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Home TV Shows Reviews ‘Mare of Easttown’ Series Review: Equally Drab and Riveting, Claustrophobic & Caustic

‘Mare of Easttown’ Series Review: Equally Drab and Riveting, Claustrophobic & Caustic

The Kate Winslet-starring HBO miniseries ponders the double horror of peaking in high school and homicide

Ritika Kispotta - Sun, 23 May 2021 11:24:46 +0100 1244 Views
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Written and created by Brad Ingelsby and directed by Craig Zobel ‘Mare of Easttown’ is a new HBO miniseries set in a Pennsylvania town. The series is both a murder mystery and an intimate portrait of small-town life through the eyes of Kate Winslet’s world-weary police detective called Mare Sheehan. Easttown is a bleak, impoverished place, full of overlapping sadnesses. As the tiny, tight community’s police detective, Mare sees and deals with most of them. Drug and alcohol addiction is rife. One of the earliest scenes shows Mare attending the scene of a burglary – another burglary, we understand – at the house of a woman called Beth Hanlon (Chinasa Ogbuagu, in a small but heartbreaking role; she is due to return in later episodes). It is her brother, Freddie (Dominique Johnson), on the hunt again for things to sell for his next fix.

‘Mare of Easttown’ (Sky Atlantic) is a millefeuille of misery, as exquisitely layered and as moreish as the real thing. In rural Pennsylvania, we meet a small-town cop, Mare Sheehan (Kate Winslet). World-weariness, the weight of professional responsibility, and – we discover later, although the clues are there – family tragedy show in every line of her body, every heavy step she takes. She rarely smiles. She is not surly or grumpy – she just doesn’t have the energy for anything else, after doing her job and taking care of her family.

Kate Winslet is magnetic as Mare. The actor has shown herself to be not averse to take up difficult and unglamorous roles if they are challenging enough. And Mare is as challenging as it gets. The character is written with immense depth and cares about complex motivations and traits. Winslet’s performance in the role does something rare: making Mare feel like a living, breathing person, and not merely a character in a story. The rest of the cast is excellent as well, with Jean Smart, who was earlier seen in HBO’s own Watchmen, once again giving other actors a run for their money despite her limited screen-time.

Everyone knows everyone in Easttown, which makes Mare captivating as its central protagonist. The people who ask her for help are friends of friends. The people doing crimes are also friends of friends. So Mare, by growing up in Easttown, already has an opinion about who seems suspicious. And even despite protecting her friends and the town she grew up in, she sometimes struggles to see people’s humanity beyond the scope of the law.

As the twists and turns of the cases are revealed, it becomes a show greater than the sum of its already considerable parts. By the time you get to the revelation at the end of the second episode, you become less stunned by the news itself than you are by the computation of what it will mean for all involved. Everything and everyone is real and you care about every tiny part.

What makes ‘Mare of Easttown’ work is how different it is from HBO’s glamorous, prestige murder story offerings of late like ‘The Undoing’ and ‘Big Little Lies.’ Nicole Kidman starred in both. But the shows also had more in common than just Kidman. They were both about the glamorous lives of very beautiful, very rich women beleaguered by sociopaths, awful marriages, and homicide. Their privileged lives complete with plush homes, beautiful coats, and perfect handbags were part of the shows’ appeal; the women’s well-appointed kitchens, gorgeous fashion, and lives full of surreal opulence matched their degree of emotional terror and turmoil.

‘Mare of Easttown’ is true to its name, unfurling into a history about a woman who has spent a lot of time avoiding her past and her obligation to the town that raised her. If I were Mare’s friend, I’d suggest moving away from Easttown, because opening up old wounds over and over again doesn’t seem healthy. But I don’t know if she’d be able to thrive beyond its borders, since so much of this Pennsylvania town is coded into her life. She doesn’t know any other way.

Hence, her desperation to solve the case is firmly, perhaps even selfishly, entrenched with the hope that if she succeeds, it’ll correct the other parts of her life. And though we all know better than that, it’s still enthralling to watch her try.

‘Mare of Easttown’ is not for everyone. But for those who do not mind a dreary tone for some solid writing, character work, acting, and a strong, granularly detailed sense of place in their murder mysteries, it is hard to go wrong with ‘Mare of Easttown’.

Final Score – [9/10]
Reviewed by – Ritika Kispotta
Follow her @KispottaRitika on Twitter (https://twitter.com/KispottaRitika)

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