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The ‘Mare of Easttown’ Pre-finale Shootaround

With just one episode left, let’s predict who killed Erin McMenamin, who’s suspicious for other reasons, and how the show will end

HBO/Ringer illustration

On Sunday night, we’ll take down one more bottle of Rolling Rock (or Yuengling, if you prefer) and take in the series finale of Mare of Easttown. Through six episodes, the Kate Winslet–led show has pulled off the ever-challenging feat of presenting a central mystery that’s wildly engaging along with a host of characters that are compelling and fully fleshed out. The result is … a lot of thoughts about how the show will end. So, before the episode airs, we opened up the floor for Ringer staffers to divulge their best predictions, theories, and takes on Mare of Easttown.

Dylan Did It.

Mare’s complicated web of red herrings being what it is, I’m sure this show will end up like Friends, in that it’ll turn out that someone named Ross is the bad guy.

HOWEVER.

We have to account for Dylan, who’s going around destroying evidence and threatening sympathetic witnesses like he’s trying to see what it’d look like if Marlo Stanfield ran on scrapple and Tastykakes. Chasing a shy teenage girl in cartoon pajamas down back alleys and waving a gun in her face, telling her not to talk to the cops; refusing to pay for his son’s (at the time) surgery, then tromping off to his ostentatious and wildly impractical Ford Bronco; never washing his hair, having zero blood in his face, scaring the bejeezus out of Brianna Delrasso, who scares the bejeezus out of me. Things of that nature. I didn’t even know they made people like that in Delco. I thought you had to go to York to find someone that preposterously despicable. If he didn’t kill Erin, he either has killed or will kill someone else. —Michael Baumann

Lori Did It.

So OK, I will say: Mare of Easttown doesn’t really feel like a show interested in any shocking reveals. All along, this has been a series about families and grief, and how the latter can cloak, infect, and destroy the former. Once again, Reddit has driven us into a frenzy that only distracts from and overshadows what the show is really trying to say. (Writers of WandaVision, The Undoing, Westworld, and everything in between are nodding violently right now.)

But with that said … Lori did it. Mare’s best—and really, only—friend killed Erin McMenamin. Think about it. Do we know what Lori’s whereabouts were at the time of the murder? No! She left the bar early while Mare was cozying up to Richard. Have we been given any explanation why such a great actress like Julianne Nicholson would be cast to, up to this point, be nothing more than a shoulder for Mare to cry on? Doesn’t it seem reasonable that Lori, a woman who has already been cheated on, would lash out against her husband’s latest fling (a fling who also happens to be that husband’s COUSIN)? Allow me to leave you with one more piece of evidence. An incontrovertible fact. A clue left for us way back in the second episode, of which there is so much to say:

OK, I changed my mind—Reddit is awesome. —Andrew Gruttadaro

The Return of Colin Zabel.

I’ll never get over the loss of dear detective Colin Zabel; for the rest of my days, I’ll think of him whenever I pour out the dregs of my travel coffee mug. So I’m hoping he plays back into the finale somehow. Yes, we last saw his poor mother tell Mare, understandably, “Don’t you ever come here again” when Mare showed up at her door. (Truth be told, I was hoping we’d somehow meet the ex-fiancé in that scene, too.) But as we know, Mare doesn’t necessarily have a track record of following orders.

I think she’ll wind up sneaking into the house to rummage through Zabel’s case files. We as the audience will find some sad chuckles—and bittersweet closure—when she uncovers a notebook with “MARE ZABEL” scrawled inside a heart. On the next page will be some kind of notes or observations that wind up cracking the case. It will all parallel Zabel’s cold-case shenanigans, yet it will also warm the heart.

What will those notes or observations be, though, is obviously the next question. I have a lot of random, quarter-baked theories floating around my head that wouldn’t really fit, ranging from “Helen’s farty shoes will pin her as the Betty’s titties (RIP) graffiti artist, à la Larry David’s orthotics” to “DJ isn’t Billy’s or John Ross’s son—he’s their half brother.” But one theory that kind of stands out to me is something Zabel said to Mare at their last supper.

He was annoyed she’d gone to interview Deacon Mark’s former parish without telling him, because he’d later gone and done the same, “like an idiot.” (Aw, Zabes.) Could it be that something he was told there will contradict what Mare learned? And could that something be about her own cousin? Father Dan has been around the show from the start; he’s been able to evade suspicion due to Deacon Mark’s shadiness; and he’s someone whose presence in an incriminating photo would cause the police chief to react the way he did. “Is there anybody you’re not related to?” Zabel asked Mare in Episode 2. Little did he know. —Katie Baker

What’s the Deal With Richard?

I’m consumed by the real mystery in Easttown: WTF is Guy Pearce doing on this show? As in, WTF is the actor, Guy Pearce, doing on this show? And also WTF is he doing playing a character named Richard—hold on while I look up his last name—Ryan? (You didn’t know his last name either. That’s how little Guy Pearce’s Richard Ryan is given to do.)

Richard is an author who wrote one book, washed out, and is now a professor at a local college. He picks up Mare at a bar. They have sex. He invites her to an event for his one book, and mostly ignores her. They go on a dinner date, the most memorable part of which occurs beforehand when Jean Smart gives Richard the flirty mom business. And then he brings Mare some Rolling Rock after her partner is killed. (Quick but necessary aside: Rolling Rock is trash and not representative of what Philly has to offer. At least Mare properly showcases Wawa.) That’s basically it. None of it has anything to do with the main proceedings of the show. If Richard’s presence is meant to help demonstrate the depths of Mare’s despair and her utterly broken romantic life, we already get plenty of that through her sideways and sad relationship with Detective Colin Zabel, not to mention her sideways and sad relationship with her ex-husband, who lives behind her house in a different house. I just cannot figure out why Guy Pearce would take this role. He’s still Guy Pearce! I’m no detective, but I suspect (and hope) we could crack the case by following the money. —John Gonzalez

What’s the Deal With Frank?

While we’re on the topic of strange men in Mare’s life, we must address her ex-husband. Frank is not a killer or a creep, but there is something deeply off about him. Many years ago, before I met my wife, I moved back to Philly and my girlfriend at the time came with me. It was a bad idea. Things did not work out. It was no one’s fault. (It was almost certainly my fault.) But when we parted ways, we didn’t physically move too far apart: she got a new apartment on the same block. It was odd and unhealthy—and we’d never been married or divorced, or lost a son to suicide. Yet Frank purchased a house right behind Mare’s house, and he pops over unannounced to ask his boozy ex-wife, who has anger issues and a gun, whether he can borrow the oregano or whatever. There’s no tax abatement that would make that worthwhile. Frank might be the most twisted person on this show. Mare was right to be suspicious. —Gonzalez

Siobhan’s Making a Big Mistake.

For a show so invested in the minutiae of local color, Mare of Easttown commits at least one cardinal sin when it comes to regional linguistics. I’m an (almost) lifelong Californian, and I’ve never once heard anyone refer to the flagship of our treasured public university system as “Cal Berkeley”—it’s either “Cal,” “Berkeley,” or, if you’re bragging about your kid’s college acceptance in the family group chat, “the University of California at Berkeley.” Were I a renowned music scholar interviewing a prospective student, I would be horrified to hear they hadn’t even bothered to get the name of their supposed dream school right, no matter how immaculate their Mannequin Pussy covers. So unless Siobhan does her Googles and cleans up her act, she’s going to miss out on her big break and one real chance to get out of Easttown. Some of my colleagues want to nitpick a murder investigation; I want to nitpick the career aspirations of a 17-year-old with a sick undercut. —Alison Herman

Everyone’s Guilty of Something.

I’d just like to preface this by saying I’m not a TV writer. Maybe if I were, I’d have a better sense of where all this Easttown Sturm und Drang is going. Instead, attempting to figure out who did what to whom and why leaves me feeling like Andy Bernard analyzing paintings in The Office:

Just sub in “character in Mare of Easttown” for “painting,” and you’ll know where my head’s at. Everyone, save maybe Drew and Siobhan, has done something reprehensible. Is there something in the water? (Sorry, wooder.)

For the record, here’s what I think happened: John Ross is the father of Erin’s baby, and Billy knows about it—John’s afraid Billy will spill his secret, hence the gun in the tackle box. Billy did something bad, but he didn’t kill Erin. And no, Deacon Mark, I don’t believe you when you say you didn’t kill Erin. You’ve been lying about everything the whole time.

Of course, “the creepy deacon did it” is probably too straightforward for a show like this, so I’m prepared to be proved wrong on Sunday night. —Jack McCluskey

It’s the Obvious Answer.

My fellow Americans, you are overthinking this.

The last we saw of Mare, she was on her way to Billy and John Ross, certain that Billy was her guy. But in the episode’s closing moments, Chief Carter learns something from Jess that makes him bark to get Mare on the line. Implication: It’s not Billy. Secondary implication, because “you’re arresting the wrong guy” is a whole lot less urgent than “you’re sidling up unawares to the real killer”: It’s John instead.

John, philandering husband of Lori. John, who was at the same family reunion where his brother’s relationship with Erin supposedly began. John, who goes directly from his brother saying he’s ready to confess to proposing the ominous fishing excursion that Mare is on her way to. Yes, there is the matter of that confession: We saw Billy tell John that he killed Erin—though he only said this untold Yuenglings deep, and only after John nudged him into it. And we don’t know what details a full confession might have involved, other than that it seems that John thought, apparently, that Billy’s death might be a better option. And again: that frantic demand from Chief Carter.

Do you remember True Detective, ye Reddit-addled TV viewer? Do you remember all the elaborate theories, the obscure clues, the hundred-post threads about the tea leaves and hints? Do you remember when the answer to that show’s mystery was just ... some guy, with no creeping mythology and nothing to reward the people who had picked the show apart, frame by frame? Do you remember the disappointment?

Let’s not do this again. Sometimes the answer is the one the show draws a circle around. —Claire McNear