Mare of Easttown is phenomenal for many reasons, one of them being the tour-de-force performance by Kate Winslett as Mare. And that performance creates a strong representation of women in the series, focusing on Mare, but extending out to Siobahn, Helen, Lori, and Dawn and smaller characters like Betty and Beth, and in some ways, tragic characters like Carrie and Erin.
And I appreciated this representation of women even more than usual because it didn’t feel like fan service in an era where the underrepresentation of women is now acknowledged. There was something true about the pivotal role of women in the heart of Easttown. Women footed the bill for the sins of the town, and in a lot of cases, the sins of the men.
This is not always the case. Frank seems to have been the stronger pillar in the wake of Kevin’s death. However, it did appear like Mare was the one who had to face Kevin’s addiction and hatred the most while he was alive. And there are other smaller instances we could point to of men sharing the load because nothing is true all the time. But the story in Mare of Easttown certainly contains male figures who are listless, unaware of their identity in their community, and searching for something else that can provide them with meaning and support. And in the wake of not finding that ‘thing’, the women bear the burden of the male’s mistake.
Mare of Easttown is about Mare, but the story revolved around Erin, and in close revolution around her is a gaggle of males who don’t seem to understand their role in society and thus lash out in absolute bullshit decision making. Viewers need look no further than the two closest to her, her baby’s father Dylan and her own father Kenny. Kenny seems to be an almost stereotypical male figure in small town America, and thus enters and exits quickly. He holds some labor job, undisclosed, maybe his actual skill set is being displaced by automation or clean energy or some other national interest he finds overblown, only fueling his hatred for rule and law. He has no woman in his life to temper him, so he is violent, and drinks and becomes more violent. But he also believes himself to be a good man, though he seems dangerous and purposeless. And after Erin’s death, his grief attempted to portray his relationship with his daughter as pure, the last remnant of his love for his wife- revisionist history.
Dylan seems to be a younger version of Kenny’s timeline- a stereotypical version of youth in small town America. He has parents who are trying their best and providing him with everything he needs, making him only more despicable for his ennui and angst and teenage rage. He only kind of takes care of the child his poor decision making begat and seemed to learn nothing from said poor decision making as he continues to do drugs and drink, leading him closer and closer to a Kenny-like adulthood, making more bad decisions that will lead to more problems like the ones he is trying so freaking hard not to deal with.
In both these cases, Erin is left picking up the pieces, making mac and cheese and keeping the house, loving DJ for two people and footing doctor’s bills. Because the males seem… purposeless. They don’t seem to care what’s going on. They seem to have no stake in even the issues that are intricately woven into their lives, borne of their own decision making.
Mare’s life is similar. And as the main character, she weaves even the smaller male figures into the larger narrative. Frank is the most put together, but even he shows his weakness by making a poor choice in both helping Erin in secret (teachers can’t buy stuff for and walk it into the home of young female students) and then lying about it in a murder investigation. It reveals a vulnerability in him left in the wake of the loss of his son, wife, and nuclear family structure, that not even a fulfilling job as a teacher and a blossoming new relationship could fill. Even this paragon of maleness in the show struggles to adapt to his new role in the community.
After him there’s Billy and John. John can’t stop cheating on his wife to try and feel strong and supportive when he doesn’t feel that way for his family, and Billy’s life feels so useless to him he was willing to take the fall for a murder, effectively ending it. Mare even introduces us to Freddie, our example of drug abuse that is still alive, revealing the ravages of the opiate epidemic that all of rural America has become scarily familiar with.
This male disillusionment trickles down into the next generation. Kevin committed suicide while struggling with addiction and Ryan committed murder trying to protect his family, struggling to find his role in his father’s abdication of his. We can’t help but ask ourselves, with mild horror, what will become of DJ and Drew? Two young boys who everyone is trying so hard to shelter. Who will they be? Can they avoid the trap? Or is it only a matter of time?
Maybe the most interesting instance of this male-disillusionment is the Deacon. His storyline is so shrouded in mystery. We don’t actually know if he committed that which he was accused of at his last parish. And though he was vindicated of any wrongdoing in the murder of Erin, what in the actual fuck are you doing picking up a young girl in the middle of the night and driving her around alone before dropping her off at a park and then driving away? And all of this after having to run from previous accusations of sexual abuse while being a Catholic priest, which by itself paints a target on his back. So we don’t actually know if this guy did anything wrong, but his actions scream that something is not right. He needed to feel fulfilled by helping and supporting this young girl against all proper decision making which would dictate that he shouldn’t even pick up the damn phone when she called. Something in him needed to pick up the phone and help her, and that’s terrifying.
The first conversation Collin and Mare had with Deacon reveals why this might be. In their ruthless interrogating of him there is zero good will offered to a man of the cloth both during and after the questions. It reveals a changing perception of religion, one colored by the sins of the Catholic church and by the decline of religion in America. And the Deacon, who should see himself and his vocation through the eyes of God, struggles to realign his duties to the community causing bad decision making overlayed with extra scrutiny on his every move.
To me, these male figures only become more interesting when you compare the men of Easttown to the men who are just in Easttown. Richard and Collin are both essentially visiting, and they are an entirely different breed. They both have their careers figured out (kind of), at least they are secure in their careers. They dress nice, they are kind and compassionate, they make mistakes, but they also deal with them immediately. Richard ran out to the car after acting like an asshole at his party, and Collin demands of Mare, “how do you know what I want?” when their relationship sours. They don’t seem as disillusioned and searching. And Collin gets a bullet to the brain, and Richard eventually leaves for greener pastures. They just couldn’t stay. They didn’t ever seem to belong.
In my last post about Mare of Easttown, I wrote about the community-based social structure that Easttown uses to try and overcome the massive issues of modern small-town life and how it is doomed to fail. It is based on an old school belief that we are enough to help our families, friends, and neighbors despite overwhelming societal issues that continue to prove that wrong. If I may posit that of men and women, men more than women have either believed or been taught that they are enough to provide for their families, friends, and neighbors. I am not a sociologist, so I will not speculate on any reasons why this may be true, but it seems like a fair premise that for centuries men have placed themselves, or society has been structured in a way that places them, as the ‘provider.’ But the idea of one provider who can protect and save those closest to them from the harms of the world is outdated, not just ideologically, but socially. At the heart of Mare of Easttown is that no one can do that anymore. This is what Mare knows that others don’t, and it makes her an outcast in her town. Mare, and in some ways Erin and Lori and Helen, were able to come to grips with this fact. They were able to be more effective and adapt to what Easttown and small-town life became. But the men in Easttown didn’t seem to know how to adapt. They turned to drink and drug and anger and young girls to try and find importance, strength, a sense of duty, an ability to protect, which is what they grew up believing their role would be someday when they watched their father’s and grandfather’s lives play out before them.
This selfish turn inwards to try and fill a role of the past only begets more problems that, in this story, the women must attempt to fix. Ultimately, there is an abdication of duty in the males of Easttown as they search for what might just be extinct in their town.
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