Sunday, June 20, 2021

Mare of Easttown: A Morbid Murder Melodrama that Mostly Works


Mare of Easttown (Disnay Hotstar) may be described as a murder mystery but it works more as a drama, or more accurately, a melodrama. Marianne (only her mother calls her that) Sheehan played by Kate Winslet is quite a character, holding on to more pain than she can bear after losing her son to drugs, depression and suicide, going through a divorce, raising a grandson whose drug addict mom wants him back and handling a demanding career which comes with crushing pressure to deliver while shouldering the grief and trauma of others. She has been dealing with mounting public fury over the case of a girl who has been missing for over a year, led by the victim’s mother. If all that were not enough, Mare is called in when a teenager and single mom is found dead. The suspects include Dylan, the father of her child, his girlfriend Biranna who assaulted her hours before her death, a Priest with a suspicious past who gave her a ride to the scene of her death, and Mare’s ex – husband who was buying things for the victim’s baby and is suspected of being the actual father.

Kate Winslet is extraordinary. It is refreshing to see a lead actress who has not lived on celery stalks all her life or been botoxed to within an inch of her life to give the failed impression of reluctantly imprisoned youth. She looks like her character – an exhausted woman who does not have the strength to bother with her appearance or even run a comb through her hair which is mostly scrunched up into a messy pony tail. The crows’s feet, wrinkles, and excess pounds are allowed to show and yet, Winslet is resplendent like only she can be as she delivers a powerhouse of a performance, making the viewer empathize and root for Mare, even when she is at her most intractable or unlikeable.

Thanks to Winslet and a wonderful supporting cast which includes the likes of Evan Peters (you will remember him as the delightful Quicksilver from X –Men), who plays Detective Colin Zabel, brought in because the powers that be feel Mare needs more than a little help and Jean Smart, Mare’s mum, Helen ensure that the seven – part series is never less than engrossing. Both these characters bring in some much needed humor to lighten the proceedings which is otherwise a bleak, unsparing look at small – town America devastated by drug troubles, poverty, crime and other horrors which will always be beyond anybody’s ability to fix.

Yet, for all its pluses, Mare of Easttown leaves the viewer feeling somewhat unsatisfied and flat. The big reveal in the end is also not as devastating as it might have been. Perhaps it was overkill with all the concentrated angst that was packed into every one of the subplots… So many characters with a drug habit and suicidal tendencies. So much poverty and unremitting hardship. So many broken relationships. Such overwhelming pain, rage, grief and bitterness. With young girls driven to prostitution by desperation and murderers who kill because they are simply evil and also for reasons that are profoundly moving, it gets to be a little too much. Buffeted with a relentless stream of distress, the viewer switches off after a point and a key character’s sudden demise does not have the impact it ought to have.

With the tragedies getting piled on, one is hard – pressed to believe that every character on the show has to deal with so much destructive crap on a daily basis. After all, one of the biggest issues with life is that too many have to deal with boring monotony and the sameness of a humdrum existence for too long to the point where the prospect of sordid drama actually sounds enticing. In Mare of Easttown though, one character is dealing not just with the trauma of a missing daughter but is simultaneously battling cancer. Another has to deal with family trouble brought on by a junkie brother who is stealing from her and scamming her friend whose daughter is missing etc. Mare’s best friend has to cope with a cheating spouse, a daughter who has Down’s syndrome and is being bullied in school and a son who is acting up because he is privy to a very adult secret. You would think that the writers couldn’t possibly add to her cup of suffering but they do! The hits just keep coming for Mare and everyone in her life and after a point it is one too many.

This is definitely the golden age of television, but I am afraid that a recent trend is that a lot of purportedly good shows suffer from way too much writing and the result is a certain gassiness that is hard to take. Character arcs suffer too because so much mandatory care – laden baggage is crammed into their backstories. But despite the bloat, Mare of Easttown is worth watching. Because, if I haven’t mentioned it already, Kate Winslet is in it.

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