Mare of Easttown:
2021’s One True Cop Show

After a protracted break halfway through the season, my partner and I finally binged the last few episodes of Mare of Easttown last week.

It’s a good show. Though I got odd True Detective vibes — meaning it will probably be unbearably cringe on repeated viewings — and there were a few excellent essays that noted how much it aped the major plot points of Twin Peaks, it was Aaron Bady’s essay for the LA Review of Books that really nailed what made Mare of Easttown such a compelling watch in 2021:

The normal life of a cop turns out to mean being an exceedingly unwelcome presence in the life of her town (which is also her family). Or at least this sure seems to be what we mostly see in Mare of Easttown, where no one’s problems have policing as their solution, and where no one seems to like our protagonist. The sister who won’t press charges on her brother — because what would that accomplish? — sets the tone in episode one, and it goes on from there. As a cop, we see Mare erase video evidence, tackle an old man with dementia, and plant drugs in Carrie’s car. But the most socially beneficial cop interventions we see are specifically non-carceral, like calling the gas company to yell at them for turning off the heat, driving someone to the parish shelter, or just rounding up a bereaved father’s family to comfort him when you bring the bad news. When Mare is in full on badge-and-gun mode, she mostly just brings violence to her town, which is also her family, who avoid her as much as possible.

After a cold winter of Black Lives Matter and #KillTheBill protests, when the function of policing in contemporary society was called into question more damningly than at any other time in recent memory, Mare of Easttown starts to feel like strangely appropriate viewing.

Just a few months ago, the UK was gripped by Line of Duty fever. A weirdly written piece of “copaganda”, the show was mostly so entertaining because it got so high on its own self-regard. The British answer to your average cloyingly American cop show, it often had laugh-out-loud moments where none were intended. But that was part of its charm. The ridiculousness of its vision of British policing was pure escapism. And yet, for many, it didn’t really sit right. Considering all that was going on around it in real life, it felt more than a little tone deaf.

On the contrary, Mare of Easttown, for all its flaws, felt perfectly placed. A cop show that persistently puts forward the implicit suggestion that policing solves little. Though Bady rips the show to shreds, and smugly highlights plot holes I didn’t even register, it is hard to disagree with his reading. But I think that makes me like the show even more.

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