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The ‘Mare of Easttown’ Season Finale Exit Survey

Now that Mare’s sipped her last Rolling Rock and we know who really killed Erin McMenamin, let’s talk about it

HBO/Getty Images/Ringer Illustration

Mare of Easttown, the tremendous HBO miniseries that thrust viewers into the world of outer Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and the mystery of who killed Erin McMenamin, officially came to an end on Sunday night. It’s time to crack open a bottle of Rolling Rock (or Yuengling, if you prefer) and talk about the finale’s reveals and the season’s best moments.

1. What is your tweet-length review of Mare of Easttown?

Ben Lindbergh: A brilliantly acted, cleverly plotted, and character-rich illustration of why the once-a-week series remains the most riveting TV format in the era of the full-season streaming release. Rolling Rocks all around.

Justin Sayles: We’ve watched enough murder mysteries about beautiful dead girls that we should be over them, but Mare pushes past the tropes thanks to compelling family drama, intimate performances, and a vaping, criminal cop you can’t help but root for.

Kate Halliwell: It was Broadchurch with cheesesteaks—I don’t know what more anyone could want from a television show.

Alison Herman: SNL did it for me already: Very Specific Whites!

Michael Baumann: Really good performances, kind of iffy writing; loved it but may never know if it’s actually good. Go Birds.

Andrew Gruttadaro: Well, I’ve been talking like this a whole lot lately. Not too many shows get into bones like that.

2. Before we get to anything else, let’s discuss the reveal of Erin McMenamin’s killer.

Herman: How do you combine surprise with consistent themes like generational trauma? Don’t make it the obvious guy; make it his kid.

Lindbergh: I thought it was a near-perfect payoff that kept people guessing without cheating too much—a difficult balance to strike in the age of Reddit deep dives. The outcome wasn’t obvious, but show creator Brad Ingelsby dropped enough bread crumbs leading to Ryan that I didn’t feel manipulated or blindsided by the big reveal. Better yet, the semi-surprising resolution helped elevate Mare above the basic whodunit. The series was always less about who shot Erin than what finding the culprit would mean for Mare. Tearing Ryan from Lori—on the heels of getting Colin killed—forced Mare to face the sadness of losing her own son.

Gruttadaro: Mare finding herself back at Mr. Carroll’s so that he could inadvertently implicate Ryan Ross felt a little contrived, but putting that aside—absolutely heartbreaking, edge-of-your-chair, oh-please-no stuff. This is how it’s done: Mare of Easttown found a way to have its “holy shit” twist without sacrificing its hard-earned character work.

Halliwell: I was very much team Lori Did It, so I felt satisfied by the reveal but a little let down that I (and much of the internet) was wrong. Whatever, it’s all in the family. And that kid was creepy the whole time.

Sayles: The rare case where the most ridiculous possibility felt telegraphed. But while I don’t know if they stuck the whodunit landing exactly, the reveal didn’t make me want to run off to Bates College or anything.

Baumann: Now that Ryan’s going to jail anyway, can he go back and beat that middle school bully all the way to death with a lunch tray?

3. Do you think Mare did the right thing by turning Ryan in?

Sayles: I’m always on Mare’s side. Even when I act like I’m not.

Baumann: Absolutely! Jawn Ross may be a total scumbag, but letting him rot in prison while Mare, Ryan, and Lori all collectively live with that secret forever is no way for everyone to live—which, given that Ryan’s doing OK in kiddie jail and Lori is weeping openly again, seems to line up with the show’s perspective.

Herman: Mostly, I think the show ought to have spent more time dwelling on or at least justifying the decision. “What does it mean to get justice for this crime/community?” is a much more interesting question than the actual whodunit. As it stands, I’m not convinced sending a 13-year-old to prison gets the job done—especially not in a world that also lets Mare off with a slap on the wrist for planting drugs in a woman’s car.

Halliwell: I think she should have at least slept on it. It’s not like he was going to flee the country overnight. Give a single decision more than 30 seconds of thought, Mare!

Gruttadaro: In terms of pure right and wrong, yes, definitely. But I felt it also made sense in terms of Mare’s character. Sure, she bent the law when trying to keep custody of her grandson, but I think we’re supposed to see that as a contrast to her choices in the finale. Her principles were always more malleable when it came to her family, but it’s also a sign that she’s done letting her own selfish needs dictate her every decision.

Lindbergh: I don’t know if it was the right thing to do, but since when does Mare always do the right thing? The decision felt true to her character. Maybe Ryan and the rest of the Rosses will be better equipped to come to terms with what happened if they don’t have to hide a huge secret on top of everything else.

4. What was the best moment of the season?

Halliwell: Any time Jean Smart was playing Fruit Ninja.

Gruttadaro: The end of Episode 5 is one of the most heartbreaking, breathtaking sequences of TV I’ve seen this year. I’m not saying I liked what happened, but god dammit I respect it.

Sayles: The killing of Detective Zabel. That entire sequence is to Mare what the stash house raid was to True Detective Season 1—not essential to the plot, but an unforgettable set piece for an unforgettable show.

Herman: Jean Smart’s farting shoes; Jean Smart flirting with Guy Pearce; Jean Smart getting smacked in the face; mostly just Jean Smart.

Baumann: “Bar guy! … Sorry, I won’t do that again.” Moments later, Zabel reveals that he’s an alumnus of Ridley High School, class of 2005, making him the only fictional character in television who I might have competed against in high school marching band.

Lindbergh: The moment in the “inside the episode” special after the finale when the Delco dialect coach says Winslet was “utterly committed to … honoring the local culture,” accompanied by a clip of Mare chowing down on a cheesesteak. Well, either that or drunk Zabel in the bar. Or the showdown at Bennie’s, the cathartic closing scene with Lori, or Mare’s courageous climb into the attic. Or—man, don’t make me choose. What a wonderful show.

5. What was your least favorite part?

Herman: The parts that felt like they came from other shows—i.e., Siobhan’s Romances and the Random Kidnapper Ex Machina.

Gruttadaro: Oh man, WHAT the hell was that ending to the Richard story line? All season long he seems a bit too creepy—and a bit too Guy Pearce–y—for him to just be some dude, and then within a matter of two quick scenes in the finale it turns out that he is, in fact, just some dude! My guy’s just a super measured, well-adjusted washout who likes hard-nosed Pennsylvania ladies.

Lindbergh: The convoluted Jess/Dylan subplot and Mare planting drugs on Carrie. Not because she planted them—which was believable in light of her desperate, damaged mental state—but because she planted them so ineptly, didn’t suffer any lasting consequences from the crime, and got to keep custody of Drew instead of having to learn to let go.

Halliwell: Everything about Siobhan’s love life.

Sayles: Can my answer here also be the killing of Detective Zabel?

Baumann: HBO Max crapping its pants for half an hour the night of the finale. Just because it’s got purple branding doesn’t mean it has to crumble like the Vikings in the 2018 NFC championship game. Go Birds.

6. Who or what was the MVP of Mare of Easttown?

Gruttadaro: The accent. The Rolling Rock. The Yuengling. Dylan’s Flyers hoodie/jersey. Lori’s Dave Matthews Band T-shirt. Every meticulous detail that made the show feel like a real place.

Herman: The obvious choice is also the only acceptable one: It’s gotta be the accents.

Lindbergh: Kate Winslet, with the Delco accent a close second.

Halliwell: Jean Smart!

Sayles: Helen and her iPad certainly had the highest PER. I could watch an entire spinoff of her drinking Manhattans and playing Fruit Ninja. (I’ll assume this is the plot to Hacks until I hear otherwise.)

Baumann: This will sound like a homer take because I drink my body volume in Wawa iced tea each week and other people in this newsroom make fun of me for being a stereotype.

But the best thing about this show was its sense of place. Regardless of how authentically Delco the show actually is, or whether it could’ve dialed back the diphthonging a notch or two, Mare put us into a distinctive community and filled it out with enough color and personality to make it feel real. And it did so despite the fact it’s all too easy to paint “Flyover Country” on the wall of a soundstage and mail that verisimilitude in.

7. What was the best tiny detail in the series?

Baumann: For all the attention paid to the dialect work, the best detail is the fact that every character who approaches a bar orders a Rolling Rock and a shot of Jameson.

Halliwell: I’ll think about Mare’s grown-out roots for years to come.

Lindbergh: The best tiny details surface in the mundane moments between Mare and her mother. Their heart-to-heart in the finale, which knocks down a dam of emotions that hadn’t been breached for decades, is prompted by Mare’s observation about how Helen applied a Band-Aid to Drew. The Mare-Helen love/hate dynamic reminds me of my mother and grandmother. Whether they’re shooting the shit or giving it to each other, Winslet and Jean Smart play their scenes with such warmth, humor, and familial frustration that the relationship feels real.

Herman: Jean Smart playing Fruit Ninja. Slice those bananas, Helen!

Sayles: In that gutting final scene with Lori, Mare catches her devastated friend and falls to the ground with her, an apparent callback to her inability to catch Kevin’s body after she cut him down. Mare’s always been capable of carrying the weight of everyone else’s trauma even when she couldn’t carry her own.


8. What is the biggest lingering question you have about this show?

Baumann: Did teenage Mare idolize legendary Penn State guard Suzie McConnell-Serio or merely hero-worship her?

Sayles: I guess Ryan is Ferret Man? If so, my biggest question is: Why does everyone on this show kind of look like a ferret?

Herman: Not that I’m complaining, but was Guy Pearce just there to look pretty and move to Maine?

Halliwell: Why was Guy Pearce there?

Lindbergh: All of my lingering questions concern Guy Pearce and/or Richard, the long-haired red herring. What aspect of the Richard part appealed to Pearce? Is there any acting job he’d turn down if Winslet asked him to take it? What was May’s Landing about, and why was Richard’s reception near Easttown so well attended? Did Richard pay for that Jag with his royalties or his professor salary? If every Richard scene were removed from the show, would we miss them? I didn’t mind Richard, really, but if HBO would #ReleasetheRichardlessCut, I would watch, just to see.


9. Should there be a second season of Mare of Easttown?

Halliwell: No, but also … I would watch it.

Gruttadaro: On the one hand, I have a principled, arbitrary stance against shows that announce themselves as miniseries and then become full-fledged series. On the other hand, yes, I would definitely hang out with Delco Kate Winslet and Jean Smart for seven more episodes (that explore the fact that Richard Ryan is a serial killer).

Lindbergh: No. I don’t need an unnecessary, Big Little Lies–style sequel to an exquisite, self-contained season. It hurts to say goodbye to these characters and to lose this series on Sundays, but as Mare herself said, “After a while, you learn to live with the unacceptable.” Here’s a tune to remember her by:

Baumann: This show needed to either be edited down to five episodes, cutting out or reducing Siobhan’s Pitch Perfect side plot and Kevin Bacon’s addict daughter, or flesh a couple of the secondary characters out more and stretch it to 10. A second season is unnecessary. And while a Mare-Zabel buddy cop anthology would’ve been fun, that’s obviously impracticable now.

Herman: When it comes to these things, “should” rarely has much to do with “will.” And I suspect Kate Winslet will!