Tense & Tragic:
Kate Winslet is the big draw for watching Mare of Easttown (HBO-Disney Hotstar), an actress at a level of maturity, where her unadorned face is capable of telling its own story of disappointment and pain.
She plays Marianne ‘Mare’ Sheehan, a cop, in the kind of small town where everyone knows everyone, and residents do not think twice before phoning her with their complaints at all hours, instead of calling the police station.
If Mare looks grim, it’s because she bears the burden of a family more dysfunctional than most. Her alcoholic mother Helen (Jean Smart) has moved in to look after Drew, the child of Mare’s dead son and his junkie girlfriend and the child is showing signs of the same mental disturbance his father had; Mare’s daughter Siobhan (Angourie Rice) has a secret life she does not share with her mother. Worst of all, her ex-husband Frank (David Denman) is about to marry his new girlfriend, has bought a house across the street from hers, and her family is quite cool about attending his engagement party instead of an event to honour Mare. Her only support is her best friend Lori (Julianne Nicholson), who listens to her with a sympathetic and nonjudgmental ear. Mare is rarely seen smiling, so when later in the show, she laughs at an absurd incident, one can see why the woman, who gives off strong stay-away vibes, still attracts two suitors.
A girl has been missing from the town, her mother has been questioning the efficiency of the local cops in the media; more tension is piled on to Mare when another young woman, Erin (Cailee Spaeny), is found murdered, and to Mare’s annoyance, a hotshot detective Colin Zabel (Evan Peters) is sent to work on the case.
Easttown looks picture-postcard pretty, but life there is a simmering pressure cooker of unhappiness and discord—every family is coping with infidelity, abuse, alcoholism, drug addiction. Erin’s death blows the lid off their secrets.
Since the community is so closely knit, many people in the town are connected to events leading to Erin’s murder, and the uncertain paternity of her infant son.
There is a crowd of characters, but even those with small parts have back stories that are hinted at, so their motivations can be understood better–like Beth, the harried sister of a drug addict Freddie, and Richard, a writer attracted to Mare. Even though the series has seven hour-long episodes, the audience quickly comes to care for all the people in it, and feels that knot of apprehension when Mare comes close to solving the mystery after multiple twists and turns.
Written by Brad Ingelsby and directed by Craig Zobel, Mare Of Easttown is a complex study of small town life couched as a murder mystery. It has many crises piled on, but never tips into melodrama. Kate Winslet has given an incredibly layered performance, and the casting is so good, that all the actors look like real people who could belong to that troubled township. The series is fascinating because it is so ordinary, more about quiet anguish (Mare’s sessions with her grief counselor are heartwrenching) than the usual mayhem of a police procedural. If Mare Of Easttown gets a second season, it will take some effort to beat the all round excellence of the first.