The Twin Cities area, where I grew up, has Marge Gunderson, the middle-aged female cop heroine ofFargo, the 1996 film about hidden dark criminal elements behind that region’s cheery exterior.
Now, just over 25 years later, Delaware County, Pennsylvania, where I’ve lived for the last 16 years, has its own piece of popular entertainment about murder, mayhem, and other crime, and another middle-aged female cop getting to the bottom of it all.
But the difference is, the Delco of Mare of Easttown has no cheery exterior to speak of. But now that the limited series has wrapped up its season on HBO, Delco has a piece of popular culture to be proud of.
Both Mare of Easttown and Fargo had something else important in common: A strong sense of place. If everything about the plot had been exactly the same but had been set in South Florida, it wouldn’t have been nearly the same show, nor nearly as enjoyable.
In fact, I never particularly cared about the murder mystery plot, nor did I ever attempt to suss out a theory about it. I’m sure there are Reddit forums where that sort of discussion took place, but I never even considered perusing them.
Both Mare of Easttown and Fargo had something else important in common: A strong sense of place
Mare of Easttown, to me, was about the atmosphere, and that sense of place, along with the fine performances by Kate Winslet, Julianne Nicholson, Jean Smart, and the rest of the cast.
Sure, Mare was exactly the stylistic triumph that was Sharp Objects, another HBO show about murders of young women, featuring an actress who’s usually in movies. But I do consider the show to be an all-around success ― one that managed to capture the zeitgeist in a way that few streaming shows have this year.
Overall, Mare of Easttown was a much better pop culture representation of Delaware County than the previous 21st-century champion, the crushingly overrated 2012 movie Silver Linings Playbook. That’s the film where love can cure mental illness, where everyone in the Philly area in the fall of 2008 was obsessed with a mediocre Eagles team instead of the champion Phillies, where Delco men skipped an Eagles game to go to a dance contest, and where Jennifer Lawrence’s character obviously should have been 40 when the actress was 21 at the time.
Mare of Easttown also got a dynamite Saturday Night Live parody (“Murder Durdur”) which was part of the Flowers For Algernon-like instant comedic smartening that SNL experienced once it no longer had to do Trump material every week:
Return of the Kate
Roughly 75 percent of the attention paid to Mare of Easttown had to do with Winslet, her attempts at the Delco accent, and her partaking of such regional delicacies as Wawa hoagies and Yuengling Lager. And while much was made of just how de-glammed Winslet was, there exists a loud coterie online of those who continue to have the hots for Kate-as-Mare.
I was just happy that the show represented a welcome return to cultural centrality for Winslet, who hasn’t been nearly present enough in the last few years. She used to win awards all the time, and I’ve got a feeling that based on this performance, she’s going to again.
Then Came the Thinkpieces
Like any other pop culture phenomenon, some silly stuff has been written about Mare of Easttown. This Slate piece argued that it was unrealistic for no one on the show to ever mention Donald Trump, or wear MAGA hats. That may be true from a realism standpoint, and I did notice that the early scenes in which everyone is mad at the police department didn’t ring true, since, in the parts of Delco that the show is based on, every other house has a “Blue Lives Matter” flag.
That said, a show in which the characters are constantly arguing about national politics would be a show that’s about something different from what Mare of Easttown was about. It just plain wouldn’t have been Mare of Easttown at all. And besides, on a “realistic” Delco show, about 75% of the dialogue would have been characters bitching about Carson Wentz.
As for all the attempts to draw political conclusions about how people vote in Delco, that’s a bit more complicated. Delaware County is a big and populous county, one with fancy parts, middle-class parts, parts that more closely resemble the Easttown of the show, parts even more economically ravaged than that, and also parts where people are constantly complaining in local Facebook groups about any sign that their neighborhood is no longer exactly as it was in 1954.
A state lawmaker, meanwhile, decided to guess how each character on the show would have voted:
Zabel is probably right, although of that 85 percent figure, I’m guessing about half voted for Trump for exactly that reason.
Then there’s this bit of lazy nonsense, from Maureen Dowd, kicking off her interview with Winslet with a list of tiresome Philadelphia clichés that would be embarrassing if a college newspaper wrote it, much less a veteran columnist for The New York Times:
The Future of Mare
Should there be more Mare of Easttown? I’m not totally opposed, if the creators can come up with a good story, one that’s true to the characters. It’s not like it’s based on a self-contained novel or anything. Things will start to get silly if, say, we get to Season 5 and Mare is once again investigating a different dead teenager.