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By staying apolitical, Mare of Easttown dodges explaining why Delco's miseries exist

  • The HBO crime drama set in Pennsylvania's Delaware County has been celebrated and parodied for its attempt at authenticity. "It takes only two episodes for HBO’s ambitious Mare of Easttown to tick off virtually every hardship associated with the quirky, underdog, salt-of-the-earth people of Delaware County, Pennsylvania," says Robert Repino. "That bingo card from hell includes, among other miseries, substance abuse, untreated mental illness, teen pregnancy, violence, cramped row homes, dead-end jobs, and Roman Catholicism." But Repino, a Delaware County native who is close in age to Detective Mare Sheehan, says the real Delco is nothing like what is portrayed on HBO. "Despite this obvious source of tension and upheaval, Mare of Easttown, puzzlingly, does not mention politics at all," says Repino. "There are no kitchen table arguments, no drunk know-it-alls pontificating at the numerous pubs, no campaign posters, no red hats, not even a chuckle-worthy moment of political incorrectness from Mare’s mother Helen. For a Delco kid like me, this deliberately apolitical stance isn’t just a missed opportunity; it makes watching the show a truly surreal experience. To get an idea of how deeply ingrained right-wing politics can be in this part of the country, look no further than the failed insurrection of Jan. 6. Southeastern Pennsylvania contributed some of the worst perpetrators of that awful day, many of whom were respected members of the community—and some of whom undoubtedly still are. Delaware County itself was controlled by Republicans from before the Civil War until 2019. Yes, it’s true that Delco shifted back to blue in 2020, helping to deliver a victory for Joe Biden. But the total numbers belie steep divisions that will hamper progress in the years to come. This is a place where even a 13-year-old will calmly tell you that Black people moving into the neighborhood will bring property values down—and that it’s not racist to say that because everyone knows it’s true. It is a place that in many ways is still fighting a 1980s-style war on drugs, despite the terrible price such policies have exacted. And in the pandemic, Delco has become a hotbed of performative 'civil disobedience' against lockdowns and mask ordinances, fueled in large part by resentment toward Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and the growth of his party in the area. Here, being apolitical is a political decision. Yet here we have Mare Sheehan, a cop raised by a cop, and there is no mention of President You-Know-Who and all the related conflicts and debates—not so much as a lawn sign or a Back the Blue flag. Mare and the people around her are part of the demographic most likely to either overtly support Trump or give some rambling speech about how the country needs to reject two-party politics and be run like a business...When Mare interacts with her gay daughter, or her college professor love interest, or her Black former classmate, or the town’s Black police chief (an embarrassingly recent thing in the whiter Delco neighborhoods), politics simply cease to exist. It’s as if the characters have been transported to some pocket universe where neither Trump nor Clinton won in 2016. And if Mare really is an outlier, a cop who leans to the left, then that would be a source of even greater tension. At the very least, the writers would need to dedicate an entire episode to an uncomfortable holiday dinner... I’m certainly not rooting for the show to include more racism for the sake of authenticity, nor do I need any of the characters to get on a soapbox. But there is a case to be made that the stunted conservative politics of Delco, which the show dutifully avoids, have contributed to the very miseries that the show exploits."


    • Detective Mare Sheehan, then, is exactly the kind of character Kate Winslet has been waiting for: "Television has always served her well; for someone who so deeply adopts her characters as an extension of herself, it gives her room to explore them over the course of hours," says Jeva Lange, in contrasting Winslet's TV work vs. movie roles. "And Mare is worthy of that exploration: she's brusque, but no hardboiled cop stereotype; she's a 'hot mess' who only looks in the mirror twice a day, but who isn't without her own vulnerabilities; she's a mother (for Mare of Easttown is, fundamentally, a story about mothers) and grandmother but also a person with a sexuality, who can't help but smile at an unexpected compliment. Winslet's efforts to make Mare a fully lived-in person even, apparently, ticked off the brass at certain points."
    • What Mare of Easttown can learn from The Killing and Twin Peaks: "For good and ill, the similarities among these three shows mount the more you investigate," says Matt Schimkowitz. "Still, The Killing was a show that understood Twin Peaks better than most, yet still succumbed to the same troubles, and Mare Of Easttown appears to be following in its footsteps. Along with the setup, The Killing and Mare crib from Frost and Lynch extensively: the victims’ connection to sex work, a serial killer or kidnapper that’s targeting girls, and a town reeling from tragedy. Mare borrows the small-town aesthetic and familial sexual abuse from Twin Peaks, while The Killing takes the ambient score and a casino on the outskirts of town. Both shows wear their influence on their sleeves yet miss the lessons from the decline of the original run of Lynch and Frost’s series: Solving the mystery, be it too soon or at all, kills the momentum."
    • Mare of Easttown is following the True Detective model: "On paper, Kate Winslet’s detective story checks all the boxes. Above-the-title lead? Check," says Ben Travers. "Big case to solve? Check. An investigator haunted by their past? You better believe it. And if you delve further into the details, more similarities with True Detective pop up. The primary victim is a young, naked girl. The setting is an idiosyncratic, semi-rural town. Our titular detective has family trouble.
    • Meet the closest thing to a "mayor" of Easttown: “I can’t remember when the last homicide was here, if ever,” says Marc Heppe, chair of the Easttown Township board of supervisors. How often are people talking about the show in Easttown Township "You’re probably aware of the social media site called Nextdoor," he says. "It’s a frequent topic of conversation on there, at least when it first started. The topic usually surrounded Kate Winslet’s, I guess, ability or lack thereof to replicate the Delaware County Pennsylvania accent. That seemed to be a big topic of conversation — if she did a good job or if she didn’t."
    • An appreciation of Mare's vape, the most undersung character on Mare of Easttown
    • Mare of Easttown's suspects, explained

    TOPICS: Mare of Easttown, HBO, The Killing, True Detective, Twin Peaks, Kate Winslet