David Zurawik: HBO's 'Mare of Easttown' a rare TV drama that reflects the America left behind

David Zurawik, The Baltimore Sun on

Published in Entertainment News

Sheehan polices a gray, harsh, brutish and deadly landscape. Teen girls go missing or get murdered. Opioid and heroin addiction is common. Violence can erupt out of nowhere and change lives dramatically in a flash.

That’s the underbelly of Easttown. But the surface isn’t much better. People work jobs they hate. Multiple generations live in the same household out of economic necessity and constantly bicker as resentments smolder. Families eat dinners of microwaved macaroni and cheese on paper plates. A special meal is a delivered pizza. People spend most of their lives in jeans, sweatshirts and bulky coats. There seems to never be enough money for anything from gas for cars to needed medical procedures. And alcohol is used freely to self-medicate as much of it away as possible. This is what was once the middle class before it was shredded by trade deals, tax laws, globalization and political leaders who turned their backs on those left behind.

And, yet, there is a sense of community with family providing a kind of continuity and stability thanks mainly to the women of this town. The women are everything; the men not so much.

Sheehan’s home is multiple generation female for the most part. She is the owner of the home, but her mother, Helen (Jean Smart), and her teen daughter, Siobhan (Angourie Rice), and her grandson, Drew (Izzy King), live with her. She fears the boy will soon be taken to live with his mother. Sheehan’s best and seemingly only friend is a former teammate, Lori (Julianne Nicholson), who is also the emotional center of her own family. Another former teammate, Beth (Chinasa Ogbuagu), not only keeps her family together, but looks out for her grown brother, Freddie (Dominique Johnson), who is struggling with drug addiction. Outside of her time with Lori, the only semblance of emotional rescue for Sheehan in the five episodes made available for screening is provided by the female therapist she is forced to see.

Will Sheehan be able to successfully cope with her depression and anger? Will she be able to save her career? Will she solve the brutal murder of a young single mother found dead in the woods at the start of Episode 2? Will she be able to keep her family together amid the many challenges facing them in a community that the nation seems to have left behind?


That last question is one that a lot of us face in our own lives today.


“Mare of Easttown” airs at 10 p.m. Sundays on HBO.


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