Mare Of Easttown finale: The clues about Erin's killer that were there all along
How did we miss it? Contains spoilers for the shattering Mare of Easttown episode seven.
By: Michael Hogan
Aha, so that’s who murdured dat dorder. Vape-sucking sleuth saga Mare Of Easttown’s magnetic finale took in a few last twists and turns en route to unmasking Erin McMenamin’s killer - and he’d been hiding in plain sight all along.
It wasn’t beardy philanderer John Ross, although the whiskery rotter had fathered Erin’s baby. Nor was it his hollow-eyed brother Billy (aka Daniel Radcliffe after a particularly debauched weekend), despite his best attempts to convince himself otherwise. No, in a shattering rug-pull, the Ross family adults were covering up for the true culprit: 13-year-old Ryan.
It made for a largely satisfying resolution - narratively neat and emotionally raw. The devastating discovery initially drove a wedge between best friends Detective Sergeant Mare Sheehan and Lori Ross, before ultimately reuniting the two mothers in grief.
Leading lady Kate Winslet said ahead of this finale: “The reveal of who has really committed that murder is absolutely shattering.” The show’s creator Brad Ingelsby added: “I hope viewers will be surprised but in a really good way and that they won’t feel cheated. We won’t have one of those endings where it’s like, ‘If you blinked in Episode 1, it was that weird guy in the woods’. It won’t be that type of ending.”
So had writer Ingelsby been laying a seven-week trail of breadcrumbs for us to follow? Let’s mark our (sob) final “Mare Monday” by reopening the Easttown PD case files and scrolling back through the series for clues we might have missed…
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Episode 1: We meet serious young Ryan
The curtain-raising scene seems inconsequential but will later prove pivotal. As we arrive in the rundown rustbelt suburb, local busybody Betty Carroll (Phyllis Somerville) summons the exasperated Mare (Winslet) when she spots a “creepy peeper weirdo” looking through windows. We hear how “Mr Procrastinator” - Betty’s put-upon husband Glen (Patrick McDade) - recently installed security cameras but hasn’t worked out how to use them. Once he does, they will unexpectedly provide vital evidence.
Our first sighting of Ryan (Cameron Mann) comes when Mare picks up Lori (Lisa Kudrow soundalike Julianne Nicholson) to drive to their high school basketball team’s 25th anniversary reunion. In contrast to the celebratory mood, Ryan is hunched over homework on a Friday night because he “doesn’t want to get behind”. “Give yourself a little break sometimes,” says Mare, fondly ruffling his hair. Ryan is immediately established as old before his time, perhaps something of a loner.
We see how the two families - the Sheehans and Rosses - are closely intertwined. Anyone else reminded of the Latimers and Millers in Broadchurch? The mothers are best friends. Their bearded, bear-like husbands - well, ex-husband in the case of Frank (David Denman) - are close buddies too. Both couples have a son and a daughter. At this stage, though, the Ross household looks the least dysfunctional.
The women go off to their basketball bash, while the men head for Frank’s boozy engagement party - earnest Ryan in tow. Later that night, the nearly-naked corpse of 17-year-old single mother Erin McMenamin (Cailee Spaeny) is discovered at Creedham Creek. With her underwear still on and no signs of assault (apart from that lethal forehead wound), it doesn’t appear to be a sexually motivated crime. Because, well, it isn’t.
Episode 2: Nocturnal activity and sermon stress
The morning after the festivities, both Ryan and his father John sleep through breakfast - a legacy of their late night which, we’ll eventually discover, involved a shooting and the transport of a dead body. “Must’ve been some party,” says Lori. She doesn’t know the half of it. Yet.
They soon hear about Erin’s shocking murder. John (Joe Tippett) and his younger sibling Billy (Robbie Tann) are roped in by Mare to help break the news to their cousin, Erin’s father Kenny (Patrick Murney). Both Ross brothers do a decent job of looking surprised, although we later see John quietly asking Billy: “You alright?” In hindsight, more than a casual pleasantry.
With Easttown in mourning, Deacon Mark Burton (James McArdle) addresses a packed congregation. As the camera pans around the church, we glimpse Ryan shifting awkwardly in his pew, his jaw flexing with tension. If only we hadn’t been so busy looking at the adults for telltale signs of guilt.
Episode 3: Location, location, location
We hear how John drove the inebriated Frank home from Forest Lodge bar at 2.30am, ensuring he had an alibi for the approximate time of Erin’s death. We’ll later learn that the Ross brothers were out until “three or four in the morning”, meaning an hour or so is unaccounted for. Meanwhile, Mare finds Erin’s missing finger and a stray bullet in Brandywine Park, indicating that Erin was killed there before being driven back to the creek for dumping.
Another visit by Mare to the Carrolls’ residence - this time to investigate obscene graffiti by a disgruntled neighbour - confirms that their security cameras are now working. However, Mare secretly deletes the offending footage to save the spraycan artist’s blushes. The Easttown Bansky remains anonymous.
Meanwhile, eagle-eyed conspiracy theorists spot a lingering shot of Mare driving past a yellow road sign which reads "Watch children". A subtle hint that viewers should be paying attention to the younger characters, not just the adults? Or just an innocuous highway safety warning? You decide.
Episode 4: Double-take at the TV
The fourth episode opens with a sweet scene on a park bench between Mare (now suspended from duty) and Lori - just the latest of many heart-to-hearts between the best pals. Actresses Winslet and Nicholson are also the cast’s two top-billed names. A further hint that their friendship will be central to the story.
We later see the Ross parents watching a cable news report about abducted Missy Sager, calling her “Gone Girl Three”, and showing her photograph alongside Katie Bailey’s and Erin’s. Ryan enters the room, stands stock still and stares at the screen. It’s the midway mark of the series. Armchair detectives are starting to sit up and take notice.
Episode 5: Secrets and lies
The episode when Ryan really comes to the fore. During the town-wide blackout (RIP Betty Carroll, who crashed her car into the power line), Lori overhears husband John whispering conspiratorially to their upset son: “It’s going to be OK, Ryan. It’s our secret, right? Only us.”
She later casts anxious looks in the boy’s direction when everyone descends to watch the televised basketball with pizza and the obligatory Rolling Rocks. The family discuss Kenny asking them to adopt Erin’s toddler son DJ and Ryan looks troubled - which we’ll later discover is because DJ is his illegitimate half-brother.
Clearly still disturbed the next day, Ryan furiously batters his sister’s school bully with a lunch tray - hitting him nine times before teachers drag him away. It’s our first indication that Ryan has a serious violent temper.
When mother Lori tries to get to the bottom of this outburst, he initially runs away to avoid awkward questions. She assumes “the secret” was that John had rekindled his affair with former mistress Sandra. Reluctantly, Ryan nods but note how he doesn’t agree verbally or directly lie to his mother.
John later tells his seething son: “This is all my fault and I’m going to fix it, I promise. You’ve just got to hang on in there, OK?” Viewers assume this is about the affair. We now know he was referring to something more serious.
Episode 6: Net closes on the wrong Ross
The penultimate episode sees Lori tell Mare that when John had his first affair, she felt it in her bones. This time, she was blindsided. That’s because he wasn’t sleeping with Sandra this time - or, indeed, with Erin anymore. His absences from the family home and furtive phone calls were about something far darker.
When the Ross bros have a heart-to-heart and Billy appears to admit killing Erin, John says: “Please, I need to hear you say it out loud” - as if begging him to take the rap. John later asks Lori to “Keep this from Mare. Do it for our family.” We assume he’s referring to Billy’s guilt but he’s actually told her the whole truth. No wonder Lori gives up Billy so easily - because he’s the sacrificial lamb.
A ballistics report proves that the bullet which killed Erin came from a Colt Detective Special - a police-issue revolver popular during the 80s. “Your pop probably had one, Mare,” says the ballistics expert. However, Mare’s deceased father was a red herring. We don’t realise at this stage that Glen Carroll was an ex-cop too.
When Billy announces “I’m ready to confess”, John says “Are you sure?” - which we now understand to mean that he’s worried that nerve-jangled Billy isn’t strong enough to sell the deception. Instead he suggests a fishing trip to stage Billy’s suicide and silence him. A dead man can answer no tricky questions. Meanwhile, Ryan has a face like thunder every time we glimpse him around the house.
When Mare investigates who purchased Erin’s hidden heart-shaped pendant, the name on the jewellers’ receipt is just the surname “Ross”. The date engraved on it coincides with their 2017 family reunion at Lake Harmony, where Erin shared a cabin with cousin Billy. She puts two and two together - but she’s got the wrong Ross brother.
Episode 7: Life of Ryan
The revelatory finale begins with Erin’s best friend Jessie (Ruby Cruz) handing the crucial photo hidden in Erin’s journals over to Chief Carter (John Douglas Thompson) - except it captures Erin in bed with John, not Billy. They’d started a semi-incestuous, inappropriately age-gappy relationship at the lakeside family reunion while Billy and Kenny were comatose drunk. It’s John who is the biological father of Erin’s son DJ.
As events unfold in a string of confessions and flashbacks, we learn what happened that fateful night. John and Erin had secret pre-paid phones to contact each other. She texted, demanding that he pay for DJ’s ear surgery or she’d reveal their affair. Ryan intercepted the message and, posing as his father, arranged to meet her in Brandywine Park at midnight.
Glen Carroll kept his firearm locked in the shed and because Ryan mowed the Carrolls’ lawn, he had a key. He took the weapon along to scare off Erin from splitting up his family. She tried to wrestle the gun off him and he shot her. In panic, Ryan returned the revolver to the shed, hoping the elderly widower would never notice it had gone, and told father John what he’d done.
Uncle Billy helped John move Erin’s body back to the woods, where she’d been sighted earlier that night - hence their father Pat (Gordon Clapp) seeing Billy come home covered in blood. The brothers relocated the corpse in the hope that the loitering youths would become prime suspects. All rather reminiscent of EastEnders’ Ian and Jane covering up for pint-sized accidental killer Bobby Beale.
When Mare closed in on the brotherly partners-in-crime, Billy volunteered to take the fall (“You got a family. I got nobody. Who’s gonna miss a f***-up like me?”). John had been coaching him to lie, not confess. He hadn’t sworn Lori to secrecy about Billy’s guilt but Ryan’s. When John was suddenly in the frame instead, he cooked up a story about Erin brandishing a gun, threatening suicide and him shooting her in the ensuing struggle. Out of guilt and responsibility, John now asked Lori to raise his and Erin’s baby.
Yet the ever vigilant Mare began to suspect they’d got the wrong man when Frank expressed bewilderment that John had behaved “like nothing had happened” that night. He’d also been vague about Erin’s mystery cop gun. When Mare confronted Sandra, she insisted she hadn’t cheated with John in five years. If that wasn’t he and Ryan’s “secret”, what was?
Young Ryan’s fate was sealed when Glen Carroll told Mare that his gun had vanished, then mysteriously reappeared. Mare’s ears pricked up when the retired police officer mentioned that it happened to be a Colt Detective Special - with two rounds missing (one for Erin’s finger, one for her temple). Rewinding footage from that series-opening security camera, she found proof it was Ryan who “borrowed” the revolver. With heavy heart, Mare had cracked the case at last.
But should Mare have spared Ryan?
That’s the procedural detail dealt with. What about the moral dilemma? Many viewers might wonder whether Mare should have shown mercy by overlooking Ryan’s guilt. After all, she already deleted one piece of security camera footage. What if her finger was to slip again? Confused Mr Carroll would soon forget the riddle of the reappearing revolver.
Perhaps the answer lies in Mare’s dedication to her job. She’s a dogged law enforcer who chases burglars even with a sprained ankle, answers her phone at all hours and pursues prowlers when off-duty or suspended. She’s a woman on a mission, as we see when she stomps off to the fishing cabin without waiting for back-up.
Crime and punishment is in her blood, thanks to her cop father. She felt she had to finish the job, even if it hurt. She felt compelled to get the right man - even if that man was a boy. She was as gentle with Ryan as possible, repeatedly calling him “sweetie” and reassuring him “You’re gonna be OK”.
Besides, she’d already been suspended from duty for planting drugs on Drew’s mother Carrie. She’d been given a second chance and wanted to do things by the book. Yes, Lori was Mare’s best friend (“You had John. Why couldn’t you leave my Ryan alone?”) but she’d betrayed Mare by lying about Billy. Mare had rescued two of the “gone girls”. Now she got justice for the third.
Then there’s the matter of Mare’s unresolved grief for her own son Kevin. Her therapist repeatedly told Mare that she was hiding behind cases, using her obsessive workaholism as an avoidance tactic. Now she’d got closure on the career-defining investigation which had taken more than a year, she was finally ready to tackle her own trauma.
We certainly saw signs of Mare healing. She retained custody of grandson Drew, let go of daughter Siobhan (Angourie Rice), ensured that Deacon Mark and Billy Ross were released, attended Frank’s wedding without causing a scene and had an amicable if bittersweet parting from literary lover Richard Ryan (Guy Pearce). Was it my imagination or was she even puffing on her vape stick, that ever-present emotional crutch, much less towards the end?
The close-knit Easttown community was on the mend too. After the Deacon’s sermon about “showing mercy to those who’ve transgressed and offering them love”, Mare literally reached out to Lori, tentatively placing one hand on her back. As they melted into a tearful embrace, Mare tenderly whispered “let me in”. By the time they collapsed onto the kitchen lino, viewers were in a weepy mess too.
Yes, perhaps Ryan should have been allowed to get away with it – Wallander or DCI Vera Stanhope would surely have let him go – but Mare and Lori’s story arc made for a viscerally powerful portrayal of female friendship.
The series closed with Mare waking in Drew’s bed, not seeing Kevin’s ghost sitting there and finally venturing into the attic for the first time since her son hung himself. She was facing her demons and in the ascendant. We’ll grill a Philly cheesesteak and raise a Rolling Rock to that, Lady Hawk.
Mare of Easttown episodes 1-7 are now streaming on NOWTV. For more, visit our dedicated Drama page or check out our full TV Guide.