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What’s Worth Watching: Kate Winslet leads cast in HBO’s dark, bleak ‘Mare of Easttown’

UPDATED: Thu., April 15, 2021

Kate Winslet plays detective Mare Sheehan in HBO’s “Mare of Easttown.”  (HBO)
Kate Winslet plays detective Mare Sheehan in HBO’s “Mare of Easttown.” (HBO)

HBO’s “Mare of Easttown,” set to premiere Sunday, follows detective Mare Sheehan (Kate Winslet) as she struggles to contend with a cold case in the small Pennsylvania town where she grew up.

After a yearlong search for Katie Bailey, a young local girl, yields no solid leads, Sheehan has just about given up. But that doesn’t mean she’ll ever forgive herself.

“There’s nothing Mare Sheehan loves more than being the hero,” her daughter says in the first episode.

Covered in an ever-present layer of fog, Easttown has a sinister air to it that immediately alerts you to the darkness ahead.

Around town, Sheehan is known as “Lady Hawk,” a nickname she earned as a teenager while playing on the local high school’s basketball team. Haunted by the ghosts of that early success, life since high school hasn’t treated her well.

Her personal life is imploding. Her ex-husband is getting engaged, her daughter is about to head off to college, and the people in her life seem alternately intent on celebrating her and tearing her down.

Sheehan has no time for nonsense. She’s good at her job and generally respected in the community. But since Bailey’s disappearance, she’s become increasingly disillusioned.

“We’re never gonna find her,” she says. “She’s a needle in a thousand haystacks.”

But the mother of the missing girl, a former friend of Sheehan’s, is not about to let the town forget about her. And when Sheehan’s boss pushes her to restart the investigation, she reluctantly agrees.

Meanwhile, the less-fortunate residents of Easttown are busy living pretty bleak lives surrounded by some of the worst things life has to offer: domestic violence, irresponsible drug use, teen pregnancy and hateful layabouts.

Erin McMenamin (Cailee Spaeny), who disconcertingly looks more like a 12-year-old than a mother, is struggling to raise her infant son and is frequently antagonized and threatened by the father’s repulsive new girlfriend.

But jealousy, it would seem, is the least of her problems.

Themes of grief, motherhood and interpersonal development are woven throughout the narrative. At times, the tone is almost too bleak, but the characters bring just enough warmth to keep it interesting.

“Mare of Easttown” premieres on HBO and HBO Max at 6 p.m. Sunday.

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