This story contains plot spoilers for HBO's "Mare of Easttown
," but it does not reveal the events of the season finale on Sunday night in detail.
For nearly 30 minutes on Sunday night, HBO Max
crashed, frustrating the legions of viewers who had logged on at 10 p.m. to watch
the final episode of “Mare of Easttown” and find out who murdered Erin McMenamin.
With its coveted Sunday evening slot, HBO retains its unrivaled position as one of the few networks that consistently produces appointment television
and creates communal viewing experiences (to the extent that such experiences exist in this day and age).
I've eagerly awaited each installment of the seven-part limited series starring Kate Winslet
as the titular small-town police
detective investigating the aforementioned murder and two missing persons cases involving young women
, but I've had some conflicting thoughts that really crystallized while watching Sunday night's stunning conclusion.
For decades, many TV police procedurals and crime
dramas valorized and glorified police officers and the policing system, which has come under renewed scrutiny since last summer's racial uprisings. To be clear, "Mare of Easttown" is not a show that falls under "copaganda."
Much of the show isn't about the cops or the crimes at the heart of the show's twisty plot; it's about the incredible performances, especially from Winslet as Mare, Julianne Nicholson as Mare's best friend Lori, and the indefatigable Jean Smart
as Mare's acerbic mother Helen.
Most cop shows
have historically not questioned the flaws in the system they portray, though some are now attempting to do so in fits and starts. At times, “Mare of Easttown” does make some questionable choices that the show does not cast in a positive or generous light, and there are no easy answers or solutions to anything, especially in the way she handles the even.
At the same time, the show does not question the broken system enough. For example, Mare is briefly suspended from her job after she steals drugs from the police department's evidence room and plants
them on Carrie, the mother of her grandson, in order to jeopardize Carrie's chances of gaining custody. However, Mare is quickly reinstated and given a pass when, in reality, so many people
And, at the end of the day, the cops — despite being complicated and not always unambiguously good characters — get to be the heroes
; they find the answers and crack the case, and we root for them along the way. Every time Mare made a major breakthrough
in one of the investigations, a part of me couldn't help but notice how badass she looked.
When she and her colleague Colin Zabel (Evan Peters) finally track down the man who kidnapped and abused two missing young women in Episode 5, Zabel is killed in the ensuing shootout, which understandably upsets viewers, but we had previously learned that he wasn't exactly a great cop.
Many viewers have rightly praised the artistic choices and elements in “Mare of Easttown” that made the show less about policing and crime and more about a standard police procedural. At the same time, it’s telling that for many of us, the desire to find out if Mare would solve the murder was what kept us watching until the very end (and crashed an entire streaming service).
This is an ongoing conversation that isn't about a single show or entity, just like the conversation about how to change policing and the systems themselves. Not every piece of pop culture has to directly confront the larger systems underpinning its plot and characters; it can really depend on the show. Sometimes it doesn't make sense, and sometimes it doesn't work, like when TV sho
But it does need to raise questions, which "Mare of Easttown" does by complicating existing narratives and conventions of police procedurals and crime dramas, but perhaps not enough; and as viewers, we are also implicated, especially in cases like this, when these shows give us so much to like and chew on.