Biweekly Binge: Mare About Town
A fortnightly column on what’s good in the vast ocean of content in the streaming platforms around you, and this week, it's Mare of Easttown, streaming on Disney+ Hotstar
Mare of Easttown, the HBO original that just concluded on Hotstar in India, is essentially a genre exercise. It has many names but the straightest one would be murder-mystery-in-a-small-town-where-everyone-knows-everyone. The show is admirable in its self-awareness. It begins with a quickly-cut series of shots of townhomes, and in less than a minute establishes the commune of characters featured in the show. Created and written by Brad Ingelsby and directed by Craig Zobel, Mare of Easttown even has jokes. The outsider, detective Colin Zabel (Evan Peters) asks Mare (Kate Winslet), Easttown’s infamous outcast-detective if there is anyone in the town who isn’t related to her. Another outsider, a dishevelled, jaded Guy Pearce as Richard, an author-professor resting on his laurels, asks Mare if the bar they are in is a good place to get a beer. Mare, as she is to everyone around her – known and unknown – is forthright, if he thinks it is a good place then it probably is. It could well be the only place in Easttown to get a beer. Ingelsby and Zobel set up the mood and atmosphere at the outset – Easttown is cold, by every definition, it is not easy to enter the tightly knit landscape and for the insiders, it is hard to escape.
The characters aren’t that many, but the people of Easttown are so interconnected that it is almost incestuous in its design and takes us about one and a half episodes into the show to understand the various relationships and to establish family trees. Mare is a grandmother to a little boy? Who is the offspring? Siobhan (Angourie Rice) is Mare’s daughter, about to go to college, and they all live under one roof in Helen’s (Jean Smart) home, who happens to be Mare’s mother and the show’s most hilarious character – in both writing and performance. The home is broken, the most apparently so in the area. But even the seemingly content ones either come apart by the end of the show or were only so in their external disposition. We get these mysteries to unwrap along with the larger murder mystery of Erin McMenamin (Cailee Spaeny), a teenage single mother. Unlike other small-town mysteries, there is very little that’s gossipy about the way the show is structured, almost everyone has lived with each other long enough to make peace with their and others’ shortcomings and scandals.
The show has little to do with suspense and more about the dysfunctional town where everyone is carrying trauma on their backs starting with Mare. It is grief that she has pushed away which in turn pushes people away from her life – Siobhan, Helen, her ex-husband Frank (David Denman) and in several instances, even Zabel. She is the most integral part of Easttown and yet the one who is outside looking in. Mare, as a character, is fascinatingly written. She is unlikeable and unnecessarily aggressive. She finds it difficult to compartmentalize her personal life and professional life, and in a place like Easttown, challenging as it is to stay under the radar, the show forces her to cross eyes with offenders who are within her family and friends. The show is careful in the way it etches the mental health of its several players and how they deal with it – young and old, men and women, heterosexual and queer. It is also mindful of labelling any character, like Deacon Mark, who was reassigned to the local church after some damning allegations at a different parish. It looks at him and everyone like him with an empathetic eye and all of them come to terms with their grief differently. Mare is the odd one out who refuses to engage for a large part of the show.
And yet Mare remains someone to root and care for thanks to Kate Winslet’s aura erasing performance. Stripped off all-star wattage, we get the Eastern accent, the slowness in her physical movement that suggests remains of a once quick-footed cop (she is “Lady Hawk” for making the high school version of Michael Jordan’s “The Shot” for state championship), the tiredness in her eyes when she tries to dress up for a date or a party and the weariness of a mother and a grandmother who lacks the space and bandwidth to convey her love for everybody she deeply cares about. Mare of Easttown makes for curious pandemic era TV. Everyone is locked up within themselves when hell is gradually breaking loose outside of their front doors, and there is very little they can do about it.