Spoilers are ahead. Mare Sheehan (Kate Winslet) has lived in Easttown her whole life, which means she knows the close-knit community better than anyone. Being the small town's lead detective possibly gives her a leg up in solving the murder of Erin McMenamin (Cailee Spaeny). But her lifelong familiarity with the Philadelphia-area suburb also means that she likely knows the murderer. Perhaps, that's why she seems to size up everyone she meets, turning every man on HBO's Mare of Easttown into a suspect in the young mom's murder. Now, that list may include her ex-husband Frank (David Denman).
In episode 2 "Fathers," we meet the many fathers of Easttown. The literal dads like Erin's father Kenny (Patrick Murney), who is despondent over his young daughter's murder. He wonders if not letting her take this truck led to her killing. But he also accuses Dylan, Erin's ex-boyfriend and the father of her young son, of being the only one who had any reason to hurt her. "He never wanted her to have that baby," Kenny tells Mare. "He hated her for it."
Yet Dylan has an alibi in his mother, something Kenny doesn't have. It might be why Mare doesn't dismiss him as a possible suspect. Erin's wounds suggest the person was face-to-face with her when they killed her, so Mare believes the young girl knew her attacker. As we've seen, her relationship with her dad seemed intense, possibly abusive, so Mare asks him if he was home the night before. "All fucking night," Kenny says.
This question shows the fine line Mare must walk as a local. Her questioning of his whereabouts seem procedural, but when she asks them, they become insinuations, or worse, allegations since Mare knows him as well as anyone. Honestly, how many other detectives would be able to call up the cousins of the victim's father and ask them to meet her there?
Every case Mare takes on becomes an intensely personal one. She knows this all too well after the disappearance of Katie Bailey, the daughter of a former high school friend. After a year, she still has no leads on the case and the town is looking for answers. Mare can't risk looking as if she's taking it easy on any possible suspects because she assumes they couldn't do something so heinous. So she keeps asking the tough questions, sometimes in ways her new partner, Det. Colin Zabel (Evan Peters), a hotshot county detective who solved a cold case involving a 10-year-old girl, finds troubling.
So much of the show is seen through Mare's eyes, but Colin's reaction to her badgering Brianna, another possible suspect in Erin's murder, shows the problems with her being just another Easttowner. The teen was caught on tape beating up the victim, which makes her someone worth questioning, but Mare seems out to get the girl, who she admits probably couldn't have committed the crime. At least not on her own.
The interrogation shows how hardened Mare has become to the job. She's willing to take part in serious police misconduct without blinking an eye. It seems as if it's just another interrogation tactic for her and her ruthlessness is countered by a heartless comment from Brianna about her late son's suicide. As much as she knows about them, they also know a lot about her. Mare is obviously in pain and should have taken time off after her son's death. But her bad cop behavior can't be brushed off as the result of grief. She seems to believe she's untouchable despite all signs to the contrary.
Yet, it does seem nearly impossible for Mare to compartmentalize her life. Hello, that gallon of milk through her window thanks to Brianna's dad. But also a conversation with Frank about their grandson turns into an interrogation about Erin, who was a former student of his. She asks him about what kind of kid she was and you wonder why this rather serious conversation is happening in their shared backyard instead of at the station. Still, he tells her that Erin was a "quiet girl." He didn't really talk to her much, "but I got the feeling that things weren't good at home," he says. Not because of something she told him, but "just a sense" he got.
Is that local gossip or a legitimate clue? That question becomes even more complex in the final moments of the episode when Erin's friend reveals that the teen was hiding a big secret: Dylan isn't the real father of her baby. While Erin never told her who the father is, she believes it's Frank Sheehan.
What Mare of Easttown makes clear is the presumed "nice guys" can't be overlooked as possible suspects. That's why viewers shouldn't dismiss the introduction of Deacon Mark Burton (James McArdle), who knew Erin through the church's youth program. No one in Easttown can be presumed innocent which is what makes Mare's job so tough. These are people she knows, some she even loves, and she has to treat any and every interaction they've had with Erin as suspicious. And for now, we must do the same.