Mare of Easttown episode 4 recap – “Poor Sisyphus”

May 10, 2021
Jonathon Wilson 0
HBO, Weekly TV
4

Summary

“Poor Sisyphus” moves the plot forward more than any other episode, but it remains powerfully rooted in the same painful, repetitive tragedies of Easttown.

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4

Summary

“Poor Sisyphus” moves the plot forward more than any other episode, but it remains powerfully rooted in the same painful, repetitive tragedies of Easttown.

This recap of Mare of Easttown episode 4, “Poor Sisyphus”, contains spoilers.


For a show so unrelentingly grim, Mare of Easttown is very funny when it tries to be. Consider, for instance, the scene in “Poor Sisyphus” in which Siobhan’s girlfriend Becca catches Siobhan and her new beau passionately kissing in the basement, screams, and flees, almost knocking Mare’s mother Helen unconscious with a door on her way out. That isn’t funny, obviously, but when Helen – who, by the way, hides her ice cream in a bag of frozen vegetables, an expert move – is stretchered outside with a little plaster on her forehead, Mare is aghast at the amount of fuss that has been made over seemingly nothing. It’s quite a narrow form of humor, I’ll grant you, but Mare’s incredulous, “Is that it?”, and Jean Smart’s wonderfully beleaguered, “Is that it? Well, I’m sorry I’m not more maimed for you,” had me rolling.

This isn’t an important scene, by the way, at least not plot-wise. But those tend to be the scenes that really highlight just how good Mare of Easttown is. On the other end of the spectrum, Dylan hovering over baby DJ’s crib with a pillow was legitimately horrifying. Even after it made for quite a sweet payoff, that capacity for terrible violence still lingered. There’s a similar bait and switch later, when Dawn Bailey is tricked into thinking her missing daughter, Katie, is still alive, only to cruelly discover she isn’t just as the audience learns she’s being held captive in a seedy run-down bar called Bennie’s Tavern, along with the recently kidnapped Missy Sagar (Sasha Frolova). Both of those girls were involved in sex work, and with the news that Erin also secretly joined an escort service to pay for DJ’s ear surgery, it’s increasingly likely the cases are connected, though exactly how remains unclear.

It’s just one of several questions for Mare to puzzle through, even though she’s officially off Erin’s case after trying to fit Carrie up for drug possession. Mare of Easttown episode 4, “Poor Sisyphus”, is named after the figure from Greek mythology whose punishment for cheating death was to unendingly roll a boulder up a hill only for it to roll right back down once it neared the top. If that isn’t the nature of detective work in prestige crime dramas, I don’t know what is. The problem for Mare is that each time the boulder rolls back down the hill it squashes a good number of her childhood friends and family members.

The show continues to work, though, because the characters are well-rounded enough to survive the weight of Mare’s meddling. Someone like Frank isn’t just an ex-husband, even if a negative paternity test – Dylan isn’t DJ’s father either – seemingly exonerates him as a suspect. Deacon Mark, who it turns out ended up in Easttown after he was accused of sexual misconduct in his previous parish, looks a likely suspect, even if that likelihood probably ensures his innocence (you know how these things are.) Mare herself survives the unpleasantness of her actions last week after flashbacks reveal some background to her relationship with Carrie and her addict son Kevin. We’re to understand that virtually everyone in this show is capable of deeply unpleasant things, but also that they largely have good reason to be.

Dawn’s suffering at the hands of Beth’s addict brother Freddie is especially heart-breaking in “Poor Sisyphus”. He cons her into believing Katie is still alive just to swindle her out of a five-grand ransom, and realizing what’s happening is, for her, like losing her daughter all over again after being given a glimmer of hope. The physical trauma is nothing in comparison, but it’s still difficult to watch this fragile woman, still battling cancer, be tossed around. Her stoic refusal to say what happened is somehow more crushing still, and she has no idea that her beloved daughter has been a prisoner in a dingy backroom all the time that she has been refusing to grieve her.

With all this, Mare of Easttown episode 4 probably pushes the overarching plot forward more than any previous episode. That makes it important and engaging, but what makes it powerful is how it never loses that sense of the same boulder being pushed up the same hill, rolling right back down every time. Mare herself might be the most obvious analog for Sisyphus, but everyone in Easttown is grappling with their own burdens.

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