Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Kate Winslet’s just a great cop trying to keep her head above “wudder” in Mare Of Easttown

Kate Winslet and Izzy King
Kate Winslet and Izzy King
Photo: Michelle K. Short/HBO
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The global protests that followed the death of George Floyd didn’t just renew scrutiny about American policing. They also sparked, for the first time, an examination of how police procedurals have fortified inequities in the justice system by oversimplifying police work and deifying those who do it. There’s been woefully little progress toward police reform since last summer, but cop shows are, at the very least, showing their characters grapple with the part they play in a system that produces wildly different outcomes depending on who you are. Law & Order: SVU is in the midst of a season-long arc about police misconduct. The writers of Brooklyn Nine-Nine elected to restructure its farewell season in light of the cultural shift.

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The broader conversation around cultural representations of the police may not initially seem to implicate Mare Of Easttown, HBO’s latest emo whodunnit. After all, Mare Sheehan’s turf is one of the bedroom communities that make up Delaware County, Pennsylvania. There’s work to do, of course, mostly owed to the fact that opioid addiction has ravaged Easttown like it has so many communities like it. But much of Mare’s work relies on her soft skills, which television cops don’t get to reveal often enough. When Mrs. Carroll spots a prowler lurking nearby, she won’t call main dispatch. What’s the point when Mare — never Detective Sheenan — will come to your aid first thing in the morning? Mare reminds her there’s a protocol to reporting such things, but Mrs. Carroll holds her ground: “I trust you, and I don’t know who the station will send over.” She’s viewed as a community servant, not the thin blue line between order and chaos.

The challenge facing cop television now is the challenge to depict a desire for greater accountability in a profession notoriously hostile to it. Mare of Easttown doesn’t face that challenge because its protagonist is consumed by accountability. Not the accountability that follows a tragedy or springs from a congressional committee, but the kind that comes from a genuine investment in the community and a desire to improve it. Mare has that kind of personal accountability, hence the early morning call from Mrs. Carroll. In fact, her sense of responsibility runs so deep that she would sooner publicly accost a cancer patient than have anyone think she didn’t do enough to find a missing girl. Her life is about to complicate as a renewed focus on the Katie Bailey dovetails with a brutal murder in the usually uneventful town.

The pilot follows parallel tracks, both featuring women navigating messy break-ups and raising children under circumstances they didn’t plan for. They share deep roots in Easttown, the kind of roots that ground you but also convince you that it’s impossible to uproot. The first woman is Mare, who, when she’s not solving all manner of local crime, is twisting herself in knots over her ex, Frank. It’s a break-up compounded by both their co-parenting arrangement and sheer proximity. It’s hard to get over someone who never goes away, and so uncomfortably close is Mare’s extended family that Frank and Faye, his intended, live directly across the street. Mare is the last to know about their engagement party, and one of the few people in the neighborhood without an invitation. Not that she’d have accepted it.

The other is Erin, a teenage mom whose life has stalled out as she navigates parenthood alone. Actually, Erin and her baby would arguably be better alone, rather than weighed down by the dysfunctional village raising her child. Kenny, Erin’s hot-tempered father, makes clear he sees Erin’s son not as a grandchild, but as a drain on resources that his father should be providing. Dylan, for his part, has moved on with the, um, confrontational Brianna, who doesn’t take kindly to Dylan’s vestigial relationship with Erin. Dylan shares custody of the kid, perhaps due to some minimal sense of duty, but doesn’t want to financially support the child any more than family court forces him to. It’s no wonder Erin’s taken solace in an online flirtation with a generic heartthrob named Brendan. Especially when he says things like “I want you to dance again,” a sentiment that fills her head with glimpses of a life without motherhood.

Creator Brad Inglesby’s script is elegant enough that initially, it isn’t quite clear how Erin’s story will intersect with Mare’s. But the moment she’s seen firming up plans with Brendan, it’s obvious that Erin is the victim whose murder Mare will have to solve. That knowledge makes all Erin’s scenes tough to watch because they’re so inevitable. As sketchy as the Brendan situation seems, it’s plausible that Erin would be intoxicated by a new romance to the point of ignoring all the red flags. If you need something fun and exciting to distract from your circumstances, you’re less likely to dwell on the inconsistencies.

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When Erin arrives at Sharp’s Woods for her date with Brendan, she’s immediately reminded that while her dancing days might be far behind chronologically, she couldn’t be farther away from them. She runs into a couple friends from high school, and she might as well be speaking Mandarin when she talks about how her entire life is now devoted to her son. That awkward moment is just the beginning of Erin’s truly heartbreaking demise. Instead of encountering “Brendan,” she’s attacked by Brianna and her coterie of street toughs, the fulfillment of a threat issued early in the episode. As vicious as the beating is, it certainly isn’t enough to create the horrific head wound visible when Erin’s nude body is revealed.

In the final scene, Mare’s life finally intersects with Erin’s as she gets the call to investigate the murder. But as we’ve learned, Mare can’t just investigate cases. She can only be consumed by them.

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Stray observations

  • Kate Winslet is truly killing her take on the elusive DelCo accent, from the initial mention of “ooverdoos” calls to the “clean wudder” the baby turtle will need to survive.
  • I loved seeing Kate Winslet’s reunion with Guy Pierce, but of all the plot threads introduced, I’m least interested in their relationship.
  • Really looking forward to getting to know Lori, who seems like exactly the kind of radically empathetic friend Mare needs. The scene at the basketball ceremony is squirm-inducing.
  • Don’t get me wrong, I’m on Mare’s side with the whole Frank thing, but couple names don’t get much more adorable than Frank and Faye. That’s just cute.
  • Speaking of the basketball ceremony, female athletes aren’t always given the attention and support they deserve, so it’s pretty cool that Easttown is so proud of its Lady Hawks.
  • The elegant and understated title reveal is interesting, but I saw listed in the credits Imaginary Forces, the team that assembled the beloved opening credits for Stranger Things. I’m curious to see if there’s a more formal opening in the next episode.
  • I get that Kenny is supposed to be irrationally angry, but my dude, microwaved cheese is always a hazard to the roof of your mouth. If you can’t hang, then clearly that frozen mac ‘n’ cheese life isn’t for you.
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