Wow. OK. They did it. They actually did it.
In 2021, a crime drama actually managed to deliver a satisfactory conclusion to its story.
Well, satisfactory for the viewers – not so much the characters, but we’ll get to that. And in doing so, Mare of Easttown immediately becomes the one to beat as front-runner for the best show this year. And it’ll take something really special to contest that position. Sure, it wasn’t anything wholly original, or even something that we hadn’t seen before in some regards – it absolutely wore the influences of alumni like True Detective and The Killing very obviously – but there was something special about the way it combined it’s dramatic elements that elevated it well beyond the usual formulaic mediocrity that plagues these kind of shows. It felt like it’s own unique world.
But before all the plaudits, action – and rewinding back to last week’s cliffhanger, there was plenty of it.
With brothers John and Billy at the river for an inevitable showdown, Mare was in hot pursuit and off grid – which was a shame, as the Chief had that crucial bit of evidence that flipped this case wide open, and no way to contact her. He had that photo.
A photo of John and Erin, in bed.
It wasn’t an unexpected revelation maybe, but it did change the dynamic of the case dramatically. John was the brother having the affair with Erin, John was her baby’s father, John was the murderer. In the ensuing scuffle between the brothers, both eventually begged the other to kill them – testament to the weight Erin’s death had on them. In a desperate bid to commit suicide, John turned the gun on himself – only for Mare to arrive in the nick of time and arrest him.
This turn of events didn’t bear too much scrutiny in the early running of the episode – and the show kind of rode roughshod over some of the more salient points this narrative beat exposed. For example, did we really believe Dylan burnt Erin’s journals then hunted down Jess and assaulted her at gunpoint in the previous episode purely to ensure his false paternity remained a secret, just to appease his parents? Or that his absence on the night of the murder minus an alibi was just coincidence? Likewise, what was John’s real intention in taking Billy out to the woods to be murdered? To ensure he didn’t ‘confess’ to his involvement? It didn’t really make much sense in retrospect and felt a little frustrating as a result, but the show wasn’t going to rest on it’s laurels as we weren’t done yet.
With John in custody, he gives a full confession (without a lawyer, which was a bit of a theme in this series) – he had been sleeping with Erin since the family reunion, and when she eventually got pregnant and refused John’s suggestion of an abortion, he had told her to say the baby was Dylan’s, as the teenagers were dating by that time. On the night of the murder, Erin had threatened to tell Lori everything if John didn’t pay for the baby’s ear treatment, and in the ensuing argument they had fought and he had shot Erin dead. It was as devastatingly simple as that.
Despite being open with the investigation, John comes across as cold and matter of fact about the incident – and the fact he had involved both Billy and Lori in the ensuing cover-up. The fact that Lori had lied to Mare seemed more upsetting to her than John’s involvement.
And with that the case comes to a close. John is sentenced, and we get a premature coda to the show. John begs Lori to taken in Erin’s son and raise him as her own. Deacon Mark is released from prison and returns to the church, much to Father Dan’s chagrin. Katie gets a new house thanks to the generosity (or guilt) of the wider community. Siobhan plans to go to university. Carrie lapses on her addiction and custody of Drew goes to Mare. Faye reunites with Frank and – god forbid – seems to be bonding with Mare. Richard leaves town on good terms with Mare, their relationship in the future a tantalizing unknown.
Things seemed to be returning to normal. And yet…
Mare of Easttown has built an entire season on emotional gut punches and it had one more final, harrowing twist to deliver.
After a random encounter sees Mare confront John’s ex-mistress Sheila about renewing their affair – as intimated by Lori – she finds out they hadn’t actually rekindled at all, which leads her to review John’s interrogation tapes again. With his testimony crucially vague at the core details, it casts enough doubt in her mind to re-think the case.
Did John actually murder Erin at all?
Another random encounter seals the deal, and the scene that encapsulates it’s reveal is played so perfectly it takes your breath away. Called out to a general complaint from Mr.Carroll, they talk about loss and grief at a leisurely pace until the topic turns to his missing gun. An ex-cop’s gun. A Colt Enforcer. The exact same gun used to kill Erin. But it was taken, and now it’s back. When it’s clear that the only other person with access to the old man’s shed is Lori’s son Ryan, you can feel the world turn in Mare’s eyes as she reviews his CCTV footage to see the young boy take the gun.
It’s bravura film-making, followed in quick succession by the expertly framed (and largely wordless) slow motion pursuit and arrest of Ryan. His subsequent interview is a heart-breaking testimony to the sins of the father, and the first time the show affords us a little flashback to the night of the murder to frame the narrative. With young Ryan traumatised from his father’s previous affair with Sheila, he begs him to end his current dalliance with Erin. When it becomes clear John isn’t going to do that, he catfishes Erin by text message into meeting him in the park (a nod back to the opening episode when Brianna similarly tricked her), before confronting her with the stolen gun. Erin attempts to take it out of his hand and he shoots her in the face. It’s then that he involves John and Billy into hiding the body, and eventually, involves Lori into the conspiracy.
John had taken the fall to protect his child. Ryan was the real killer.
In the ensuing fallout from this final, horrific twist, Lori struggled to make peace with Mare – her family wholly devastated, she can’t understand why her best friend couldn’t have let go of this one last piece of the puzzle to keep Ryan safe. Eventually they find a way through, and in a truly affecting scene, Mare takes Lori’s emotional weight – both literally and physically – as she cradles her sobbing on the kitchen floor. In a beautifully-shot epilogue, Mare finally summons all her courage to venture into the attic where her own son killed himself.
It’s a truly emotional ending that shows both mothers in parallel stages of grief, both desperately trying to hold their families together, and both trying to find a way through the pain. It absolutely brought a tear to your eye.
Mare of Easttown isn’t anything new. But the sum of it’s parts elevated it to something unique – and a large part of that was down to the core performances in the show, which were impeccable. Kate Winslet was virtually unrecognisable as Mare, submerged within the character so well you forgot the actor inhabiting the role. Likewise Julianne Nicholson’s performance as Lori was a revelation, especially in this closing episode when she had a lot of emotions to process, drawing you into her sorrow with a level of intimacy few performers can replicate. Equally, Jean Smart as Mare’s mum Helen was an absolute joy to watch as always, and really centered the emotional core of the show – especially in it’s much-needed lighter moments. Angourie Rice as Mare’s daughter Siobhan was also a stand-out, and how refreshing is it to see a young woman in a crime drama have a wholly restorative narrative arc, from beginning to end? The show had an absolutely stacked cast of character actors, but the plaudits definitely go to the women that made up the core of what this series was all about.
So now the show has been such a huge success, the obvious final question would be – does Mare of Easttown need a second series? Whilst I would enjoy returning to this town and it’s characters, I think I prefer it as a single season experience. Looking back at the overall journey it took us on, it had such a well-crafted and self-contained story, it feels like lightning couldn’t strike twice. But who knows? After all, I would like to see Mare achieve some form of happiness – even if the world around her seems so reluctant to allow it.
One thing is for sure though – Mare of Easttown stands as one of the best new crime dramas not just this year, but any. So long Mare, and thanks for the memories.
READ MORE: OUR EPISODE ONE REVIEW
READ MORE: OUR EPISODE TWO REVIEW
READ MORE: OUR EPISODE THREE REVIEW
READ MORE: OUR EPISODE FOUR REVIEW
READ MORE: OUR EPISODE FIVE REVIEW
READ MORE: OUR EPISODE SIX REVIEW
Mare of Easttown is currently showing on HBO in the US and Sky Atlantic/Now TV in the UK