Alert: The article contains spoilers
“After a while, you learn to live with the unacceptable” - the HBO series Mare of Easttown, which won three honours at the 73rd Emmy Awards, is a saga of women standing up for women. Led by the powerhouse Kate Winslet, the show centres around a murder mystery, but as the layers peel off we realise that the crime is only incidental. Easttown is so much more than just another quiet place nestled in America. The town’s ecosystem is defined by generational trauma, grief, motherhood and friendship. We see men taking centerstage when tragedy strikes, we see them taking decisions that affect the women in the family, we also see teenagers becoming mothers and then being abandoned to fend for themselves. When faced with impossible choices it’s the community of strong women who lend their arms to collapse in.
Mary-Anne or Mare is a Detective Sergeant in the sleepy town. She grumbles as an elderly lady, Betty, pesters her early in the morning instead of calling the station in order to report a person lurking in front of the house. Mare doesn’t care too much for niceties, she believes in doing her job and doing that well. But what the show arms her with is something that we seldom see in detectives on screen - empathy. Mare calmly listens to a hyper Betty recounting the events of the night. She understands the plight of a cop who is almost about to pass out at the sight of blood. Mare approaches every worried person of Easttown with compassion because she herself is struggling with a pain that seems to find no closure.
Through Mare, we get a sense of Easttown - a place which forces the people to give up, but the supportive crutches scattered throughout come with a hope that all isn’t over.
The story follows Mare investigating a murder of a teenager (Erin MacMenamen), which leads her to reflect back on an unsolved case about a missing girl, Katie Bailey. Erin leaves behind a string of unanswered questions, Katie’s mother is livid at the system for being unable to find her daughter, and at the centre of this chaos is Mare, battling her own demons - a father who shot himself, a son who took his life, a grandson who she is about to lose custody of, a grieving mother, a hurt daughter and a broken friend. Mare of Easttown's exterior concerns the many deaths, but its everlasting impact comes from the lives that are desperately trying to survive.
Over the course of seven remarkable episodes, Mare has been forced to delve deep and assess all her relationships. Thrust into therapy, the otherwise guarded woman lets down her veil and confides in about the guilt she is consumed with. Mare fights with her mother, but gradually also creates the space to understand why she couldn’t give her the childhood Mare longed for. She attempts to mend the strained equations with daughter Siobhan and son Kevin’s partner Carrie and reaches out to best friend Lori when her whole family falls apart. By offering her shoulder and making efforts to relieve others of pain, Mare looks closely at life and realises that it’s only fair that she give herself a chance. Mare of Easttown pulls the curtains with the most fitting scene - Mare climbing up to the attic where Kevin died, letting herself feel all the pent-up emotions and come to terms with the tragedy.
Kate Winslet gets into the skin of a character that personifies endurance, strength as well as vulnerability, and delivers one of her career-best performances.
The show derives its strength from an equally strong supporting cast, Lori (Julianne Nicholson) being one of them. The first episode itself establishes Lori and Mare’s relationship, when the former objects strongly as Mare picks up a fight with Dawn. From ‘rescuing’ Mare from uninteresting men at bars to helping her discover herself, Lori is the kind of friend who we know is going to stay no matter what.
Lori and Mare have some terrific scenes in the series. After being suspended from duty for trying to sabotage Carrie’s custody case, Mare tells Lori that she is being made to see a grief therapist as part of the process. “You are pushing everyone away”, Lori says. ‘Including you?”, questions Mare, and instant comes the reply, “No, I won’t let you”. When Mare accuses her ex-husband Frank of being Erin’s baby’s father or drags her partner, detective Colin Zabel (Even Peters) to a suspect’s house despite being on suspension, it’s always Lori who talks her down or offers advice.
When it comes to her family, Lori is fighting there too. A daughter being bullied at school, a husband having an affair and hiding a secret and a son drifting away - there seems to be no end to Lori’s troubles.
The climax delivers a devastating blow and it also gives Lori and Mare a frighteningly raw moment to explore the love and trust they have for each other. There’s a lot at stake for these women, and they hold each other tight to sail on. A fiercely protective mother, a kind friend, a good listener - Lori aka Julianne shines in all her roles.
The heart of this show belongs to mothers and daughters, with Mare’s mom leading from the front. Played to perfection by Jean Smart, this lady holds the family together. Helen takes care of her great-grandchild Andrew, doesn’t hesitate to give Mare a dressing down after she gets suspended but also let’s her know that she is always on her side. And that she is. Like Mare, her mom is angry too. “I was angry that your father didn’t turn out to be the person I thought I married. I was angry that I couldn’t fix him and took that on you” - she apologises to Mare as the show is about to end, and there’s some comfort in the fact that both of them realise certain things can’t be ‘fixed’; they need to be addressed. Along with Kate and her mom, we laugh, cry and cherish this beautiful relationship that blooms along with the episodes.
Torn between the desperation to seek answers as to why her brother took his own life and the urge to walk up to her mother and share the grief, Siobhan (Angourie Rice) is among the multiple young women of Easttown holding her cards close for fear of exposing her softer and vulnerable side to more hurt. When Siobhan hesitates putting a documentary about her brother out for the world to see, the town gives her a voice that encourages her to go forward, that tells her honouring her brother’s memories is the only way to channelise the grief.
It’s heartbreaking as well as very real seeing Siobhan and Mare untangle their very fragile and messy relationship. Whenever there’s a confrontation, the show doesn’t give them monologues to open their hearts out to each other. Rather, it’s a little hug or a breakdown that speaks volumes about the love they harbour for one another.
Be it Dawn, Erin, Beth, Carrie or Brianna, it’s the women in Easttown who get things moving. Despite the show being propelled by the actions of men and putting the spotlight on male violence, it’s ultimately the women in the families who have to pick the broken pieces and move on. Like women across the world, they have been conditioned to look after their families, take murky secrets to the grave and become caregivers even when they aren’t ready. What happens when they make mistakes? What about healing themselves? Where do the young mothers go when the system refuses them to provide adequate security?
"I am here, I am here" - Mare tells Lori in the end, summing up what each of these aforementioned characters feel. In the absence of lousy male partners, it’s the army of women who look out for each other. They teach each other that grief is something we have to live with, but sometimes solace is derived from the fact that everyone around us is coping with loss.
Mare of Easttown is streaming on Disney+Hotstar