The Perfect Wisdom of Mare's Mother on Mare of Easttown
The crime drama might be about a murder investigation, but it’s also about motherhood in all of its messy, complicated glory.
Spoilers ahead for the Mare of Easttown finale and earlier episodes.
On its surface, HBO’s hit crime drama Mare of Easttown follows a brutal murder investigation in a small Pennsylvania town where everybody knows everybody. But when you listen closely to the characters, especially the mothers, you just know. This show is about motherhood in all of its messy, complicated glory.
The moment that finally hit home for me was in the finale was one shared by Mare Sheehan (Kate Winslet) and her mom Helen (Jean Smart). Mare had come home after discovering her best friend since childhood, Lori Ross (Julianne Nicholson), had lied to her about her husband and later her son’s involvement in the death of teen mom Erin McMenamin (Cailey Spaeny) and willfully obstructed a murder investigation. Mare was hurt, exhausted, and frustrated and but Helen asks Mare to see if from Lori’s perspective, which Mare finds insufficiently supportive.
“Well, can you blame her?” Helen says to Mare.
“I’m not going to have this conversation if you’re going to take her side,” Mare responds.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Helen says, desperately trying to calm her daughter. “I’m always on your side. Even when I act like I’m not.”
That, right there, is motherhood. “I’m always on your side. Even when I act like I’m not.”
The brutal, difficult, overwhelming mothering theme of Mare of Easttown starts from the first scene in the very first episode when Erin coos to her infant son, D.J., that she never knew she could “love a person so much it’s scary,” while she tries to save enough money to pay for his ear surgery. Before she was murdered, Erin was still a kid trying to be a kid, but she was also very much a mom in her kid’s corner.
Every mother in Mare of Easttown is a mother more than anything. They do terrible things to protect their kids. Lori lies to the police and allows her cheating husband to be carted off to jail, all to protect her son who, in an attempt to save his parents’ marriage, shot Erin. Dawn Bailey (Enid Graham) attacks Mare in the press and steals money from a cash register to try to pay off her daughter Katie’s would-be kidnappers. Her daughter Katie (Caitlin Houlahan), trapped in a man’s house for a year and tortured, is trying to get home to her own daughter.
That, right there, is motherhood: “I’m always on your side. Even when I act like I’m not.”
And then there’s Mare herself, trying to come to terms with her son Kevin’s suicide while raising his son Drew and trying to keep her young grandson away from his own mom who has struggled with addiction. At one point Mare plants drugs on Drew’s mother Carrie (Sosie Bacon), an awful act that she knows is wrong—and which almost costs her her career. But she does it because she thinks she is doing the best thing for Drew. She is both afraid of losing him and afraid of how far she’s willing to go to protect him.
Mare forces her daughter Siobhan (Angourie Rice) to make difficult choices with some tough love and suffers mightily because of it. The distance stretches out between them through episode after episode until Siobhan collapses in a drunk mess on her bed sobbing that she felt abandoned by her mother, who should have been the one to discover Kevin’s body. Mare wraps her up tight as anything in Episode 6, saying over and over, “I’m sorry, “I’m sorry.” Always sorry, always afraid, always trying to do what’s best. She’s on Siobhan’s — and Kevin’s — side, even when she acts like she’s not.
Motherhood comes before anything for Lori, for Mare, for Helen, for Erin, for Dawn, for Katie. It is ugly and messy and terrifying. Yet there is nothing else, not really. Even though all of the other insidious little parts of your personality, your life, your fears, don’t just go away because you’re a mom— they just get bigger.
When Mare accuses her own mother of being soft and forgiving with her her great-grandson Drew where she was once hard with Mare, Helen has a heartbreakingly honest explanation: “The truth is, I was angry a lot. I was angry that your father wasn’t the person I thought I married, I was angry that I couldn’t fix him. And I took a lot of that out on you. I’m sorry Mare.” Helen is in tears and tells Mare that she has forgiven herself for her own limitations as a mother and what she wants, more than anything, is for Mare to be able to forgive herself for Kevin’s death. Mare will never stop mothering — her daughter, her grandson, even her friends. So she must learn to forgive herself as she goes.
This is the truest thing about the moms of Easttown. They don’t always get it right, but they always, always show up for their kids. They are always in their corner.