This show came pretty much out of nowhere. No preamble, no swathe of marketing material save for a few bus posters here and there, no lengthy press circuits promoting the work. Yet Mare of Easttown is arguably one of the best crime dramas of recent years, and its global popularity seems to agree. The show documents Mare (Kate Winslet) as she navigates a disturbing murder in the quiet Pennsylvanian settlement of (you guessed it) Easttown. A place where everyone knows everyone and no one’s business stays private.
The opening episode is more a statement of intent than anything else. It sets the tone and style, meandering around the town, introducing the characters, both core and secondary, of whom there are plenty. So in terms of plot, don’t expect much from the pilot. Stylistically, the greys and browns of Easttown dominate the screen, a reflection of a place that doesn’t see much fanfare or excitement. It’s a quiet and slow place, where everything worth knowing is known to everyone and the opener does a great job in establishing the various relationships that comprise this tight-knit community. You’d be forgiven for finding the opening episode a little bleak. And it is. But there’s more to this show than the austere tone that occupies much of this initial installment, so stick with it.
From then on, the intensity of the show ramps up and suddenly Mare is leading a murder enquiry on top of a year-old missing persons case, an on-going failure the local community loves to remind her of at every turn. Over the remainder of the series, both cases steadily unfold and keep you guessing until the very end, but plenty of screen time is still dedicated to character and backstory. Not just that of Mare’s, but the show explores much of the surrounding cast as well. Nurturing new relationships, contextualising old ones, gradually pulling into focus the intricate web that connects the numerous residents of Easttown, becoming clearer as each episode goes by and informing the ongoing investigations. Though it can be a bit of a cliche, the setting of Easttown is absolutely a character in itself. It’s the definition of one of those small, black-hole towns where people live and die and rarely experience anything beyond. It’s part of what makes the show function. The fact that Mare knows everyone and everyone knows Mare generates a collective feeling among its inhabitants and as the cases progress, suspicions ripple across the community, affecting people in different ways. As I said, no one’s business stays private in Eastown. A minor gripe would be that some secondary plot threads seem to die off rather abruptly towards the latter half of the series, only to be tied off with a rushed scene in the final episode, which I found a little jarring. There are also a couple of character motivations that were questionable but to talk about those would be spoiler so I’ll omit them. Either way, they are small criticisms within an otherwise impeccable piece of work.
Winslet’s lead performance is one of the strongest of her career. A role utterly absent of vanity, she embodies the imperfect Mare so completely and effectively you never question it. She is the lynch-pin that holds this show together as she explores some heavy emotional territory, demanding your attention and empathy in every scene. Every mannerism, movement, glance and word is pitched so precisely yet with such grace and effortlessness. It truly is a career best performance. Alongside Winslet is Evan Peters as fellow Detective Colin Zabel, a successful young cop brought in from county to assist on the case. Peters is thoroughly likable as Zabel, bringing some of his usual wit and charm to the role but also a maturity we’ve not seen before. He serves as a good counter-point to an unyielding Mare and over the course of the series, chips away at her armour, making for some fun, two-hander scenes.
The visuals are noir-esque at times. Lot’s of grey, muted pallets, on the whole it’s quite a colourless show. Ben Richardson’s cinematography is effortlessly beautiful. Reflecting the show’s gentle pace, the camerawork is minimal in its motion, capturing the sleepy essence of Eastown perfectly but it’s never dull and regularly offers up some interesting shots to enjoy. The music from Lele Marchitelli is a little more diverse. A fun interview montage sequence in episode two backed by some buoyant melodies or a searing piano score as Mare uncovers a devastating truth, all serving the ever-shifting tone of the show. And that’s where it truly shines, in its tone. Bleak yet charming, shocking yet grounded, slow yet impossibly compelling.
Ruling – Every element is executed with precision and grace under Craig Zoebl’s watchful eye as Director, elevating it above the plethora of crime dramas we get each year. From the dialogue to the performances to the cinematography to the score, it’s a show far greater than the sum of its parts.