This article contains spoilers.
The finale of “Mare of Easttown” toyed with viewers, but gracefully and without the kinds of absurd twists that sometimes turn denouements into hopped-up denou-migraines. It was a sober episode that gave us one last big twist — young Ryan Ross killed Erin McMenamin, and his father, John, tried to cover for him — but nonetheless kept its focus on the subtleties. We found out whodunit, after seeing the shocking revelation register on Mare’s face, but we also got to watch our heroine move a step or two forward in her long-deflected grief over her son.
In the end, Easttown remained a fraught, bleak town lousy with lies and abuse — which is why we loved it! — but with a few rays of hope shining through the granite skies. Despite everything, Mare and Lori — now without her son and husband — salvaged their friendship with a brave effort at forgiveness. Mare’s daughter, Siobhan (the wonderful Angourie Rice), optimistically headed off to Berkeley, having helped jolt her mother into self-awareness. And Mare and her ex-husband, Frank, retained custody of their grandson after the toddler’s mother admitted she wasn’t ready to care for him.
Also, Mare’s sweet romance with Richard wound down, at least for now; “Mare” was not about healing with the help of a hot new guy. It was about finding healing within.
It’s a fine art, balancing the mechanics of a crime mystery with character depth and local flavor, and “Mare” did it beautifully. No matter how revved-up the story motor became, no matter how many fake-outs popped up along the way, it remained a series about the aftermath of loss and a woman trying to dodge her inevitable pain. Kate Winslet was the perfect actress for the part, nailing all of Mare’s cynicism and neurotic energy without telegraphing it. Also destined for an Emmy nomination, along with Winslet: Julianne Nicholson, whose scenes in the finale, as a mother only trying to protect her son, were devastating. Watching two grieving mothers ultimately find solace with each other was such a fine note on which to end the series.
Oh, about those misleading clues along the way — I didn’t feel terribly cheated at the end. OK, so it was clear that Deacon Mark was not the killer, because he so obviously seemed like the killer (as the hysterical “Saturday Night Live” sketch “Murdur Durdur” made clear), and some of the business about Erin’s clothes and journals among her classmates seemed like obviously forced misdirection. Still, I didn’t feel had, as I have by other similar shows, most recently by “The Undoing.” As I look back over the series with the knowledge that it was Ryan, I can see that all the pieces — the tension between the boy and his father, Ryan’s lie that John had resumed an old affair, depressed Billy’s willingness to go to jail for his nephew, Lori’s lies to Mare — fall into place. It was neatly done, and the unnecessary twists nonetheless added to the local atmosphere and Mare’s psychological journey.
The show did leave us with one as-yet unresolved mystery, though. “Mare” has been immensely popular, which puts HBO back in the same position it was in with “Big Little Lies.” Will the cable channel bring the show back?