Kate Winslet is impressively grumpy in “Miss Lady Hawk Herself”, and for good reason, as HBO’s new moody small-town whodunit starts as it means to go on.
This recap of Mare of Easttown episode 1, “Miss Lady Hawk Herself”, contains spoilers.
Kate Winslet, who stars in HBO’s new limited series Mare Of Easttown as the titular Mare Sheehan, seems to specialize in being annoyed. Not that there isn’t plenty to be upset about in Easttown, Pennsylvania, a place small and insular enough to still be riding high on a basketball victory from two and a half decades prior. Mare was on that winning team, and “Miss Lady Hawk Herself” is how she’s introduced during a celebration of it, but she seems just as miserable in Easttown as everyone else does. The economy is tanking, opioids are infiltrating the tight-knit community, and young women are dying. The prestige drama formula is hardly a recipe for happy-go-lucky heroines.
Winslet, though, is better at being annoyed than you might expect even under these circumstances. Mare of Easttown episode 1 is a scene-setter more than anything else; the young girl whose murder will form the crux of the season stays alive for most of it. It’s about introducing the place, this dour industrial community where everyone is broke or an addict or both, and Mare herself, along with the complicated family she’s in the middle of and the community she stays slightly apart from. When we meet Mare, she’s responding to the report of her neighbor, Mrs. Carroll (Phyllis Somerville), that there’s a peeping Tom in her garden; shortly after that, she chases her friend Beth Hanlon’s (Chinasa Ogbuagu) addict brother Freddie (Dominique Johnson), injuring herself in the process. Mare is familiar enough with the citizenry that they don’t mind calling her for help, but she seems disinterested in all of them, rarely showing emotion one way or the other. She makes sure the gas is reconnected to Freddie’s house – it’s illegal in Pennsylvania for low-income families to have their utilities cut off between December and March – but barely reacts when Beth says that she wishes he was dead.
This is a weird dynamic, obviously. Everything Mare does seems to be under sufferance, but she still does it, even if half-heartedly. That’s fine when responding to a neighbor’s probably unfounded accusations, but not great when it comes to the disappearance of young girls. Katie Bailey, we learn, disappeared a year prior, and her body was never found. Her mother, Dawn (Enid Graham), has cancer and is one of Mare’s old basketball teammates, but that doesn’t stop her from going to the press and implying not at all subtly that the police bungled the investigation. Since Mare is the most prominent member of the police force, that basically means that she bungled the investigation. Her willingness to insist to her boss Chief Carter (John Douglas Thompson) that Katie was a drug addict and is probably dead, not to mention how she confronts Dawn herself, doesn’t create much confidence that she did her due diligence at the time.
I never really got the impression from Mare of Easttown episode 1 that we were supposed to sympathize all that much with Mare – “Miss Lady Hawk Herself” is kind of awful. I don’t mind that, though, since a likable protagonist isn’t a requirement (just look at Hightown), and Brad Ingelsby, who created the show, and director Craig Zobel both make it obvious that even Mare’s family aren’t exactly crazy about her. We barely see her interact with her daughter Siobhan (Angourie Rice), who she’s needlessly hostile to, and everyone from her mother Helen (Jean Smart) to her best friend Lori (Julianne Nicholson) to Father Dan Hastings (Neal Huff) knew that her ex-husband Frank (David Denman) had gotten engaged to his new fiancée, Faye (Kate Arrington). Nobody bothered to tell Mare, though, presumably knowing how she’d react, and once she finds out they all make jokes at her expense.
Most of Mare’s relationships seem transactional and short-term. When she meets lecturer and one-and-done author Richard Ryan (Guy Pearce), she goes home with him and sleeps with him but seems pretty adamant that it’s a one-time thing, a bit like his book success. He takes that well, and since he’s played by Pearce we’ll probably be seeing more of him, but that immediate impulse to cut and run is what most characterizes Mare. What she’s running from is anyone’s guess, at least for now. But she doesn’t seem to have anywhere to go.
This is perhaps just as well as far as Erin McMenamin (Cailee Spaeny) is concerned. We meet her raising her 1-year-old son and being screamed at by her obviously abusive father, Kenny (Patrick Murney); we see her become excited by the prospect of going on a date with a guy called Brendan, who she has been messaging; and we eventually discover together that she’s being catfished by Brianna (Mackenzie Lansing), the new girlfriend of her disinterested baby father, Dylan (Jack Mulhern). Siobhan interrupts the beatdown that Brianna gives Erin, but the next we see of her, she’s dead, splayed out in a river with an unsightly gash in her head. It’ll be Mare’s job to solve her murder, but can she be bothered? Let’s hope so.