Mare of Easttown is a Bitch Hero, Thank God
Mare Sheehan is a bitch. From the opening scene of HBO’s new series, Mare of Easttown, she’s surly and impolite and incurious and harried. She simply isn’t nice. And I love her. Mare is a Bitch Hero, and it’s time we celebrate that.
Mare of Easttown keeps getting rightly compared to Broadchurch. The small town. The lady detective. The male outsider who partners up with her. The everyone-knows-everyone-knows-everything mores of small town life. The tragic murder of one of their own where everyone is a suspect. But the one big difference between Kate Winslet’s Detective Sergeant Mare Sheehan and Olivia Colman’s Detective Sergeant Ellie Miller is everything about them.
Miller is sweet. Mare is sour. Miller is gregarious. Mare is lucky her best friend hasn’t ghosted her. Miller’s life is picture perfect (until it isn’t). Mare’s life is a shambles (and it gets worse). Miller is the hero we root for. Mare is the bitch we aren’t sure we are supposed to.
I don’t know if it’s the Southern or the Lord Jesus Christ in me, but I am chronically attached to being agreeable to most people. Now, get to know me a bit and you will see the cynicism and the malingering superiority complex that I don’t hide very well, but in most situations I am the peachiest of people. And yet, I get called a bitch more than anyone else I know.
It’s simple. I don’t suffer fools. I don’t back down when I am correct. I am critical in good ways and bad. I have a discerning eye, and I like to be in charge of things. When you are wrong and it affects me, you will know it whether I tell you specifically or you just see it on my Resting Bitch Face. It might sound like this paragraph and the last one are incongruous. How can I be the peachiest of people and an assertive, judgmental critic? Easy. Emotional maturity and self-confidence both.
Mare Sheehan is teetering on the latter and seemingly devoid of the first. Mare is me without the emotional guardrails that allow me to be kind to other people without being vulnerable to them. She barrels through every interaction like it’s a knife fight and she’s made of vibranium. I winced, literally WINCED, at her first interaction with Mrs. Carroll in episode one because she was so needlessly rude. Kindness would have gotten her farther with them.
And yet, when she walked out of their house mid-argument, I was relieved and grateful. It seems she knew better what would get her farther.
Mare’s hackles are always up. She is never vulnerable; even when she has sex she is mostly clothed. She has her own back, always clocking her own six. And yet, in her own backyard is a yawning chasm, an open space wherein lies someone with the arsenal to do her in. At home, she couldn’t be more vulnerable.
She meets a new co-worker, Evan Peters as Detective Colin Zabel, and does absolutely no work to make him feel comfortable, welcome or even present. She is horrifically mean to her mother, the incomparable Jean Smart, who just got her a sandwich, when she tells her that she doesn’t do anything to help out. Mare is not nice. To anyone.
But we’re rooting for her anyway. Maybe we’ve been conditioned by all the anti-hero fare the big premiums have been shoving down our throats since The Sopranos and The Wire, but we are really really ready for the Bitch Hero. Elizabeth Jennings has been gone too long.
Mare of Easttown airs Sundays on HBO.
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Beth is the proud sponsor of two little women and a huge fan of fandom. She took 3 years of Latin in high school and now speaks fluent pretension, which fully explains her current preference for gay wizard regency novels. She will roll over for a giant book with a map in the front. She takes comic book recommendations every day but Wednesday and TV recommendations never (she knows what's good).