sundays, 10/9c, HBO