Like everyone else this weekend, I was watching the finale to the limited series Mare of Easttown. Having worshipped Kate Winslet from Heavenly Creatures onward, and seeing how much crime fiction/film/shows I consume, Mare feels like it was created just for me. I started watching seven weeks ago
(Who releases a show one week at a time anymore? HBO: Whyyyyyyy?!)
and now all the twisty-turny bits have been released I want to focus on what I believe is the central strength of this show.
This show wasn’t about a crime. It was about a defining moment in a detective’s life which happened to be a crime/series of crimes.
Most crime shows focus on the whodunit of it. You are presented with a murder and then just follow step-by-step and red herring by red herring until the puzzle is solved. Once the solution is discovered, the story is over.
This is not the case with Mare.
When we meet Mare, she is struggling. Her son has died by suicide. She is raising his son and her guardianship is being questioned. She has been unable to solve the disappearance of Katie Bailey, the daughter of one of her dear friends. Her ex-husband is remarrying. Her daughter is rebelling. Her mother is “helping.”
And she’s supposed to be Easttown’s hero. The one capable of making the winning shot at the last minute. The cop who solves crimes and catches bad guys. Which exacerbates any failure.
So, when local teen mother Erin McMenamin is found murdered, it falls on this damaged, struggling detective to solve her murder — which may or may not be related to the previous case of Katie Bailey…which Mare has not solved.
Now, Mare does all the things required of a murder-mystery genre story. She investigates. She makes inquiries. She finds evidence. But it turns out all that mystery-solving is pointing her towards resolving her own grief.
The case is about a teenage parent who died too young — echoes of her own son’s death.
The case forces her to question her relationships with everyone in the town.
The case, while tragic, highlights her own grief, her own losses, which she has to deal with or she won’t be able to solve the case. She, the town hero, will fail. Again. Unless she can face her own screwed up life.
And, once the case is solved and the real culprit is exposed, the overwhelming pain she witnesses strangely gives her the strength to face her own. This time, instead of hiding behind someone else’s grief, she chooses to heal her own.
I, as a reader and viewer, prefer this kind of crime story. There’s definitely a place for long series focusing on a detective solving various crimes. That’s a form which has worked since Sherlock Holmes.
Crime, particularly homicide, is so fundamentally life-changing for those investigate it, for those who survive it, for those who see it and feel it. To go on for dozens of books or endless television seasons without the crimes having a dramatic effect on the investigators feels hollow and false. These devastating stories should impact the detective, should change them.
And I think, from that perspective, Mare of Easttown fired on all cylinders.
Jenny writes dark fiction that her mother hates. Her stories and essays have appeared in Across the Margin, Pantheon, Shimmer, Black Denim Lit, Skive, and others. When she’s not writing her own stuff, she’s reading mysteries for Criminal Element. When she’s not writing fiction or reviews, she’s writing/directing/performing/designing plays at Springs Ensemble Theatre.