You can’t be an HBO murder show without a murder, but that’s a rule Mare of Easttown defied up until the last few minutes of its premiere. That first episode, though, was very busy setting up the people and culture of this small Pennsylvania town, with a special focus on the titular Mare and her complicated relationships with both family and friends. With that work done, and the sad reveal of the deceased Erin, naked in the woods, the show is ready to dig into the core mystery of who killed the girl — while also continuing to pull back the curtain on Mare’s life and the series of tragedies that have brought her to this place in life.
Mare arrives on the scene and gets things organized pretty quickly in terms of both how to handle Erin’s body as well as the ensuing investigation — she then takes on the unpleasant task of telling Erin’s father what happened, enlisting two friends of Kenny’s to come with her and support him through the inevitable emotional breakdown. It’s a scene that plays like the exact opposite of when detectives on Law & Order have to speak with the loved ones of that week’s vic, where the actor has to find a way to balance the character’s grief with the lines of dialogue they need to say that set up clues for the detectives to investigate.
While Kenny’s a wreck, Mare goes upstairs to poke around Erin’s room (and ugh, nothing twists the pain that comes with observing a dead girl’s bedroom like seeing the happy photos and cards pinned up with expressions like “girl power!” and “live your dream!”). Amongst all that positivity, though, is a pamphlet meant to answer the question “why does my child need ear tubes?” — which Mare notes in advance of her conversation with Erin’s ex-boyfriend Dylan, who Kenny points to as the only clear suspect: “He never wanted her to have that baby. He hated her for it.”
Dylan doesn’t give much indication that one way or the other in his interrogation, despite Mare’s pushing, telling her that he never talked to Erin that night in the woods (which I guess technically is true). This leaves Mare to give a press conference talking to the town, at which Dawn shows up to once again remind Mare (and the local community) that her daughter Katie is also still missing.
After the press conference, Mare returns to her office to find Colin Zabel (Evan Peters), the detective sent by the county to pitch in. Colin’s efforts to charm Mare are unsuccessful, given that she’s angry at having him intrude on her case. But after they discover a video of the fight in the woods, which clearly reveals Brianna beating down Erin, she does let him come along to arrest Brianna for assault.
That arrest happens at Brianna’s family’s restaurant, infuriating Brianna’s father Tony (Eric T. Miller), who — spoiler alert for the rest of the episode — will continue to not be cool about this situation. Also not thrilled about this is Brianna, who demands a lawyer when interviewed by Mare and Colin, before snapping at Mare “no wonder your son fucking killed himself.”
It’s a devastating blow and also the first clear understanding we’ve gotten as to what happened to Kevin, and maybe it’s part of why Mare goes to pay Frank a visit when she gets home from the station. However, while there she asks him if he knew Erin well — he taught her in school, he says, but they didn’t really talk.
Kevin’s also on Mare’s mind the next morning, when she goes to visit a doctor about her grandson, as Drew’s developed a blinking tic that Mare worries is indicative of larger issues, like the mental disorders that troubled Kevin for what sounds like most of his life. The doctor assures her that these tics are totally normal but that they can have Drew checked out by a neurologist for “peace of mind,” and also asks Mare if she’s considered therapy following the death of Kevin, an idea Mare shuts down immediately.
At work, Mare and Colin’s focus is now on speaking with all the kids who were out in the woods, piecing together the puzzle of what happened that night but not uncovering any details that point to an obvious killer. Colin interviews Siobhan on her own, not getting much from her beyond her guilt over Erin’s death, as she could have insisted on giving Erin a ride home instead of letting her wander off by herself into the woods. Then he asks her for tips on working with her mother. Siobhan’s advice: “Lower your expectations.”
Earlier, by the way, we were treated to a sermon given by Deacon Mark, who later talks with his colleague (and Mare’s cousin) Father Dan about Erin, who had apparently been in a youth group Mark worked with until she wasn’t. Mark may of course be totally innocent, but it’s scenes like this on murder shows that get you added to lists of suspects.
Lest you were worried that the introduction of Evan Peters’s cheekbones would mean there was no longer any room for Guy Pearce’s cheekbones on this show, Mare gets an unexpected delivery from her presumed one-night stand: flowers and his phone number. When she calls Richard to once again attempt to blow him off, he instead convinces her to join him at a party celebrating that one novel he once wrote.
Mare’s reluctant but does put in the effort to pretty up a little bit for the event — though nothing makes a lady feel sexier than getting yelled at by the father of the girl you arrested earlier while you’re trying to get in your car. The confrontation with Tony outside her house is clearly not the end, and also a harbinger for awkwardness to come, as Mare finds herself standing on the sidelines at the party, watching Richard talk with his many female fans while she tries to hide the duck pate she just spat out. When she tries to leave, Richard does manage to coax her back inside — but she makes it clear to him that he’s not getting laid that night.
Kenny, meanwhile, slips out of his house (his designated babysitter asleep on the couch) and he’s next seen waiting for Dylan in the backseat of Dylan’s car. Kenny’s got a gun and a bottle of liquor, which is a very bad combination of things even on a good day, and tells Dylan to drive the two of them into the woods. There, Kenny ends up shooting Dylan in the back, twice.
Dylan’s fate is left up in the air while Mare continues her evening, stopping for gas on her way home and once again having to face Dawn behind the counter of the station. But while the two women clearly have their issues, Dawn intervenes on Mare’s behalf when Tony shows up to harass and threaten her, enabling Mare to make her escape.
While Mare was busy with the murder investigation, by the way, her mom, Siobhan, and Frank took young Drew to a park for a playdate with his mother Carrie, currently living in a sober house. Carrie’s relatively nice to them — her beef is clearly with Mare — but she reveals that she’s filing for full custody of Drew, something Siobhan tells her Mare will definitely fight. At the end of the episode, Mare learns that Carrie’s officially filed her custody request, but that’s a fight for another day. For right now, she’s just going to sit on her couch, eat her sandwich, and ignore the gallon of milk that Tony just threw through her front window.
If Mare thinks she’s found some peace in that moment, little does she know how short-lived it’s probably going to be, because Erin’s best friend Jess is ready to spill Erin’s big secret: her baby’s father isn’t actually Dylan. And while Jess doesn’t know who the real father is, she does have a suspect in mind: Frank. It’s a helluva cliffhanger to end things on, and a clear indication that this mystery is just going to get more and more personal for Mare. (Good life advice: Avoid being a character in a murder show with your name in the title.)
Mare of Easttown airs Sundays at 10 PM on HBO.
Cue Kenny Loggins!
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