About halfway through this episode, I couldn’t help but think… “Holy shit, are they really going to ‘Westworld’ another timeline in an HBO show?” Because even before the final third or so of the episode, which has lead Kate Winslet meeting visiting writing professor Guy Pearce in a bar talking about how his great American novel was made into a TV movie in the 1990s with Jill Eikenberry (big fail on not mentioning Michael Tucker obviously), “Mare of Easttown” feels very MFA. It feels very much like someone with an ax to grind about their writing degree got to make a TV show.
Now, show creator Brad Ingelsby does not appear to have an MFA; instead he’s got a screenwriting degree from the AFI, which… Okay, just imagine I’m throwing shade but I don’t want to be mean.
“Mare of Easttown” plays like a great adaptation of a readable crime novel about a small town female detective with an assorted supporting cast. The source novel would’ve been written by a woman, of course, while “Mare”’s writer and director (Craig Zobel, doing his best Denis Villeneuve Prisoners; must be so nice to have mise-en-scene like Photoshop filters; like, sincerely it must be so nice and it’s probably better for the content) are both dudes and very dude-y. We can’t, for instance, find out Winslet’s teenage daughter, Angourie Rice, is gay until it’s part of an “ah ha” in a montage.
This episode splits the time—the aforementioned potential “Westworlding”—between Winslet getting ready for her high school basketball anniversary celebration while bickering with her family and dodging responsibility on her own Three Billboards (which seems, at least for most of this episode, to be the A plot of the series—right up until the end), and teen mom Cailee Spaeny’s shitty life. Spaeny’s got a drunk ass dad (Patrick Murney), who’s mad he spends so much on the baby while the baby daddy (Jack Mulhern) encourages his new girlfriend, Mackenzie Lansing, to terrorize Spaeny.
Now, spoiler, it doesn’t end up being “Westworld” and we’re getting to see the tragedy of Spaeny’s last day on Earth before she can become the exclamation point in a manipulative last few minutes montage sequence (should “House M.D.” get a forever nod for these). Until then there’s at least a chance it’s backstory on Winslet’s cold case; her high school friend Enid Graham’s daughter goes missing and is suspected dead, so Graham rents out three….
Wait, wrong show.
Winslet’s story is entirely about her screwed up family life—she’s coparenting raising her grandson (they’ve got to do a big surprise on why because HBO) with ex-husband David Dunham, who moved into the house behind Winslet’s after the divorce because trendy crime novel (it’s a shame Ingelsby doesn’t write as well as he breaks ground situation), raising daughter Rice, contending with mom Jean Smart helping out, and then being the only detective in the town. This episode Winslet empathetically helps out a Black drug addict, so you know she’s a good cop. It’s seriously like they watched Three Billboards and didn’t think Frances McDormand had a point.
The acting’s mostly great. Mulhern’s a wash, particularly since Spaeny and Lansing are so good. Winslet’s amazing. There’s something strange about this show about rust belt Americans basically being tragic and pointless but beautiful in their deserved suffering—they’re on drugs and don’t go to college so come on—but it’s a British person doing the part. The scene with Winslet and Pearce flirty drunk shitting on the death of the American dream gets some layers when you think about how they’re British and Australian, respectively.
Julianne Nicholson gets second-billing as Winslet’s best friend who keeps Winslet’s alcoholism as functional as possible; it’s a so far thankless part, but she’s good. She’s able to keep up with Winslet more than anyone else except Smart.
I’m not sure there’s anywhere particularly groundbreaking they can go next—“Westworlding” or not—but it’s fine. It’s craven but it’s HBO so of course it’s craven.