Anger in Easttown

Robert Hubbard

When does anger, even righteous anger, destroy us? How do we overcome it?

Detective Mare Sheehan (Kate Winslet), the title character of HBO’s gritty and powerful limited series Mare of Easttown, has a lot to be angry about. Her ex-husband recently moved in next door with his younger fiancé. She verbally spars with her live-in mother on a daily basis. One of her oldest friends persistently and publicly attacks Mare for failing to solve a missing-person case. Her estranged daughter-in-law, a recovering drug addict, sues for custody of Mare’s grandson.

Gradually, we learn the deeply buried root cause of Mare’s anger: the suicide of her adult son, Kevin. Anger over this seemingly unavoidable act simmers within Mare, poisoning her slowly with grief-fueled indignation. A decade-old home video reveals a young Kevin frolicking on a beach with all the wonderful zeal of boyhood. Through clenched conversations with Mare’s ex-husband (David Denman), we learn about Kevin’s pre-adolescent diagnosis with Tourette syndrome and his later, increasingly unmanageable teenage descent into anxiety and depression. We then painfully flash back to an adult Kevin (Cody Kostro), by now a meth addict, frenetically berating his helpless mother for not giving him drug money. When later forced to seek therapy by her employer, Mare reluctantly reveals that both her father and her son killed themselves. We therefore fear alongside Mare when her adorable grandson begins to show the same traits as his deceased father. Will this terrible cycle continue?

As the series progresses, viewers increasingly understand the source of Mare’s righteous anger and her open disdain for God and the world. Winslet is marvelously surly as the disheveled Mare, who perpetually sucks on a vape stick, drinks too much, and scowls at her unearned misfortune. She presses on, yes, but under a gloomy burden that most of us could never fully comprehend. She has every right to be angry.

In his letter to the Ephesians, the Apostle Paul warns, “‘In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” Paul’s difficult-to-follow advice accurately portrays anger as a legitimate yet corrosive force. Mare of Easttown unflinchingly shows these bleak truths in practice.

In a foreboding scene in the third episode, Mare sullenly drinks alone in a crowded bar. Her naive and newly assigned partner, Detective Colin Zabel (Evan Peters), stumbles—literally—upon her. Awkward yet endearing, the inebriated Colin tries to connect with his antisocial partner, whom he may be a little sweet on. Forced to interact, Mare tells him, “I’m trying to drink away a bad thought.” Before Colin mercifully leaves Mare alone, he innocently asks, “Hey, did I talk you out of that bad thought?” He did not, and the devil clearly found a foothold. Without providing specific spoilers, Mare commits a vengeful and illegal act so brazen, it threatens to destroy her career, her family, and more. As Ephesians warns, Mare’s unchecked anger devolves into a sinful and destructive hate.

Mare has every right to be angry.

And yet, hope may still abide somewhere for Mare. Despite her sulking anger, the fruit of love lingers within her. Through her dark moods, she still tries to be a good mom, a grandma, and a detective. Mare knows everyone in her economically distressed Philadelphia suburb. She struggles tirelessly to look after them. As a detective, she often bends rules to help the neglected and forsaken, showing kindness to a local drug addict and to a harmless prankster teenager. By the fifth episode, Mare begrudgingly attends mandated mental health therapy; by episode six, she even shows signs to her therapist of wanting to lay down her weary burden.

The biblical antidote for hate is of course love. Once again, Paul provides an essential insight, this time in 1 Corinthians: “Love does not get angry. Love does not remember the suffering that comes from being hurt by someone.” One of the Bible’s greatest hits, this famous explanation of love offers counsel to Mare and to all of us who righteously struggle with anger.

I am one of those people, as my wife and I share a terrible fate with Mare: we recently lost a son to suicide. After watching the first two episodes of Mare of Easttown, my frank and honest spouse confided to me that she was jealous of Mare. Mare, you see, unashamedly displays her righteous anger to the oblivious world, something we both secretly fantasize doing during weak moments.

Thankfully, my wife’s admiration for Mare soon transformed into something else. Just a week later, she shared a new, wiser revelation that she experienced after reluctantly attending a Bible study organized by a persistent coworker. After mulling over Ephesians 4:31-32 with her Bible study group, my wife realized the futility of fervently embracing Mare’s “bitterness, rage, and anger.” “It’s pretty clear that I’m going to have to forgive everyone, including myself and God,” my wife admitted. “Anger doesn’t help.”

In anticipation of the season finale of Mare of Easttown this Sunday, may we all learn to recognize our anger without sacrificing our compassion—to forgive, as Christ forgave us. And, when facing this seemingly impossible task, may we take comfort in the knowledge that, as the maker of all things new, Christ ultimately holds the power to transform our anger into love.

Topics: TV