Easttown Detective Mare Sheehan was a basketball star in high school, nicknamed Lady Hawk after she scored the winning points in a championship game. The gymnasium is filled for a 25th anniversary celebration, but Mare’s family is missing, choosing to attend a party for her ex-husband, Frank, and his fiancé. Waiting in the wings to be announced, Mare is confronted by one of the women who was on the team, Dawn (Enid Graham), whose daughter, Katie, disappeared a year ago. Mare has failed to find Katie, and when another young women is found brutally murdered, she’s pressured to solve the two high-profile cases, while also dealing with turmoil in her personal life.
Kate Winslet, tackling the role of playing Mare, the tortured detective, worked hard to master the dialect of Delaware County, Pennsylvania, where the fictional town is located. (Full disclosure: my first job as a reporter was in Delaware County where my upstate New York accent stood out.) “I love doing accents,” the British-born Winslet told Vanity Fair, “but this one did drive me crazy.”
That attention to detail makes this detective series, available on HBO Max, a cut above the rest. Cinematography by Ben Richardson, zeroes in on the dilapidated homes and empty storefronts, capturing the grit and despair of a blue-collar town that has seen better times. The script by Brad Ingelsby weaves together the family stories with dialogue that seems so realistic we might be watching a reality show. And direction by Craig Zobel manages transitions between the personal dramas and the criminal investigation. The characters are fleshed out giving the talented supporting cast a lot to work with. Even brief performances are memorable.
As a police officer who grew up in Easttown, Mare seems to know all the residents and their histories. (She also seems to be related to half the town.) The downside is that everyone knows what she’s been through, too. Mare’s son, Kevin (Cody Kostro, who we see in flashbacks), suffered from mental illness and chose death by suicide. His girlfriend, Carrie (Sosie Bacon), has been in rehab, but now, clean, wants custody of her son, Drew (Izzy King). Dealing with Kevin’s issues broke up Mare and Frank’s marriage, but she’s been a better grandmother than a mother and will do anything to prevent Carrie from winning custody. Frank, a teacher, is now moving on with Faye (Kaye Arrington). Mare’s mother, Helen (Jean Smart), and daughter, Siobhan (Angourie Rice), support Frank’s decision, which leaves Mare on the outside. When she meets a writer, Richard Ryan (Guy Pearce), after much resistance, she consents to a date.
Mare was close to her father, who died when she was 13. She followed his example and joined the force and she’s very good at what she does. She worked hard to find Dawn’s daughter, Katie, an addict and prostitute, but believes the young woman is dead. That hasn’t prevented Dawn from pressuring Mare’s superiors to replace her on the case, which finally happens with the death of the second young woman, Erin McMenamin (Cailee Spaeny). A county detective, Colin Zabel (Evan Peters), who recently solved a missing woman case, arrives and, after a rocky start, he and Mare become a team.
Mare doubts the two cases are linked, so focus remains on Erin’s murder. There are plenty of suspects. A teen single mother, Erin was no longer with the baby’s father, Dylan (Jack Mulhern), who refuses to pay for his son’s medical care. His new girlfriend, Brianna (Mackenzie Lansing), assaults Erin the night she’s murdered. Erin’s father, Kenny (Patrick Murney) is violent and abusive and not happy supporting Erin’s baby. And a deacon at the local Catholic Church was the last person to speak with Erin the evening of her death. But just when Mare believes she’s making progress on the case, she does something that results in a suspension.
Mare can be her own worst enemy, but she’s also smart and resourceful. Will she solve either case or both? And will Mare of Easttown be renewed? We hope so.
The first three episodes of Mare of Easttown can be streamed on HBO Max. Four episodes remain, with each available to view on Sunday night. The finale is set for May 30.