blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

Mare of Easttown (2021) s01e03 – Enter Number Two

I’m distressingly in tune with Brad Ingelsby’s plotting. Just as I was thinking they were going long in not resolving last episode’s cliffhanger—in fact resolving one of the other, less important (to lead Kate Winslet) cliffhangers first—Julianne Nicholson shows up to tell Winslet her ex-husband, high school teacher David Denman, is rumored to be the father of dead teen mom Cailee Spaeny’s baby. So Winslet storms over to confront Denman—he lives in the house behind hers, which was previously theirs—and humiliate him in front of their daughter, Angourie Rice, and his new fiancée, Kate Arrington, and Arrington’s visiting son.

The scene plays like Winslet’s wrong to be upset Denman lied to her about the extent of the relationship he had with the student, regardless of whether or not he sexually abused the kid. It’s sadly hilarious how apathy is the goal for every character in “Mare” because Ingelsby can’t imagine them any other way. It’s not cynical so much as misanthropic. Actually, no, wait, it’s intentional enough to be cynical. I forgot about dead mom’s baby daddy Jack Mulhern’s parents (Jeremy Gabriel and Debbie Campbell), who are totally fine and seemingly don’t realize their son’s a shithead. Campbell’s a mom—“Mare” is all about being a mom or grandmom or great-grandmom—and there’s a humanism to her and Gabriel. It’s maybe the only example of slippage in “Mare,” which is otherwise rigidly precise in its narrative.

Simultaneous to Winslet’s investigation of ex Denman, she and sidekick Evan Peters (who has a truly great scene this episode, not quite on par with Winslet but closer than anyone else has even gazed) also start looking into Catholic deacon James McArdle, who was super suspicious last episode and now it turns out he was the last person to talk to the dead girl. “Mare”’s been fairly Catholic to this point—scenes at the church, crucifix imagery, Winslet having a cousin priest (Neal Huff)—and it goes right in on the “well, actually, the Catholic Church is an international pedophile ring” at the drop of a hat.

Now, obviously, no complaint there, but it’s a move.

The episode ends on the series’s biggest cliffhanger so far—we’re about to start part two of “Mare of Easttown;” there will undoubtedly be lots of great acting from Winslet, possibly some great acting from Peters, a fairly predictable murder mystery, and some particularly soulless soap opera stuff. If it were better, if director Craig Zobel weren’t aping better directors before him (and, well, someone rewrote Ingelsby’s scenes for him), “Mare” could be great noir.

Instead it’s watchable HBO.

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