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Mare of Easttown, Season Finale, Sky Atlantic review - great performances in a town called malice | reviews, news & interviews

Mare of Easttown, Season Finale, Sky Atlantic review - great performances in a town called malice

Mare of Easttown, Season Finale, Sky Atlantic review - great performances in a town called malice

Brad Ingelsby's brilliant but bleak drama storms to a close

Sea of troubles: Kate Winslet as Mare Sheehan

With the last series of Line of Duty having left portions of its viewership dismayed and disgruntled, one consolation prize has been the way the many fine qualities of HBO’s Mare of Easttown (on Sky Atlantic) have seen it promoted it into the “unmissable” bracket.

It isn’t anything like LoD, of course, and indeed the way it has stepped nimbly around the conventional pigeonholes of thriller or cop-show is one of the keys to its success. The series even ended after a thoroughly unconventional seven episodes.

But perhaps seven was the perfect number, not too short but not lumbering interminably off into the distance either, before leaving everything infuriatingly unresolved in anticipation of Season Two. Garlands, plaudits etc to screenwriter Brad Ingelsby for the way he created the knotweed-like tangle of personal relationships in the bedraggled community of Easttown, Pennsylvania, which turned the mystery of the murder of teenage single mom Erin McMenemin (Cailee Spaeny, pictured below) into a forensic audit of the whole town and its inhabitants over a couple of generations.

Mare of Easttown, Season FinaleDisillusion and unfulfilled hopes seem to underpin everything that happens here. “Quiet desperation is the English way,” Pink Floyd told us, but it seems it might be the American way too. As the chief protagonist, detective Mare Sheehan, Kate Winslet has been getting some of the best reviews of her career, and the way she has osmosed so completely into the awkward, surly and dissatisfied Mare has made this a benchmark performance. Even real-life Philadelphians have been blown away by Winslet’s mastery of the “Delco” (Delaware County) accent, and it’s the extra-fine grain of the performances and locations that made the show hit its marks so emphatically.

Ingelsby, a Pennsylvania native who also wrote Out of the Furnace, the excellent Sienna Miller vehicle American Woman and the Ben Affleck addiction-and-redemption drama The Way Back, seems to breathe naturally through his characters. This has enabled him to avoid the elephant-traps of more routine TV thrillers where you’re always invited to pick the likely perpetrator, while the spotlight of suspicion rotates with mechanical predictability from character to character.

By the end, there were still plenty of possibilities for who killed Erin, and we had to negotiate two detailed but bogus confessions before we entered the final furlong. It would have to be said that the revelation of the killer’s true identity was not the most plausible moment in the series, but it did at least fit with the fruit-of-the-poisoned-tree theme which has run all the way through. The way Engelsby brought the finale back to the beginning of episode one, when Mare was called out by curmudgeonly old Mrs Carroll to investigate a prowler in her back yard, was smartly done though.

Mare of Easttown, Season FinaleThe culprit might be said to have been the town itself, where Mare and her friends still relive their glory days in high school basketball, when Mare earned the nickname “Lady Hawk”. It’s not an optimistic vision, with drug and alcohol abuse routine, inappropriate relationships apparently commonplace, and where even the girls beat each other up.

Mare is floundering in a sea of troubles. She’s the daughter of a cop who committed suicide and is still struggling to cope with the suicide of her own son, Kevin. She’s been at loggerheads with Kevin’s former partner Carrie (Sosie Bacon) over custody of her and Kevin’s son Drew, not least because of Carrie’s addiction problems. Mare’s ex-husband Frank (David Denman) lives in the house behind Mare’s with his fiancee Faye, and Mare was briefly convinced that he’d fathered the late Erin’s child. Mare’s daughter Siobhan – the only organised and focused one in the family – is about to leave for college in California, leaving Mare with just her cantankerous mother Helen for company. Jean Smart’s batty performance as Helen (pictured above) has provided just about the only light relief on the show.

Yet, ironically, Mare has a superb detective’s instincts, and could have been a high-flyer in the force if only she could have summoned up a bit of self-belief. A glimpse of romance with writer-turned lecturer Richard Ryan (Guy Pearce) held out a sliver of hope, but the charming but feckless Ryan isn’t the sort of guy you’d bet your house on.

At the end of it all, you actually felt you’d been living in Easttown for the past few weeks. I don’t think we’d want to go back there, would we?

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