By: Michael Hogan
Well, that escalated quickly. Downbeat detective drama Mare Of Easttown handbrake-turned into its home stretch with an emotional wallop of an episode. As two characters were heroically rescued, another met his shock end.
We delved deeper into Mare’s tragic family history, witnessed several suspects behaving strangely and saw a welcome breakthrough in the case - before proceedings climaxed with a buttock-clenchingly tense 10-minute sequence which recalled The Silence Of The Lambs. But thankfully without the flesh suits, death's-head moths or bleating livestock.
Now we’ve got our breath back (and steadied our nerves with some Mare-style vaping and booze-slugging), let’s unpick everything that happened - and where it leaves us going into the show’s final fortnight.
1. Is Zabel dead?
We fear so. It would be stretching the bounds of plausibility if Detective Colin Zabel (Evan Peters) somehow miraculously survived being shot through the head, his blood splattering over the grubby wallpaper behind him. But boy, was it a gut-punch of a moment.
Even before that final shootout, Zabel had been something of an episode-stealer. He went on an endearingly awkward date with suspended “Sarge” Mare Sheehan (Kate Winslet) and was gutted to realise she’d only agreed to dinner so she could pump him for info about the investigation.
He later confessed that he hadn’t really cracked the missing girl cold case which defined his career but instead claimed credit for an ailing PI’s work. Unburdened by levelling with his partner, Zabel impulsively kissed her. Mare even momentarily looked like she’d enjoyed it.
When the reunited dream team finally cornered their man, seedy bar owner-cum-delivery driver Wayne Potts (Jeb Kreager), Zabel wasn’t quite quick enough on the draw. As unarmed Mare gave Zabel the nod to pull his pistol, Potts whipped out his own gun and executed Zabel with cold efficiency. It concluded a cracking four-episode turn from the excellent Evan Peters.
“Just be careful,” had been his mother’s prescient last words. “My whole life’s been about being careful, Mom,” he replied. “Look how far that’s gotten me.” RIP, Zabes. You never did get to taste that zucchini pasta but at least your firearm would still save the day.
2. Is Mare dead too?
Doubtful. We left Mare slumped on Potts’ kitchen floor - her face clammy with sweat, her blinking slowing down - as the police cavalry arrived. Over an ethereal soundtrack of “Holding” by Californian dream-pop artist Grouper, she sank into a reverie about dead son Kevin, seeming not to hear the first responders asking her questions.
After gunning poor down Zabel, Potts had taken a potshot (or Potts-shot) at Mare as she fled the room, only managing to graze her wrist. She was soon bleeding profusely but tied a scarf around the wound to staunch the flow. It surely wasn’t serious enough for her to bleed out, especially with emergency services on the scene.
Besides, it would be bold of writer Brad Ingelsby to kill off his titular heroine with two episodes remaining. We’re confident she’s wounded but alive - a wrist injury to complement Mare’s sprained ankle as the series began. Winslet has been in the wars.
3. Did the abductor have an accomplice?
Mare zeroed in on Potts via old-fashioned detective work. “Lady Hawk” used her local know-how and contacts to track down a sex worker who’d had a narrow escape from Katie Bailey and Missy Sager’s kidnapper. She described a bearded white man who smoked Winston cigarettes and drove a blue utility van. She even got a partial licence plate number, narrowing the field to seven possible vehicles in the area.
Mare and Zabel knocked on doors until they tipped up at Bennie’s Tavern ("Good drinks, good music" indeed), where they spotted a pack of Winston’s tossed on the table and some strategically positioned CCTV cameras. When the surly suspect turned down the loud music he’d been playing to drown out incriminating noises from the attic, Katie and Missy began frantically banging on the pipes to alert visitors their presence.
Pervy Potts stalked the wounded Mare around his labyrinthine property, given a further unfair advantage by the CCTV feed on his phone. Definite shades of Buffalo Bill versus Clarice Starling - except instead of “Goodbye Horses” by Q Lazzarus, this showdown was ominously soundtracked by “You've Got Another Thing Comin’” by Brummie metal band Judas Priest.
After signalling to the imprisoned girls to be quiet and she’d be back, Mare managed to thwack Potts with a metal tray, stunning him enough to give her time to scramble downstairs, grab Zabel’s gun and shoot her pursuer six times, just to make sure. This was no airbrushed Hollywood action scene. Mare’s breathless, shaky-handed, trembly-voiced fear, falling down the stairs in sheer panic, was viscerally portrayed.
Despite his repeated insistence that it was “just me, all by my lonesome”, was Potts acting alone or did he have help? Well, he didn’t have a beard like the girl who fought him off described, while certain other Easttown residents do. We still wonder if he was part of some sex-trafficking ring, possibly with the faceless “friends” who visited Bennie’s Tavern for Friday poker nights. Play your cards right, Mare, and you might just catch more culprits.
4. Who is John’s illicit lover?
The episode opened with poor Betty Carroll (Phyllis Somerville) having a heart attack at the wheel as she went to stock up on Cheerios (cereal killer, anyone?) and crashing her car into a lamppost. This brought down the power lines and plunged Easttown into a blackout - a neat dramatic device which caused ripple effects around the Pennsylvania community and saw domestic secrets emerge amid the darkness.
One of those was Mare’s best friend Lori Ross (Julianne Nicholson) overhearing husband John (Joe Tippett) whispering conspiratorially to their upset son: “It’s going to be OK, Ryan. It’s our secret, right? Only us.” Except Ryan (Cameron Mann) was clearly still troubled. After he battered his sister’s school bully with a lunch tray (I can’t have been the only one cheering him on), Lori tried to get to the bottom of her son's uncharacteristic behaviour.
“Is Dad doing it again?” she probed. “With the same woman as before?” Ryan reluctantly nodded. Who was this mystery mistress? Or had John been visiting local prostitutes? After all, we first saw Ryan looking preoccupied at TV news reports of Missy’s disappearance. He also seemed unhappy that his parents were in the frame to adopt DJ, toddler son of murder victim Erin McMenamin (Cailee Spaeny). Could this be because DJ is his half-brother? Either way, John promised his son he would “fix it”, which sounded sinister.
Lori and John weren’t the only couple having domestic difficulties. Mare’s ex Frank (David Denman) and his new fiancée Faye (Kate Arrington) were also on the rocks. John and Frank: both bearded, both hiding secrets, both potential villains?
5. What happened to the third “gone girl”?
We don’t mean Erin. We're referring to Hillary, previous resident of that sound-proofed sexual abuse attic. Katie said that when she was first imprisoned, there was already another girl there.
Hillary had nursed her through opioid withdrawal, just as Katie was now helping Missy go cold turkey. However, Hillary fell pregnant by their captor, which displeased him, so she duly “disappeared”.
Meanwhile, Mare mentioned missing girl Hillary Cassel from New Jersey. She had a similar story to Katie and Missy - drug addiction leading to prostitution - and disappeared two years previously. So where is she now? Could the discovery of her body yield a vital clue?
6. What’s silly Billy hiding?
He’s always looked slightly shifty and haunted beneath his trucker’s cap but John’s brother Billy Ross (Robbie Tann) is suddenly looking decidedly dodgy.
While watching televised basketball with pizza and beer (the dream Easttown night in), the Ross family told Mare how they’d looked after Erin when her mother died of leukemia, leaving her in the care of drunken father Kenny (Patrick Murney). Indeed, she’d moved into Billy’s basement for a spell three years ago - which would coincide with the 2017 date engraved on that heart-shaped pendant found by Mare in Erin’s bedroom.
Billy faux-casually played this down, shrugging that it was only for three weeks when in fact it was “at least a couple of months”. Ever the detective, even off-duty, Mare shrewdly noted how Billy was suddenly in a hurry to depart, leaving his fresh bottle of Rolling Rock barely touched. You know it’s something serious when it comes between a man and his beer.
7. What’s dicey Dylan up to?
Also looking suspicious was Erin’s ex-boyfriend Dylan Hinchey (Jack Mulhern). It transpired that he’d persuaded Erin’s best friend Jessie (Ruby Cruz) to lie about the hiding place of Erin’s journals, meaning they could retrieve them instead of the police.
We got a glimpse of their contents - spotting several mentions of Deacon Mark, more of whom in a moment - before Dylan burned them. Ever gallant, he also stole the cash which Erin had been saving up for son DJ’s ear surgery. However, Jessie slyly pocketed something too - a note? a photograph? - which might yet prove another piece of the jigsaw.
What could be in the journals which Dylan was so keen to conceal? He’d already bristled when new girlfriend Brianna Delrasso (Mackenzie Lansing) asked where he’d disappeared to on the night of Erin’s murder. We’d begun to write off Dylan as merely a moody stoner with hormones a-popping - but is there more to him?
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8. Do we believe Deacon Mark’s story?
Smalltown secrets rarely stay buried for long. Word got out about the scandalous past of Deacon Mark Burton (James McArdle) - who’d been transferred from his previous parish after accusations of sexual misconduct with a 14-year-old girl. When Deacon Mark picked up take-out from the diner, he was harassed and roughed up by locals, who called him a “rapist”, “creeper”, “sicko”, “pervert” and “paedophile”. They clearly got a thesaurus for Christmas.
He later admitted to clergy colleague Father Dan Hastings (Neal Huff) that he was with Erin on the night she was murdered. She’d called him in distress, he picked her up from woods, comforted her, then drove her to the park when she got a message to meet someone there - presumably her killer.
Scared to tell police after the previous allegation, the priest retrieved Erin’s distinctive pink bike from the trunk of his car and threw it into the river. Just panic or something more sinister?
9. Will the other priest come into play?
Online conspiracists continue to speculate about Mare’s cousin Father Dan. One popular but particularly bleak theory is that he was molesting Mare’s dead son Kevin - and might now be doing the same to her grandson Drew.
After all, Kevin was a drug addict who committed suicide but Mare started to notice things going awry when he developed tics as a boy. Drew is now displaying similar habits.
Did Kevin kill himself out of guilt? Did Father Dan murder him to keep quiet, then stage it as suicide? Did Kevin father Erin’s child and tell Erin about the abuse before he died, so when she needed cash for DJ’s surgery, she tried to blackmail Father Dan, who duly killed her? Yep, it’s all deeply grim but let’s face it, Mare Of Easttown is hardly a chuckle-fest.
1o. Does the answer lie in Mare’s family history?
Somewhat surprisingly, therapy-sceptic Mare opened up in her mandated sessions. We learned there was depression down her family’s generations, hearing how her father had shot himself when Mare was 13. Her biggest fear now is that mental illness has been passed down to young Drew.
Elsewhere, we saw Mare watching a childhood home video of Kevin on her daughter’s computer. We still have a niggling feeling that the documentary which Siobhan (Angourie Rice) is making about her dead brother might throw up a vital clue.
Also note how there was no sign of playboy author Richard Ryan (Guy Pearce) this week. Paving the way for a dramatic comeback in the home stretch, perhaps?
11. Who murdered Erin McMenamin?
So, Mare has found the abducted girls with two episodes still to go. The only riddle remaining is the killing of teen mom Erin, likely connected to the mystery of who fathered her child. We presume this will provide the driving narrative of the climactic two instalments - alongside what exactly went on at Bennie’s Tavern.
Can mardy Mare crack the case that's devastated her hometown? And what will be left of her own life in the aftermath? It promises to be a gripping final act. Join us back here to unravel it all and compare notes over a frosty Rolling Rock.