Clare on Mare: Unravelling Season 1 of Mare of Easttown - Episode 4

This is Part 4 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 4 - ''Poor Sisyphus'

Director: Craig Zobel

Writer: Brad Ingelsby

Before we get into the episode, why is it named after a character from Greek mythology? Sisyphys was punished by Zeus to eternally push a boulder uphill. However, as soon as he would reach the top of the hill, the boulder would roll off and Sisyphus had to push it back up again. So is the 'Poor' descriptor in the episode title suggesting that we should feel sorry for him, and those who represent him? Who is being punished in Mare of Easttown and who is the punisher?

Long term, Mare would be the obvious choice. She has experienced lots of knock backs recently with her family life as well as in her line of work and solving the case feels like a constant uphill battle. However, there is a standout scene in this episode featuring Dawn Bailey as she is blackmailed by an unknown caller claiming to have knowledge about her missing daughter, Katie. She walks through a dilapidated house, in low key lighting with vertical bars and elongated shadows all around her - applause to cinematographer Ben Richardson because the suspense and horror conventions utilised make the scene genuinely terrifying. It also acted as a reminder of the lengths that she will go to if it means even the tiniest possibility of being reunited with her daughter, and of how trapped she is by her awful reality. We know that the caller is phony, and we also get the strong impression that she knows this too, but she can't let the possibility - however unlikely, and however dangerous it may be - slide. Hence the boulder rolls all the way back to the bottom of the hill, and she is back to grieving for her missing daughter in a hellish purgatory. Perhaps the title of the episode wasn't chosen to align with any character, but as a universal recognition of what life can feel like sometimes. In any case, it really got me thinking and added another layer to the Mare of Easttown story for me.

We're at the midway point in the mini-series now and Mare has to deal with the repercussions of her suspension. It's very telling who she lets in on this information first. In the image above of Mare and Lori on the bench, we can see how much she leans on her friend during the toughest of times. They are women bonded by their town and the tragedies occurring in it. I want to say that they have been hardened by their experiences, and I think the costume and make up choices for them (minimal, perhaps even emphasising shadows and drawing attention to ageing features on their faces) supports this, though we also see flashes of softness and real vulnerability in moments like this too. The action of Mare resting her head on someone else's shoulder is an unusual sign of affection and it's good to see that she has a friend that she can be this close and unguarded with.

In contrast to this, we are witness to Mare's first therapy session in this episode (it's a condition of her suspension) and see how she goes into it with a blasé and even skeptical attitude with a view of just getting it over with. The wall goes up and the pseudo-hubris takes centre stage - she has a professional reputation to keep in tact, let's not forget! But then she realises the benefits of talking, and with the inclusion of a flashback to an abusive scene with her son Kevin (which is also terrifying), we can see exactly why the therapy is a positive move for her. Thinking about other TV dramas that include therapy (Big Little Lies, Insecure and most notably, The Sopranos), it is often a useful device to understand what drives a character and how their past is influencing their present. One of the hard things for Mare is that her past appears to be both a weakness and a driver for her determination to succeed with her work. As an aside, Richard appears to provide a more informal form of therapy, with his well phrased questions, thoughtful inquiries into Mare's life and sensitive approach, he is another person that she is gradually opening up to. I like him - he seems like a positive influence!

In terms of where we're up to with suspects and victims, another girl has gone missing under suspicious circumstances and it still looks bad for Deacon Mark. He has been found guilty of lying and looks shifty when asked about Erin. The fact he has previous accusations against him only fuels this idea, but at the same time, it seems too early for us to have such certainty about who the killer is. Despite Mare officially being on leave, she chases several leads based on the internet use of Erin as well as finding a hidden keepsake necklace engraved with a date. No doubt this will return at some point!

Commonality is drawn in this episode between all the grandparents who assume parental roles: Mare of her grandson, Drew; Helen of her granddaughter Siobhan and great grandson Drew; Dylan's parents taking care of DJ (pictured above) while he's incapable of looking after an infant (both because he is in hospital and in the wrong place mentally); and Dawn Bailey caring for her granddaughter since her own daughter Katie is still missing. It's interesting to see how amazingly supportive and natural the grandparents are without begrudging their children for landing them with additional responsibilities. It seems like a lot of grandparents for one TV show so I wonder if this is the creator's way of commenting on the almost impossible demands on families (mothers in particular) to take on childcare duties alongside their careers, or perhaps just represents alternative family units.

What questions do I have at the end of episode four? Why is Freddy included in some episodes? He is a character with drug problems and targeted Dawn as a way to get easy drug money, but I'm still not sure what his overall purpose is.

What predictions do I have at the end of episode four? The two missing girls are part of a different case to Erin. We saw her dead body, but they are very much alive. Psychos tend to have a pattern or trademark so it doesn't make sense that he/she would kill one and treat the others differently.

Other thoughts (i.e. Helen Watch): Mare's mum, Helen, hiding an ice cream stash in a bag of frozen veg... I've never related more.


You can stream Mare of Easttown on Now TV or HBO Max now.

In case you missed it, read Part 3 of the blog series here. Part 5 can be read here!