Let’s dissect the ending to HBO’s Mare of Easttown and how it had a Mystic River problem regarding who really killed young Erin in Philly.
Mare of Easttown has been one of HBO’s most intriguing, popular crime dramas in a while, evoking critical acclaim and audience reception akin to True Detective. It focused on Kate Winslet’s Mare Sheehan in Philly trying to solve a murder case involving a young girl, Erin, in their small town. However, while the show’s almost perfect with its cast, sense of tension and slow-burning drama that smartly blends tidy bits of dark humor in, its ending had a Mystic River problem.
Seeing as Mare of Easttown was a weekly release that ended on cliffhangers, it left fans guessing right until the seventh and final episode as to why Erin, a teen mom, was found dead with her face shot and finger blown off. Later, the series revealed her involvement in an incestuous plot with her dad’s cousin, John, making a kid for him.
John’s son, Ryan, discovered their taboo affair and stole a gun from an old man whose lawn he cut, intent on spooking Erin. Sadly, it got violent, and when she accidentally got shot, he put another bullet in her out of panic. He got his dad and uncle, Bill, to cover it up with Mare of Easttown misdirecting folks to think John was the real murderer.
This is similar to Mystic River, where young Katie was found dead like Erin. The 2003 neo-noir mystery, an Oscar-winning venture directed by Clint Eastwood, also swerved fans, making it seem like Dave, a friend of Katie’s dad, was a pedophile who killed her. It turns out the real killers were a couple of teenage boys — Silent Ray and John. Silent Ray hated how Katie planned to leave their Boston suburbs with his brother, Brendan. So he and John stole Ray Sr.’s gun, intending to spook her. Unfortunately, the prank went awry, and they shot her, resulting in them finishing the job and dumping the body.
Tonally and in terms of narrative, there’s so much common ground between Mare of Easttown and Mystic River, even before the big bombshells. Big dealt with grieving parents, with Erin’s dad, Kenny, going to jail for shooting Dylan (her ex), thinking he was the killer. On the other hand, Mystic River had Jimmy eventually murdering Dave before the truth came out. However, it’s the idea of taboo romances breaking families that really drives both conclusions. Jimmy and Ray’s family hated each other, ergo why Silent Ray found the idea of Brendan leaving him and their sick mom unforgivable. In Big, Ryan knew his dad was a cheater in the past, so Erin was just a flashpoint he couldn’t work past.
Both properties used the teens as background players, with troubled adults as the distractors. John’s infidelity and fear of losing his family made him the obvious suspect in Big, while Mystic River’s Dave — who was sexually abused as a kid — left breadcrumbs of violence on the night Katie was murdered, with no one knowing he actually became a vigilante who killed a pedophile. Admittedly, Big tips its hat a bit more as it showed Ryan brutally beating a bully down in school, indicating he had major issues. In contrast, Silent Ray and John were always set decor, rolling around Mystic River‘s Boston to play street hockey without really getting involved with the main plot.
Ultimately, one has to feel shortchanged with Big‘s ending. The finale copies a heartbroken kid trying to preserve the idea of family, which doesn’t resonate as much as it should. And while it doesn’t totally derail the Emmy-nominated show or what Winslet and the cast laid down, the murder coming from a place of love feels like an ending that isn’t as original or mind-blowing as people make it seem because of Mystic River.
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