5 perfectly haunting mysteries to discover between episodes of ‘Mare of Easttown’
For many people, the biggest surprise of “Mare of Easttown” is not the cast’s ability to grasp the deliciously difficult Delco accent or the very real religious devotion to Wawa markets or Kate Winslet’s mukbang master class in eating while acting. It’s not even the twisty turns of a very ambitious murder mystery.
No, the biggest shock for many is that there is only one episode per week.
Yes, that’s right, no matter how you watch it, on TV screen or personal device, HBO’s “Mare of Easttown” is episodic television. The old-fashioned kind. The good news? “Game of Thrones” was not the last big “appointment television” series after all. The bad news? After a year of locked-down binge-mania, we are suddenly forced to remember a time when “excruciating” referred not to the temptation to go ahead and binge the rest of the season even though it’s 2 a.m., but to the fact that this was not possible.
Suddenly, the time between one Sunday and another stretches as endless and empty as a road threading through the bare-branched forests outside Easttown. What are we supposed to do with ourselves for an entire week?
Well, you could watch another show, preferably one that will meet your bingeing needs. Here are five suggestions:
The “accent nerd” went to extraordinary lengths to sound like a Pennsylvania native for HBO’s “Mare of Easttown.” Here’s how she did it.
This show, which aired what we can only hope is its first season finale on Sunday, is not getting nearly enough attention. Not only can I say in complete sincerity that this is my new favorite Tasmanian show ever (a title previously held by “The Kettering Incident”), but “The Gloaming” checks all the “Mare” boxes — prickly female detective, highly unsettling murder, eerily evocative landscape, fabulous accents — and adds one more: a just-right hint of the supernatural.
Like Winslet’s Mare, Emma Booth’s Molly McGee is frequently at odds with her boss and has a bumpy relationship with her ex, not to mention custody issues and the irritation of being forced to work with a male detective from outside town (in this case, Hobart). Alex O’Connell (Ewen Leslie) has been brought in to help solve a murder, which, as in “Mare of Easttown,” involves the body of a woman found in woodland water.
“The Gloaming” is also haunted by an old crime against a child and, even better, there appear to be actual ghosts involved, which may or may not have something to do with the island’s violent penal colony past and/or the Wiccan-like church that runs the local school and community center. (Witchcraft being the Tasmanian version of Wawa.)
Creator Vicki Madden is not afraid to lean heavily on the landscape of Tasmania, just as she did with “The Kettering Incident,” which she also wrote. It is a helluva landscape, and if the plot twists become a bit torturous at times, the ghosts, be they actual spirits caught between worlds or imprints made on traumatized minds, are real enough. And though there are plans for a second season, the first actually ends — with climax and closure. (Available on Starz.)
‘The Kettering Incident’
The same, alas, cannot be said for Madden’s first exploration of Tasmania as the new New Zealand (at least in terms of cinematic possibilities). Anna Macy (Elizabeth Debicki) is not a police detective, but she is very troubled and for good reason. She has returned to her tiny town of Kettering (south of Hobart, in case you were wondering) despite lingering suspicion over her part in the titular “incident”: When Anna was 14, she and a friend were biking through the woods when they saw strange lights in the sky. Hours later, Anna was found bloody, alone and amnesiac; her friend was never seen again.
Now Anna wants to know what happened. And after eight episodes of very tricky plotting that ties the insular nature of the community to the perils of the natural, the supernatural and the potentially diabolical scientific worlds, the series ends with a partial revelation and a full-on cliffhanger. And there it hangs to this day; despite its success, there has been no second season. Debicki followed up “The Kettering Incident” with “The Night Manager,” became a big star and quit Tasmania’s medieval forests, possibly forever. This dovetails nicely with “Kettering” in a meta way but remains super disappointing to its fans.
Still, the cinematography is amazing, the plot is tantalizing and Debicki is great, so if you can live with a lot of possibilities and no definite answers, it’s worth a watch. At one point some animal skitters by that could very well be a Tasmanian devil, and how many shows can boast that? (Available on Amazon Prime Video.)
In Villefranche, a town so deep in a forest along the border of France and Belgium that electronic equipment and cellphones often do not work, police captain Laurène Weiss (Suliane Brahim) is concerned about the alarmingly high murder rate.
As this never seems to cross the minds of other small-town detectives who also encounter horrific crimes on a weekly basis, you know Laurène is something special. Like many of her counterparts, including Delco’s Mare, she knows everyone in town and can be quite testy, particularly regarding the fact that (surprise!) an irritating male colleague has been sent from the outside to “help.” Laurène is also haunted by her past and has a rocky relationship with her daughter.
But unlike Mare, whose underlying trauma appears to be the fact that she won a very important basketball game and thereby raised everyone’s expectations or something, Laurène has a past so dark she is missing two fingers and a big chunk of her memory, and is starting to entertain the possibility that a vengeful horned god is roaming the forest.
As I have said before, give me the possibility of a vengeful horned forest god terrorizing a wildly beautiful and supremely creepy forest, and I am in. For the long haul. Or in this case, two seasons (with the dwindling hope of a third). In other words, more than enough to fill in the hours between episodes of “Mare.”
Though don’t blame me if you get so caught up the drama of Villefranche you forget to keep up with Easttown. (Available on Netflix.)
The actor explains the research that went into her character in HBO’s buzzy crime drama — including the “mythical place” she visited to feel at home.
If neither the Franco-Belgian wilderness nor Tasmania entices, there’s always Wales, where looming fells and endless hills roll into jagged cliffs that drop with dizzying suddenness to the sea.
Though made in part (and with the help of the Welsh government) to showcase Welsh culture on the BBC, “Hinterland” is not exactly a “visit lovely Wales” endeavor. (Though it is the first show to be shot both in English and Welsh, which is cool.)
Tom Mathias (Richard Harrington) is a troubled soul who has left London for the coastal town of Aberystwyth with nothing to show but an obviously wrecked personal life — cue a single photo of twin girls and a wife who does not return his phone calls.
Almost immediately all sorts of gruesome and creepy murders begin taking place in neatly episodic fashion, sending the detective chief inspector and a team that includes his prickly supervising officer, Rhys (Mali Harries), from the area’s lush mountains to its most desolate farmland. Along the way, they learn much about the community’s history and customs while encountering all manner of good, evil and just plain Welsh folk with names that are actually quite pronounceable if you happen to speak Welsh.
The 90-minute episodes are a bit long for a big binge, but the serial nature of the show means you can dip in and out at will, which is nice. And if you pay enough attention, you might avoid making a fool of yourself while asking directions, should you ever get to Wales. (Available on Netflix.)
“Keeping Faith” is also Welsh, but not a detective show, at least not in the traditional sense.
Faith Howells (“Torchwood’s” Eve Myles) is a solicitor who is just getting back to work after having her third child when her seemingly normal and loving husband, Evan (played by Miles’ actual spouse, Bradley Freegard), goes to work one morning and vanishes. Panic turns to confusion and then horror, fury and more panic as, in trying to find him, Faith realizes she barely knows her husband at all.
With superhuman ability, Myles grounds the wild ride of emotion, intent and event that the plot and its many characters force upon her, making “Keeping Faith” not just eminently watchable but also miraculously relatable.
The landscape is fabulous, though far less moody than in “Hinterland.” The sun actually shines occasionally in this part of Wales, though it does rain enough for Myles to wear an excellent yellow mac that has become a fashion icon in the U.K. and should be one here as well. (Available on Acorn TV.)
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