A Heartbreaking, Outstanding Mare of Easttown Finale Solidifies the Show as One of 2021’s BestPhoto Courtesy of HBO TV Features Mare of Easttown
A few weeks ago, I wrote about how Mare of Easttown was doing something surprising among crime dramas; essentially, making a giant and intense reveal happen two episodes before the finale that had nothing to do with the central murder case. It wasn’t just an emotional revelation, either—the kidnapping of Katie Bailey was thought to be related to the death of Erin McMenamin, but it wasn’t. Mare still solved it, though, and freed the girls at the expense of her partner’s life. It was an explosive episode in many ways, and showed how well Brad Ingelsby’s scripts have been able to weave together disparate elements of Easttown that feel connected to Erin’s death, even if practically speaking they aren’t.
“Sacrament,” the finale, did this just as masterfully. By the end of the penultimate episode the murderer and/or father seemed pretty clearly to be Billy, though seasoned crime show fans know not to ever trust a confession until all is said and done. If not Billy, it felt at least like the crime would be connected to the Ross family somehow, and it was no surprise when John admitted his affair and the murder of Erin. That resolution came early and felt satisfying, and then the show took its time to tie up other narrative loose ends (Mare’s relationships, primarily). Then it made another hard turn.
There were some who dismissed the series immediately from the opening scene of the premiere, which seemed at the time like nothing but table setting to highlight Mare’s accents, the kind of place Easttown is, and Mare’s general world-weariness. But it was wonderful to see the series begin and end with the Carrolls (RIP Betty) in two meaningful ways. The first was Chekov’s security camera, which ended up being the evidence Mare needed to wrap up the question of the gun used in the murder, along with the discovery of Ryan Ross’ guilt. The second was that Mare took the advice she gave to a grieving Glen that his loss might never get better, but eventually you find that you have to keep paying the bills, washing the sheets, and dealing with life. In a stellar moment later (fittingly ill-timed over a celebration pizza), her mother also apologizes to her and tells her that she wants Mare to forgive herself over Kevin. In the end, it seems like that’s what she did—or at least, is working towards. And all of it took place in the small moments revolving around the community.
What Mare of Easttown also showed us throughout its short, well-crafted run was how—despite her personal connections to Easttown—Mare always put her work as a detective above everything else. Though more recently it was a way to distance herself from the pain of losing her son, it was never a clean divide. Everyone held Mare responsible for things that didn’t go right, and yet, also relied on her to make it all better. Mare, of course, felt she had no one to rely on but herself, and used the cases as excuses to not deal with what was really going on inside her. That she would close the investigation into Erin’s murder by bringing Ryan Ross in, knowing that she was taking Lori’s son from her, was deeply felt. And in the end, Lori had to come to terms with the fact that no one could ever know anything close to the pain she was feeling except maybe Mare. When she let her friend hold her in her grief, it changed something for Mare; that final, quiet approach to the attic steps spoke volumes about where Mare is now and where she’s headed. The cases are closed, Siobhan is on her way, Drew is staying with her. Now it’s time for Mare to look at herself and work through her grief.
The less said about Sibohan’s Berkeley adventure (who is paying for this?) perhaps the better, but her subplot always felt more or less like it was from a different show. Still, everyone—from the Baileys to the Del Rassos to Dylan to Jess (Erin’s friend) to Carrie to the Deacon—everyone got a closing moment in the finale, including Guy Pearce (who is off to Bates, but I have hopes for these two crazy kids). It didn’t feel forced, only natural. The denizens of Easttown revolve around each other, a gravitational pull keeps them connected whether they want to be or not. We’ve seen that in other shows, even other crime shows (Broadchurch is a classic example), but it doesn’t make it any less satisfying to see that community dynamic play out here. The fact I’m not even focusing on the reveal that Ryan was the killer, or that Lori lost pretty much every man in her family over the crime and coverup, really speaks volumes. There’s not necessarily something profound to dig into, it was simply good storytelling that didn’t hinge on shock value; Mare was about the connections among these characters, and ultimately, about Mare herself. And it worked.
“Sacrament” was rough—to note it was also satisfying is not to gloss over that fact. Like the show writ large, much of it was devastating. But some of it was funny. And yes, much of it was satisfying. Both regarding the crime and the emotions surrounding it, this final episode used each of its 66 minutes without mercy. Kate Winslet was spectacular. Julianne Nicholson was spectacular. Jean Smart was spectacular. “Sacrament” was a finale worthy of the show that came before it, an ending that truly solidifies Mare as one of 2021’s best by a long shot. We will pour one out for Zabel, and for the most cursed Girls Championship Basketball Team of all time, but what a ride.
Allison Keene is the TV Editor of Paste Magazine. For more television talk, pop culture chat and general japery, you can follow her @keeneTV
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