A blackout ushers in this week's episode, 'Illusions', which is just the kind of heavy-handed metaphor this show can somehow get away with because, after all, we've all essentially been in the dark for four episodes. A little heavy-handed metaphor from us there, gratis.
The blackout's cause and victim is Betty Carol who, lest we forget, is the woman who first called Mare about the neighbourhood prowler. The Peeping Tom incident resulted in Betty being targeted for trying to report him, and now she's dead? Maybe the heart attack at the wheel rules out it being suspicious but keep that tab open for now.
Meanwhile, with the lights back on, Mare is doing exactly what she promised her therapist would never happen and getting to a breakthrough moment in her counselling sessions. Stumbling across Siobhan's video about Jamie seems to have awakened something in her, and she admits to tinges of post-natal depression in the past and talks about her father's suicide. There's a new side to Mare in this episode, neither using humour to deflect from her emotions nor shutting down the chance to emotionally grow, but these kind of warm and fuzzy moments in an HBO show usually preclude something bad happening.
We circle back, as they say, to Erin's death and the bombshell discovery that Billy took Erin in for a while and had her living in his basement. Talk about burying the lede Billy. Distracted by seeing her husband talk their son into keeping a secret, Lori then watches him shrug off the way Erin's father abused her by suggesting it wasn't anything serious. It must be said that Mare's happiness on her own is making a lot more sense based on the quality of men in Easttown. After lying about how long Erin stayed with him, Billy makes one of television's most suspicious exits and, judging by the way Mare eyes up the fresh Rolling Rock he leaves on the table, she knows something is up.
Dylan and Brianna are reunited and having a miserable time. After the charges brought against her she won't be going to college, and it's a testament to the writing on the show that her talking about going to beauty school and doing make-up for rich people feels pretty tragic given how vile she has been. This interaction gives way to another revelation in that Dylan disappeared the morning after Erin was killed. Just when you think you've ruled someone out, they go and surprise you. Later we see Dylan is in cahoots with Erin's best friend Jess, not one we had on our bingo card, and they get together to burn Erin's real notebooks, which were kept hidden from Mare.
If your head is spinning you're not alone. Mare of Easttown likes to pack in the whiplash twists and this week has so much going on. We pick up again on Lori's husbands secret as her son breaks the news of a resurfaced affair with "the same woman as before". At first this teased that there might be some connection to the missing girls, but as he packs his bag and heads off it feels like the decoy of yet another bad man.
Mare feigns interest in Detective Zabel and accompanies him on a truly bad date in which he utters the line, "I was watching this food show and the guy was eating food". Mare is only there for the case and it's hard not to sympathise with her for that reason given this terrible table talk. After blowing him off they later reunite by the water, where emotional chats can really flourish, and he admits that he didn't solve the case he is famous for, but instead got a tip off from a drunk ex-cop. After a great Mare line – "doing something great is overrated" – they finally kiss, which is choreographed to capture the not-quite attraction between them.
Zabel feels a little like Reese Witherspoon's character Madeline's husband Ed on Big Little Lies, in that he's just weedy and annoying enough to make you doubt the attraction between them. The problem with that is that it's hard to root for them when you can feel the doubt surfacing so often. Still, sometimes romance isn't being swept off your feet, and we salute the honesty in recognising that.
In a scene that feels quite end-tying, Deacon Mark admits he was with Erin the night she disappeared and accounts for why he has her bike. "If I said no would you believe me?" he asks, citing his history with an underage girl. It feels a little bit like we're meant to feel for this guy, especially after we see him beaten up by some Easttown youths, but getting involved with a minor makes that somewhat difficult, even if he's innocent in this instance.
Mare and Detective Zabel are narrowing in on a vehicle which they hope will lead them to the missing girls, and after some door knocking they come across a shady guy who has the exact cigarettes which one girl tipped them off about. The detectives can hear the rattling and clanging of Katie and Missy upstairs, who, aware that their captor didn't tie them up, know he wasn't expecting visitors. What ensues is a breathless cat and mouse game in which Zabel ends up shot and Mare sneaks out from hiding to take the abductor down.
It is an unexpectedly finale-like closing to the episode given that there are two more to come, which might just mean that the abducted girls don't answer every question we have. As for the many men we have been suspicious of, were they just illusions, as the episode title suggests, intended to distract us?
As Mare sits panting and bleeding on the kitchen floor, with a possibly dead Zabel across the room from her, she hears memories of her son Jamie in a hint at the catharsis she feels at being able to save someone else's children, even if she couldn't save her own.
Leads gone cold:
Number one suspect: Our weekly ranking feels thwarted thanks to the very concrete evidence that we have our guy, but who else was involved that we don't know about yet? Should we read anything into Richard's disappearance in this week's episode? Yes, maybe we just have it in for him.
Mare laughing at her mother's affair being outed at a funeral is truly the most joyful we have seen her.
While the man responsible for abducting Katie and Missy has been found, there's no evidence yet that Erin's killer isn't a different person and someone we know. After all, Erin was killed and not abducted like the other girls. The answer might lie in Dylan's suspicious book burning, and the scrap of paper Jess kept before burning her diaries.
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