Marianne “Mare” Sheehan (Kate Winslet) looks like she just got out of bed and acts like she can’t wait to get back in. To Mare, her life as an ex-wife, mother, grandmother, and detective sergeant in Easttown, Pennsylvania, is one big interruption, something she tolerates, barely, until she can climb back under the covers where everything wrong with her life can be forgotten and not grow worse.
With perfect precision, HBO’s seven-part limited series, Mare of Easttown, reveals all the things wrong in Mare’s life in its own sweet time, and it would be wrong of me to spoil them, but the obvious ones are immediately apparent. She’s edging into frumpy middle age, sleeps alone, lives with her mother (Jean Smart), drinks too much, and Easttown’s residents violate her sleep by calling her at home over peeping toms that might not be real.
On top of that, she pushes everyone away, is burdened with her high school legacy, and last year a child went missing, a case she hasn’t solved, a case that not only haunts her and the child’s mother, but all of Easttown — one of those working-class communities where everyone knows everyone, where everyone’s a cousin or in-law (or former in-law), where your ex-husband lives in the house behind you, and no one shops, eats, or drinks in anyplace resembling a chain or big box store. The locals keep it local, which means Easttown has its own mythology, mysteries, and secrets, and Mare will have to unravel all of them before she can arrive at a place where she wants to get out of bed.
At this point, everyone’s alarms are going off… HBO takes on the working class? Why the hell would I sit through seven hours of left-wing Hollywood taking sucker punches at me and mine? Lemme guess the murderer wears a “Make America Great Again” hat? Everyone’s racist? Someone says the planet’s only 3,000 years old! No, wait! I know! A gay, black cross-dresser comes to town and enlightens the hicks to the pleasures of pansexuality?
Well, that’s the thing… There’s none of that; none, which feels like an oasis in the age of the Woke Gestapo. Mare of Easttown really is a miracle, a legitimate television masterpiece of storytelling told by way of universal themes and flawed but relatable and sympathetic characters; an intriguing and intelligent mystery and character study with no lectures or preaching or virtue signaling.
Easttown neither condescends with any of that “working-class hero” nonsense nor scorns its characters. Instead, it sees its characters — who almost certainly voted for Donald Trump — for what they are, human beings. What’s most refreshing is that none of the actors telegraph that they’re slumming. The casting and performances are perfect. No one comes off as a “star” running around with bad hair, a bad accent, and no makeup just so they can win that Emmy. Everyone feels real, most especially Winslet, who finally justifies the hype around her. It’s a truly stunning performance, an all-timer.
Without giving too much away, while I very much enjoyed the first six episodes, it wasn’t until the final chapter where it all hit, which is by design. Writer Brad Ingelsby is in no hurry to lay down his thematic track and does so in a deliberate way that catches you off guard. Once that train arrives, though, it’s with an emotional wallop you never see coming, which forces you to rewind the previous six hours in your head and grasp a meaning you didn’t know was there. And so, just like that, what had been a perfectly entertaining and intriguing procedural becomes something moving and eloquent.
The themes are (in this day and age) shockingly moral and universal: forgiveness, the importance of moving on, the poison of lies, our shared humanity, and that stretch pants and dirty baseball caps don’t define who we are. Easttown is the real world, that place where most of us live where adultery shatters lives, loveless sex comes with consequences, we forgive because we love, and every life matters.
It’s the real world where people are stitched into each other’s fabric, not by shallow and meaningless things like racial and sexual “identity,” but through family and shared values, through local sports, work, and church; over beers, cookouts, and being able to commiserate with someone who understands what it’s like to work behind a cash register or drive a bus. That’s what we see in one another, the only thing we see, not skin color.
Most of all it’s the real world where an interracial gay couple is met with indifference or acceptance, a truth about MAGA Land I can hardly believe HBO allowed to be told.
You know, there was a time during the previous two decades when we took great television for granted and just assumed the Larry Sanders, Tony Sopranos, Walter Whites, Jack Bauers, Don Drapers, and Vince Mackeys would always be there, that TV had finally come of age and cracked the code, but then the fascist Woketards came along and made pop culture unbearable…
Well, somehow Mare of Easttown snuck through the censorious Gestapo, and it’s something that should be appreciated and not missed.