The new HBO series Mare of Easttown, created by Brad Ingelsby and directed by Craig Zobel, is a riveting crime drama that reveals both the darkness and light residing in the soul of America these days. The show is reminiscent of the superb British series Broadchurch, and it focuses on the murder of a poor teenage mother and the earlier disappearance of two young prostitutes.
Set and filmed in Delaware County outside of Philadelphia, Mare of Easttown is disturbing and inspiring. The actors’ eastern Pennsylvania accents are impeccable, and I could just about feel a cup of Wawa coffee in my hand. The multiple plotlines related to opioid addiction represent the demonic gloom that has settled over countless communities in the so-called “rust belt” and Appalachia. The biggest point of pride in Easttown is the memory of a high school state basketball championship; and Mare Sheehan, played by Kate Winslet, is the forty-something divorced grandmother who is still famous for hitting the winning shot all those years ago.
As a small-town police detective, Mare embodies the pain of the people she cannot help but love. With the nature of policing under intense scrutiny these days, Mare is deeply compassionate about the needs of her neighbors (when we meet Mare, she is helping a junkie get to a church shelter, instead of taking him to jail), and she is subject to a high degree of accountability from them, precisely because they know and love her too. At the same time, Mare faces a public relations crusade led by an old friend, whose missing daughter Mare has not yet succeeded in finding. It is an excellent depiction of the Catholic social teaching of subsidiarity: there is no nameless, faceless force here, but rather justice tempered with mercy at the local level. It is messy, but no one in Easttown seems to want it any other way.