Last week’s excellent opening episode of HBO’s new series Mare of Easttown took it’s sweet time to explore the titular location and it’s characters, rather than actually delving into any crime; instead, the show was setting out it’s stall early on as a forensic examination of family ties and the secrets they hide, before setting up the catalyst for what would inevitably expose those secrets. This week, that examination came to fruition with explosive results – and then some.
The previous episode had left us on the cliffhanger of Erin’s death, and this episode picked up immediately in the aftermath of her body’s discovery from Mare’s initial call-in to the crime scene itself. For a community as close-knit as Easttown, the murder of one of their own hits hard, and Mare immediately corrals the brothers of Erin’s dad Kenny into helping break the terrible news that his daughter is dead. He is immediately unequivocal in his assertion that only one person stood to gain from her death – Dylan.
Mare presses Dylan on his whereabouts the night of Erin’s murder, and his teenage bravado holds her off initially – unfortunately it doesn’t hold off Kenny, who subsequently forces Dylan to drive into nearby woods where he shoots him dead. Kenny’s actions are indicative of a townsfolk unafraid to take matters in hand, with Mare being barely able to keep a lid on all the simmering tensions – not least in her own wranglings with Dylan’s psychotic girlfriend Breanna and her equally violent dad Tony, when the video of her assaulting Erin surfaces online.
Mare of Easttown might have been a slow burn study previously but it definitely switched up gears this week to really motor through some key plot points, flagging twists I thought would take all season to percolate – chiefly Frank’s presumed paternity around Erin’s child. It was pretty evident from the start of the show he wasn’t all he appeared to be, and his whereabouts on the night of the murder definitely puts him in the cross-hairs of the investigation, and a showdown with Mare. It was a pleasant surprise to see a show so confident in it’s own story that it was unafraid to pivot quickly on a plot point other shows would draw out needlessly.
Likewise the old chestnut of dropping a fish out of water into the investigation by introducing Detective Colin Zabel (the ever excellent Evan Peters) as Mare’s outsider foil. Their initial interactions had the same spark of True Detective’s past pairings, but again the show didn’t labour the point of contrasting personalities – Mare is initially antagonistic toward Zabel, who she feels represents a threat to her authority, but together they squash the animosity quickly and work together to get the case moving forward. It felt refreshing to not have to endure something that again, other shows would have laboured all season.
All of which might seem a bit swift to simplify certain strands of the story in favour of the more soapy elements – certainly there’s some odd tonal choices here and there, with jaunty comical music accompanying Mare’s attempts to blend in at Richard’s swanky book night – which is strange given the unrelentingly grim atmosphere elsewhere in the show. The hope would be the speed picking up in the narrative is to afford more room for some twists and turns later in it’s run time, as it’s almost certain the paternity issue can’t be the end motive, despite this episode being focused (and titled as such) on ‘Fathers’ (and was that episode title also designed as a sly dig toward a certain Deacon who had previous history with Erin?).
Again, it feels like the death of Erin goes beyond just exposing one secret, and instead will continue to expand outward, damaging other characters living other lies. It lends the show an air of unpredictability that compels you to keep watching. So far, Mare of Easttown is essential viewing.
READ MORE: OUR EPISODE ONE REVIEW
Mare of Easttown is currently showing on HBO in the US and Sky Atlantic/Now TV in the UK