Clare on Mare: Unravelling Season 1 of Mare of Easttown - Episode 1
This is Part 1 of a blog series about Mare of Easttown, the 2021 Sky Atlantic/HBO crime drama. I will be posting my response to each episode after watching, and doing a bit of analysis after each initial viewing. Be warned: since the plot will be discussed, there are spoilers ahead!
Mare of Easttown - Episode 1 - ''Miss Lady Hawk Herself'
Director: Craig Zobel
Writer: Brad Ingelsby
Mare of Easttown has been getting a lot of praise online and has 15 Primetime Emmy nominations. This, coupled with Kate Winslet in the lead role, was enough for me to start the show and continue paying my NOW TV sub after very much enjoying The Flight Attendant.
The first episode is a heady probe into life in Easttown as Mare, or Lady Hawk (a name she hates), operates as detective sergeant. Is a person a product of a place? Or are places shaped by the people within them? Either way, Easttown is framed as industrial, forgotten and sombre, and the majority of the people in the town seem resignedly fed up. Based on the opening sequence of exterior shots of dated outhouses and terraces it feels like a lonely, cold place and this is reflected in Mare's demeanour as she navigates problematic residents and complicated personal matters.
Despite the first impression of Mare as disenchanted, she shows concern when called to an elderly resident's home to hear more about a prowler in the neighbourhood. She is observant and although on the exterior it might be interpreted as apathy, the reluctant dedication to her job surely gives her a sense of purpose - especially given the apparent breakdown of some of her own relationships. You get the sense that she has experienced some setbacks but that she carries on and tackles the day to day with as much energy as she can muster. Mare is modest when dealing with public appreciation - the local paper print a tribute to her basketball performance in high school - and routinely shrugs off compliments from Richard Ryan (Guy Pearce) but shows vulnerability as soon as those closest to her lose interest. The apparent low sense of self worth despite being highly regarded by her friends and family is a really interesting dichotomy which breathes humanity into her character.
We find out when Mare is called into Chief Carter's office that a young girl from the community has been missing for one year today. The case remains unsolved, and although Mare seems hopeless that she will ever be found, the Chief tasks her with trying again.
With this in mind, it is particularly of note that besides establishing the titular character, episode one also introduces Erin, a teenage mother who is extremely loving, and whose domestic situation is less than pleasant. To paint a picture of her home life, when her father comes home, she dishes up microwave macaroni cheese on paper plates, and he refers to his grandchild as 'kid' and to Dylan, the father of the child, as 'shit for brains'. Dylan arrives to pick up his son, and they argue about who should pay for vital ear surgery (sidebar: in addition to the awful exchange between two very young parents at this point, the conversation about paying for an infant's operation only fuelled my rage about the appalling state of healthcare and medical poverty in America). All in all, based on what we know about Erin, she is a sweetheart whose naivety and good nature is taken advantage of by all those around her. The situation is painful but it's not until the final scenes of the episode that the real danger of her vulnerability is realised. A woodland isn't the most original setting for a crime to take place, but it did increase the intensity of the episode as she walked into the lion's den under the pretence of a catfish meet up (engineered by Dylan's new girlfriend).
Broken relationships permeate every storyline in the episode: Mare and Frank (her ex), Dylan and Erin, Erin and her father, the police and Dawn (the mother of the missing girl), Freddy and Beth (a minor storyline featuring a brother and sister), Mare and her body (she hurts her foot jumping a fence, has deep hair roots, and considers sex a one night stand, even when Richard repeatedly makes it clear that he wants to see her again). Because of all of this, there is a deep rooted feeling of desperation: people have exhausted all possible avenues and are at the end of their tethers. And as the saying goes, desperate people do desperate things - perfectly setting up lots of potential suspects for the legacy crime, as well as exposing the chain of events behind the awful final shot of a body draped across rocks in the forest stream.
What questions do I have at the end of episode one? How is Mare a grandma? Is Siobhan Evan’s mum or is there another daughter we haven’t been introduced to yet? What happened to Erin? Was it suicide or was she attacked after walking off into the woods alone? What happened to Erin’s mum? She was mentioned in relation to dancing but that's it. Is the lecturer and published writer Richard Ryan everything he seems? His enthusiasm and niceness makes me skeptical but it was nice to have someone untarnished by the bleakness of Easttown.
What predictions do I have at the end of episode one? Erin’s death will provide Mare with a new found sense of purpose, especially since her daughter seems to be of a similar age and in a similar friendship circle. It all happened very close to home.
Other thoughts: Thank you to the producers of this show for using for a larger font size when showing phone texts on screen! No squinting was needed, which is a welcome change.
Read Part 2 of the blog series here.