Don’t Let the Excellent Acting Distract You
Mare of Easttown is a Misogynist Mess
Do not read until you have finished all seven episodes unless you want the finale completely spoiled!
Let me begin by saying it’s okay to like or love this show. There are a long list of excellent elements that make it enjoyable, compelling and entertaining. This is not a call to cancellation by any means. I sincerely hope the show gets a second season. If it does continue, I desperately hope the single male writer will seek input from other perspectives, staff female writers and hear other voices. I hope then he’ll be able to move away from the ugly toxic masculinity that drove the first season narrative.
Things to love about MoE:
The entire cast.
The environment & location.
The cheese steaks.
The performances in the show make it successful. In some ways, the plot details and the story being told are almost irrelevant. These actors give flawless performances of deeply flawed characters. It would not matter if they were performing Shakespeare or Dr. Seuss instead of a detective drama. Winslet, Smart and everyone else take the material to the highest possible levels and deserve all the awards. No one can fault the actors.
Things to investigate further about MoE:
Let’s do what Mare Sheehan does not and take a closer look at the evidence. The show as a whole is dripping with misogyny both external and internalized. There’s nothing I hate more than girl-on-girl hate.
The series begins with Mare’s dismissiveness about Missing Woman Katie Bailey. Mare does what far too many in law enforcement have done for far too long and disregards the urgency of finding Katie because she is a “known drug addict with a history of prostitution.” For a female detective to de-prioritize a case because the missing person is a sex worker is misogyny of the highest order. I almost turned the first episode off during the basketball ceremony scene when Mare unrelentingly badgers her one-time friend and teammate, Katie’s mother Dawn, because Dawn held a press conference to question whether the police were doing all they could to find her daughter. Mare is soooo offended that someone is questioning whether she is good at her job. Guess what Mare? You SUCK at your job. AND, you’re an asshole. Honestly, I almost did not come back for the second episode because Mare is such an asshole and that scene especially made me initially despise the character. I only came back to the show because my mother may be Jean Smart’s #1 Fan and I promised her I would give it another chance. I can appreciate a flawed and multilayered protagonist, but I’m getting pretty burnt out on all the anti-hero assholes that have been all the rage since Breaking Bad. We can only hope that an anti-hero will achieve some redemption throughout their journey, but I did not find much for Mare. I respect that she’s a shrew, she eschews politeness, speaks her mind and doesn’t give a fuck what others think of her. But I still didn’t like her. I eventually came to have some compassion and empathy for Mare’s enormous loss and excruciating grief journey. I know what that’s like. Nonetheless, she never truly redeemed her bad behavior and continued making terrible mistakes.
Mare is really, really, really bad at her job. Her ineptitude causes devastating pain and loss for those in her wake. Does she just want everyone around her to be as miserable as she is? Dawn was right that Mare wasn’t doing enough to find her daughter. Once she put the tiniest bit of effort into investigating, it didn’t take too much to get that crucial lead. All she had to do was talk to the sex workers, y’know, all those women she has been disregarding as unimportant for the past year. There was no great detective work in this detective show. We don’t need Mare to be the stereotypical detective whose powers of observation are almost superhuman (Holmes, Poirot, Shawn from Psych) but can she at least cover some of the basics?
The girl-on-girl hatred continues with Mare’s relationship with her grandson’s mother. This is nothing more than the tired old “monster-in-law” trope, but Mare takes that to a whole new level by planting drugs on a recovering addict?!? Now Mare is not only a bad cop, she’s a corrupt bad cop. She should have been fired and faced charges of her own for that super shitty stunt. You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to know that was a fucking stupid thing to do. Administrative leave? Really? Can’t we at least get some fictional police reform that makes sure rotten cops pay some real consequences for their rotten behavior? I don’t care if Carrie is an unfit mother or not, there is no justification for what Mare did. In the end, Carrie recognizes on her own that she’s not ready for full custody. If only these two women could have worked together the whole time for the good of the child. The figurative hair pulling and eye gouging were completely unnecessary.
Now for the literal hair pulling, let’s talk about mean girl Brianna Delrasso. Her internalized misogyny is truly disturbing. Have we learned nothing and has nothing really changed since Mean Girls came out over 16 years ago? Why is everyone in Easttown so freaking abusive? The phrase “If I see it, I can be it,” has a flip side. Perhaps there’s a little bit of Bully OVER-representation out there these days. When a bully sees bullies in entertainment, does it discourage bad behavior or reinforce it? When teen girls are constantly portrayed as at each other’s throats, picking fights over BOYS, it normalizes the stereotypes of jealousy and catfighting. Brianna shows almost no redeeming qualities, but neither does Mare (especially in the first couple episodes). When the hero/anti-hero/villain waters are this murky, the messages are painfully mixed. When bullies see themselves on TV, we might hope they feel some shame and/or remorse, but what if they also feel a thrill of validation? “This is the way things are. Everyone’s a bully. It’s normal, no big deal.” Does someone with already violent tendencies get turned on by seeing their violence reflected back at them?
EXTERNAL MISOGYNY & VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN
That brings us to the most frustrating issues at play. Creator Brad Ingelsby is the sole writer credited on all episodes. His go to plot device is to treat women like shit. He has created a world in which almost all the men are abusers and all the women are victims. This is a world where violence against women is simply the norm and is easily glossed over. That is not a feminist world. This is not a feminist show.
There are so many examples of this but here are a few of the most egregious.
DYLAN HINCHEY. Why does this character have to be so aggressively abusive? His parents seem to be some of the few decent people in town, so what the hell happened to him? I realize a detective show relies on “unexpected twists”. Ingelsby is trying to divert our attention away from the true killers’ identities with the whole Dylan, Jess and Sean burn Erin’s journals sub-plot. That useless red herring meant to cast suspicion on “innocent” characters only gives Dylan more opportunities to abuse women. WITH. NO. GOOD. REASON. Him and Sean chasing down Jess to the extent of dragging her by her feet from under a car is simply disgusting. There is no rationale for these actions. They burned the journals to cover up the true paternity of Erin’s child so that Dylan’s parents could keep the baby? HUH? If Dylan does have that level of concern for both his parents and the child he thought was his, why does he have to express it with violence against yet another woman? Perhaps because violence against women is the only language spoken in Easttown. Dylan was verbally and emotionally abusive to Erin when she was alive. He stood there with no feeling whatsoever while his current girlfriend, Brianna, kicked the shit out of Erin, the woman he thought was the mother of his child. Later, when Brianna tries to show loyalty and support for Dylan, he pushes her away with more verbal and emotional abuse. This is a teenager. This is how he treats women. The verbal abuse will certainly escalate into more physical abuse in his future. I guess that’s just what they teach the boys in Easttown.
Which brings us to…
Again, SPOILER Warning!
STOP NOW TO AVOID SPOILERS
Ryan did it. Ryan “accidentally” killed Erin. He’s what, 12 years old? Here’s what Ryan has apparently learned from his father, John.
Lie to women.
Keep secrets from your mother.
Cheat on your spouse.
Cheat on your spouse AGAIN by committing incest with your teenage cousin.
Impregnate teenage cousin.
When teenage cousin expects you to do right by the child you made, eliminate her.
W.T.F. Ryan is a child who discovers his father’s infidelity and decides that he is the one to do something to stop it. He doesn’t confront his father. He doesn’t tell his mother. Instead, his first instinct is violence. He chooses to blame the teenage cousin, not his asshole father. He steals a gun, intending to threaten and further victimize Erin, a girl who has already been abused by almost every male in her life.
Ryan “didn’t mean” to kill his cousin. It just happened. Oh, woe is the poor innocent boy just trying to keep his family together. BULL. Like Dylan, Ryan is already hardwired to only one setting when dealing with women – violence. There is almost some great commentary here on how boys and girls are raised and treated differently from birth. There could be some statements made about patriarchal oppression, and yet, the tone of the show’s finale doesn’t feel to me like that’s the intention. I got the sense that we’re supposed to feel sympathy for Ryan. I don’t. The only one I feel sympathy for is his mother.
LORI ROSS is another sad victim of patriarchal entitlement and internalized misogyny. Even when she finds out that her husband is cheating on her AGAIN, “she still loves him.” She’s willing to follow the asshole’s lead and pin Erin’s murder on her innocent brother-in-law to protect the cheating asshole and her disturbingly violent son. Ok, yes, lots of mothers would protect their children, no matter what they’ve done. However, I’d like to think that the truly strong mothers would want their child to LEARN A FUCKING LESSON. Sadly, the only lesson she’s teaching both her son and daughter is martyred subservience. In a jailhouse visit, John asks her to take in and raise the child that he conceived with his teenage cousin! And she does it!
NO. The answer to that question is a resounding HELL NO. She does not want this child. He is not her responsibility. No matter how selfless and nurturing this woman may be, she will resent this child. How could she not? How can it not cause her unending pain and torment every time she looks at him? How can that possibly be the best outcome for the kid? How can John be so utterly selfish and controlling? Let the kid go to the Hincheys if they want him! Let him be adopted by any number of other families who would be overjoyed to raise him. Asking Lori for this kind of sacrifice strips her of all autonomy and independence. It makes my head explode.
The last point I’ll touch on for now…
IS MARE FUCKABLE?
There has been much discussion out there about Kate Winslet’s appearance as Mare. She has been lauded as brave and groundbreaking for the character’s frumpy clothes, messy hair, lack of makeup and a few extra pounds. Hollywood clearly has a long way to go toward gender equality when any actress has to negotiate with producers to show her fat and wrinkles.
“When Craig Zobel, the director, assured her he would cut “a bulgy bit of belly” in her sex scene with Guy Pearce, she told him, “Don’t you dare!” She also sent the show’s promo poster back twice because it was too retouched. “They were like ‘Kate, really, you can’t,’ and I’m like ‘Guys, I know how many lines I have by the side of my eye, please put them all back.’”KATE WINSLET HAS NO FILTER, NY Times
I respect Kate for her stance here. The problem is that she has to have the conversation in the first place. Why should it be considered “brave” to portray an average sized, not so glamorous woman? Can we please let go of the impossible beauty standards and expectations of size 0 bodies and wrinkleless skin? On one hand, there is a positive message here that an “imperfect” woman is still attractive. Mare fucks. She doesn’t need a “bikini body”, Botox, a spray tan or mounds of makeup to get laid. Mare can get it anywhere she wants, apparently. She has two potential love interests AND a few extra pounds. Great! Cuz, guess what Hollywood? News Flash: fat women fuck. It’s true!
The real question is why is it even necessary for Mare to be fuckable? Doesn’t she have more important things to do, like finding Katie Bailey and Missy Sager and catching Erin McMenamin’s killer? Love Interest #1, Richard, is not very interesting and the relationship goes absolutely nowhere. To make Guy Pearce uninteresting is a remarkable feat indeed. What was the point of introducing Richard if he’s going to have no impact on Mare’s life? Oh yeah, cuz the writer wants you to know right up front that even though she’s “a little rough around the edges” Mare can still attract the male gaze.
Love Interest #2 is Detective Colin Zabel. The show’s only director is Craig Zobel. Coincidence? Although Det. Zabel was sent in by the County to help expedite Mare’s lagging investigation, he is also remarkably bad at his job. He follows Mare’s lead to investigate suspects, while she is suspended from duty, without warrants or backup. He follows her right into a bullet to the brain. Infuriating. This scene has been called “a heroic rescue.” I call it bumbling ineptitude. The only real justice in the show is when Colin’s mother slaps the shit out of Mare for leading her son to his death. Yep. You deserved that Mare. His blood is on your hands.
If the show spent less time on Mare’s fuckability, and more time solving the crimes, perhaps we could get some answers to the real pressing questions. Questions such as, who the hell is serial killer Wayne Potts? Where is the girl he did away with after he took Katie? How many women has he taken? If Mare had done her job appropriately, avoiding the heinous attempted entrapment of her grandson’s mother, following procedure, investigating thoroughly, surveilling Wayne and gathering real evidence, these questions might have had satisfactory answers. In this town where Mare knows or is related to almost everyone, except Wayne Potts, it’s a rather anti-climactic wrap up of this story thread to introduce and eliminate this random stranger killer all in one poor choice. It’s a disservice and disrespect to Katie and Dawn, to Missy and all the other unnamed sex workers – in this fiction and in reality – who fall prey to sexual predators every day. Maybe it’s my love of soap operas, but how much more terrifying would it have been if Wayne’s poker buddies that came over regularly included Kenny McMenamin, John or Billy Ross, ex-husband Frank Sheehan, or even Mare herself? I ask because I was simply left feeling that Katie’s story was all a bit of a throw away, the way too many young women are treated every day. Katie and Missy were disposable to Wayne, as if they were expendable to the storytellers as well. If the entertainment industry wants to make a real impact, we have to do better and dig deeper. It’s not enough to have “a strong, complicated female lead” if that female lead doesn’t care about fellow females or others who are marginalized. We can’t keep painting all women as victims and all men as victimizers. We must move away from rape and murder as the only go-to plot points. We see it so often that we have become desensitized to the true horror and suffering. Our world is littered with so much misogynist garbage, it can be easy to overlook. All the collective violence against women that drove most of the Mare of Easttown narrative was brushed aside so damn easily, like a discarded cheese steak wrapper.