You might not watch a trailer for Mare of Easttown and immediately think, “Oh, this gloomy Kate Winslet detective drama is going to be HBO‘s next big hit,” and yet that’s precisely what is should be. After a string of gritty thrillers and star-studded limited series, HBO might have stumbled upon everyone’s next Sunday night obsession. Mare of Easttown hooks you from the jump with a rare mix of humanity and grisly murder mystery. As the show progresses, it only gifts viewers more brilliant character moments, shocking reveals, and haunting performances. Clear your Sundays this spring for Mare of Easttown because it’s that damn addicting. I am obsessed and you, your mom, and everyone you know who loves crime dramas will be, too.
Mare of Easttown stars Academy Award-winner Kate Winslet as Detective Mare Sheehan, a lifelong resident of Easttown, a hamlet in the Philly suburb known as “Delco” famed for its unique pronunciation of the word “water.” (Itâs pronounced “wooder,” or “wadder” if youâre feeling fancy.) Mare is known as “Miss Ladyhawk” thanks to a miraculous shot she made in a high school basketball game, but thatâs where her glory days seemed to end. The Mare we meet today is an exhausted husk of a woman, dogged in her pursuit of justice for her neighbors, who double as her lifelong friends. There is no delineation between whatâs personal and professional for Mare, who answers calls from long-time best friends and takes one disgruntled motherâs call for justice all too personally.
Every day Mare is confronted with both the memories of her greatest accomplishment and the lingering sting of everything sheâs gotten wrong. A year before the show opens, a young woman named Katie Bailey disappeared. While Mare complains that sheâs done the leg work and the drug-addicted victim is likely dead in a river somewhere, that victimâs mother â one of Mareâs old friends and basketball teammates â is still crying out for answers. In addition to this, Mare has to deal with her own personal disappointments. Her ex-husband is remarrying while she is left to raise her grandson after her own sonâs tragic death. It is only in nabbing creeps and settling petty household disputes that Mare can recapture a glimmer of the person she once was: the hero who saved the town.
Mareâs world is jolted by the end of Episode 1, when she gets the call that a body has been found at a local teen hangout spot. She now has two victims to avenge and a case that involves friends, family, and life-long frenemies. Complicating matters even further is the arrival of Evan Peters’s Detective Craig Zabel, a young county detective sent in to help Mare. At first glance, Peters has been cast against type. Zabel is a cheery millennial version of a detective, full of aphorisms about how “teamwork makes the dream work” and burdened by a crush on Mare. Together Peters and Winslet have a ferocious chemistry that makes you yearn to see them in an old school detective procedural. And yet what makes Mare of Easttown so good is how it transcends the cliches of the genre.
What makes Mare of Easttown shine so much is how it honors the humanity of every character involved. Like other recent HBO crime thrillers like The Outsider and Perry Mason, Mare of Easttown embraces the darker side of life, but the show tosses us honest glimmers of hope. Amid the violence, there are moments of love. Pain is contrasted against peace and moments of darkly comic hilarity erupt in every episode. Most urgently, though, Mare of Easttown doesnât turn its grisly murder cases into cold bits of algebra for its heroine detective to solve. The show is as interested in depicting the victims as fully dimensional people as Mare is, making their deaths all the more tragic â and Mareâs need for justice all the more profound.
By all rights, Mare of Easttown should be embraced in the same way that the UKâs Broadchurch was. Like that smash international hit, itâs a tender, tortuous look at the way crime infests the soul of a community. Generational trauma abounds in Easttown and one sin inspires six others. Like that series, the shocking twists erupt from secrets kept to keep up appearances and the drama is rooted by a spell-binding portrait of an unconventional lady detective.
Mare of Easttown is the rare crime drama that has actually taken the best lessons from the genre and put them into action. Like Twin Peaks, it honors the soul of its young murder victim. Like the aforementioned Broadchurch, it mourns the rot that taken over every person in one small town. Even the end of Episode 5 feels like a raw, updated version of one of the most heart-pounding scenes in The Silence of the Lambs. Mare of Easttown‘s magic is that it evokes these classic crime dramas while bringing something new: a raw authenticity that makes you realize that at the center of every murder mystery are human beings getting hurt.
Mare of Easttown premieres on HBO and HBO Max on Sunday, April 18.
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