Spoilers are ahead. Who is Katie Bailey? The Mare of Easttown premiere certainly doesn't offer up definitive answers. Odd really, since she is one of the most important characters on the new HBO murder mystery. The limited series looks at Mare Sheehan (played by Kate Winslet), a small town Pennsylvania detective who, at the first episode's end, is tasked with solving the murder of a local teen girl named Erin McMenamin (Cailee Spaeny). But it's not the only case Mare has on her plate.
For the last year, she has been investigating the disappearance of Katie Bailey, the daughter of Mare's high school friend Dawn (Enid Graham). Well, perhaps, former friend. After all this time, Mare still doesn't have any leads on Katie's case and it's caused a rift in a close-knit working-class town that is desperate for answers. On the one year anniversary, Dawn holds a press conference in hopes that her neighbours will help her find the lost girl since the police don't seem all that interested. "If they're not going to fight to find Katie," she says on the local news. "We will."
At first, you may question whether the series is all that interested either. The first episode dances around the question of who she is. Mare describes her as "a known drug abuser with a history of prostitution." But that description doesn't fit the girl we see in the posters Dawn is putting up around town. That smiling girl looks no different then Siobhan (Angourie Rice), Mare's procrastinating teenage daughter, or Erin, who is portrayed as a loving young mother.
Still, Mare basically says we’re not going to find her. "Hell, she's probably lying at the bottom of the Delaware River right now," she says to her boss after he tells her the county is looking to bring in a detective to help her with Katie's case. "We'd never know." Yet despite Mare's flippant attitude it's clear she will never forget this girl or this case. And neither will the town.
There is a sense that Easttown was different before Katie's disappearance. That perhaps when she went missing, the problems of this small town came to light. After just one episode, it's clear that there are a lot of missing people in Easttown. The whereabouts of Mare's son Kevin and the mother of Kevin's four-year-old son Drew, who Mare has custody of, have yet to be explained. Maybe that's why Mare finds it easier to dismiss Katie as someone who couldn't be saved or, maybe worse, shouldn't be saved, instead of admitting she didn't get the job done. That she may have made mistakes or that she does need help. But by dehumanizing Katie, turning her into someone not worth saving, the case doesn't go away. Katie just becomes collateral damage of Mare's ego.
For the last 25 years, Mare has been a local hero. She made the winning shot at a high school basketball tournament that is still the town's claim to fame. As the episode's title suggests, she is "Miss Lady Hawk Herself." She's also the person the locals call directly instead of dialling 911. After all, she always shows up to help, even if it's not quite with a smile.
Mare's own daughter says that she always has to be the hero, but she couldn't help Katie and a year later she's still stumped. She is no closer to giving the town the closure that they so desperately need. The murder of another local girl will put more eyes on the year-old case, so Katie Bailey may be gone, but she will not be forgotten. By the end of the first episode, Mare of Easttown seems determined to make sure Mare and the viewers remember that.