From the moment Mare (Kate Winslet) starts interrogating Deacon Mark Burton (James McArdle), you sense that unlike her Easttown neighbors, she’s not all that impressed. In the aftermath of Erin McMenamin’s murder, the holy man has become a reassuring voice for the grieving town, but she looks at him with suspicion. By the end of episode 3 of HBO’s Mare of Easttown, viewers will, too.
What we know is that Erin’s murder was likely committed by someone she knew between the hours of midnight and 2 am. In this episode, we learn that at 10:55 pm she made a call, her final one, to the Deacon. Odd, since in the previous episode, “Fathers,” he revealed that she was a member of the church’s youth program, but he didn’t spend much time with her. He told Father Dan Hastings (Neal Huff), who happens to be Mare’s cousin, that Erin stopped attending meetings once the baby was born and, regretfully, he lost track of her.
When Mare questions him about Erin, he begins to change his tune quite a bit. He states that he did talk to her “briefly, for a couple of minutes” on the night she was murdered. “She was very upset,” he says. “I could tell she had been crying,” but he didn’t get into specifics with her of what had happened.
While Mare thinks it’s odd that a 16-year-old girl would call him so late, he doesn’t think it’s strange at all. “We had a relationship,” he says. That word seems to make Mare’s partner Det. Colin Zabel (Evan Peters) uncomfortable and it’s hard not to read into the Deacon’s use of it in this context. But before anyone can get too caught up in his word choice, he continues, saying that he and Erin formed “a friendship” during youth group. He has always made himself available to everyone in the parish, he says, “but especially our youth. I find they need me the most.”
Mare is not interested in beating around the bush. In fact, she chooses to interrogate him in the church because “it makes it harder for him to lie.” She asks him if he was ever alone with Erin. To this question, he seems a little more flustered. “Yes,” he stumbles. “There were times when we were alone.” Mare asks if he’s concerned about the possibility of people thinking something untoward was going on between them. Especially, because of the recent spate of sexual misconduct allegations towards priests. He is, but “I can’t allow it to stop me from my vocation.”
He’s holier than thou about his faith-based responsibilities, telling Mare, who is very much a non-believer, that he is battling a war of “human weakness, loneliness, doubt, hatred,” the list goes on. He is fighting on behalf of the Lord. “I never see it as me offering mercy,” he says. “It’s Christ himself working through me. I’m his vessel.”
Mare finds this all a little funny, even jokingly asking him, “Just so we’re all clear here, was it you on the phone with Erin or Christ himself?” You get the sense she’s not buying that the late-night call was just him doing his job. She questions why he wouldn’t call the police in the days since she died to share this information. He doesn’t have much of a reason for staying quiet, which certainly raises some red flags. Especially, since we know he previously lied to Father Hastings about how close they still were.
Mare senses there is more to this story, and does her due diligence by taking his cell phone down to the station. They find nothing substantial on it, just a few texts between him and Erin right around the time she had the baby. Perhaps, the Deacon is just one of the good guys, a red herring to keep us guessing. Not unlike Mare’s ex-husband Frank (David Dennman), who Erin’s BFF believed was the real father of Erin’s young son. What we learn is that Frank had helped her with the baby, but only because he felt bad for her. Perhaps, after losing his son, he felt it was also his duty to show her some kindness. (Side note: does anyone else think it's possible that Mare and Frank’s late son was the real father of Erin’s boy?)
However, later in the episode, the Deacon gives us a new reason to be suspicious. He’s in possession of Erin’s missing pink bike. Well, he was. We watch him get rid of the evidence late at night, just hours after Mare had spoken with him. This just raises more questions about his relationship with Erin. Could he be the rumored biological father of Erin’s baby? Was he worried that his secret would come to light, so he killed her that night? With all his talk of being God’s vessel, was her death some sort of sacrifice? Is it possible he’s taken his religious duties too far and is covering for another parishioner, the person who murdered Erin?
The questions are piling up, but unfortunately, Mare won’t be able to ask them. She was forced to hand over her gun and badge after planting drugs on her son’s ex-girlfriend. This just as she was beginning to put the pieces of Erin’s case together. It’s a maddening conclusion, but after watching Mare’s policing it’s not all that surprising that she got caught doing something illegal. Still, it feels like her selfish misdeeds could be detrimental to this case.
“We only have one more chance,” she tells Colin when he asks if they should bring the Deacon in for additional questioning. Once the diocese learns that he is a possible subject, she worries they will lawyer up, and it’ll become harder to get any real answers from him. Knowing her concerns, you can’t help but wonder if they just missed their chance to put away Erin’s murderer.