Mare of Easttown finale: The bombshell goes off with a nauseating thud

TV review: Kate Winslet achieved devastating perfection in this unflinching drama

Mare of Easttown: A remarkable Kate Winslet performance

Mare of Easttown: A remarkable Kate Winslet performance

 

THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS

The biggest twist in the final episode of Mare of Easttown (Sky Atlantic, 9pm) is that there is actually a twist. Across the previous six weeks, this vehicle for a remarkable Kate Winslet performance has come across as indifferent towards the conventions of the small-town thriller genre.

The higher goals towards which writer Brand Ingelsby has worked have been: first, to draw a portrait of a blue-collar America left behind by a rapidly changing world; and second, to position Winslet’s detective sergeant Mare Sheehan at its centre as a woman sleep-walking through grief and denial. 

But here, at the end, comes a gut-punch in a masterful finale. The whodunnit has yanked viewers in and, over seven episodes, turned them into obsessives. The initial mild surprise is that the killer of troubled high-schooler Erin McMenamin is not Billy Ross (Robbie Tann), notwithstanding his previous confession. 

The culprit is instead identified as Billy’s brother John (Joe Tippett). He’d been having an affair with the teenage Erin and is the true father of her son DJ. John explains that he murdered Erin after they had rowed and she pulled a gun.

As John – married to Mare’s best friend, Lori (Julianne Nicholson) – lays out the terrible truth, Mare struggles to maintain her composure.  

But his admission of guilt is over in the first 15 minutes. Ingelsby, it seems, wants to get the heavy plotting out of the way in order to focus on Mare, her fizzling romance with author Richard Ryan (Guy Pearce) and her search for closure following the suicide of her son, Kevin. 

It becomes slowly, sickeningly clear that this is a feint, as Mare receives another call from old Mr Carroll (Patrick McDade), who featured in the first episode when Mare responded to a complaint about a Peeping Tom. Now the series circles back to him with a horrible symmetry. 

John’s story about killing Erin is watertight, apart from a vagueness about the make of gun used to to shoot her. Mr Carroll mentions that a firearm of that very calibre had been taken from and returned to his shed. But who would have known about the weapon, wonders Mare? Nobody, says Carroll, apart from the kid who comes to mow the lawn: John and Lori Ross’s son. 

And there it is: the killer was 13-year-old Ryan Ross (Cameron Mann). Having discovered his father’s affair he stole Mr Carroll’s gun, intending to threaten Erin. They struggled, the weapon went off and she died. Billy and John bundled away the body and tried to conceal the boy’s involvement. 

The bombshell is perfectly positioned so that it goes off with a nauseating thud.

Lori lashes out at Mare – why couldn’t she just let it go? – but later they cry together and embrace.

And then Mare stands beneath the attic where she cut down her son after he hanged himself. She pulls down the ladder and ascends – ready, finally, to confront Kevin’s death.

In that moment Ingelsby’s unflinching study of character and Winslet’s immaculate acting come together to achieve a kind of devastating perfection. 

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