Oscar-winning actresses Kate Winslet and Nicole Kidman star in two provocative murder mystery dramas: Mare of Easttown and The Undoing.
It’s been the trend for movie legends to lend their superstar wattage and award-wining acting prowess to the small screen. That way, they can star in top-rating and critically acclaimed limited series, too. Kate Winslet and Nicole Kidman are notable examples, with HBO Original’s two riveting murder mystery dramas—Mare of Easttown and The Undoing, respectively.
Both dramas have central themes of crime and murder and both unpack the unraveling of two very different female archetypes. But one examines the painstaking process of rebuilding life, while the other shows the descent of falling from grace.
Mare of Easttown: the Exposition
Crime brings out the innate evil among us and investigating it forces us to face the ills of the heart. And even more so for the one who is tasked to find the answers and deliver justice. Oscar and Emmy-winning actress Kate Winslet is Mare Sheehan, a police detective in a small town called Easttown, Pennsylvania where everyone seems to be connected and most of them, even related.
The already bleak town is reeling from the disappearance of a teenage mother. And is once again stricken by the shocking murder of another teenage mother—innocent but troubled Erin McMenamin. Mare is the lead detective on the case and aside from the unsolved disappearance, she has to find Erin’s murderer. This is on top of her dealing with the suicide of her only son, her divorce from her husband, and the custody battle for her grandson against his drug-addicted mother.
That is a lot to unpack in terms of dissecting and piecing together a character. But if there’s one actress who can tackle it quite ably, it’s Kate Winslet.
A Character Study on Mare
Mare is dressed down—frumpy, unkempt, and devoid of any sophistication in this role. She is a character study of personal grief as she deals with the grief of everyone around her. This includes her daughter and her best friend named Lori Ross—quietly and vulnerably played by Julianne Nicholson.
But even though she has let herself go, she has managed to attract the attention of two very worthy men: novelist and professor Richard Ryan played by Guy Pearce, and county detective Colin Zabel played by Evan Peters. Romance is the farthest thing from Mare’s mind and these two characters show how she’s very closed off to the idea of love because it has betrayed her so many times in the past.
Thus, she focuses her energies on balancing relationships around her and the pressure to solve the crimes that have fallen on her shoulders. Even with all these, Mare is trying to hold on to the things she has left in her life. These include her love-hate relationship with her mother, her volatile relationship with her daughter, and her only remaining friend, Lori.
But as the case unfolds, Mare discovers details that may incriminate her ex-husband, beloved members of the town, and even the loved ones of her best friend. This is on top of her being forced to deal with her own grief and fallibility.
Disappearances and Twists
Things heighten when a third girl disappears under her watch and the seemingly related cases are actually two different ones. With everything happening in Mare’s life, she now also deals with two separate cases—two disappearances and one murder to solve. But while she works on it herself, details about the case slowly become clear. And thus, she solves one case at a great cost and another with an even greater cost.
The wild goose chase sends the viewer into the complex understanding of how a crime not only destroys lives; it also destroys communities. And the quest for true justice is sometimes at the expense of personal relationships.
The shocking double twist, in the end, jolts you back into thinking that this is a murder mystery. That is, just when you think you’re already heavily invested in a family drama. It brilliantly brings you into the intricately weaved web of relationships. And then, it makes you question your own disposition on family when tested in the context of justice.
Overall Thoughts on Mare of Easttown
Just when you think you’ve correctly predicted who the killer is, you are presented with more details to derail you. Then you wish that you didn’t become attached the characters, especially when they’re ultimately unmasked as the murderer.
In all this, Mare is the one who tries to hold the town together as life crumbles around her. And this is the gift that Kate Winslet gives to Mare of Easttown. She gives it a solid story—weaving in all the emotional wounds that plague for life along with the capacity of human nature to heal when you help others find their own healing.
I highly recommend this piece of cinema. What a great character study in grief! This is for anyone who has had to face loss. And that is all of us.
The Undoing, Explained
Time and again, fiction reminds us about the many repercussions and consequences of an affair. It has been told in so many ways. And it’s really a challenge to present itself as something new and totally unexpected.
Here, Nicole Kidman plays clinical psychologist Grace Fraser, who has a reputation for helping her patients deal with the kinks in their marriage. Unbeknownst to her, however, her own marriage to child oncologist Dr. Jonathan Fraser (Hugh Grant) is about to go down in murder.
Grace is a perfectly put-together Upper East Side wife and professional. She’s a New York private school parent, and she is among the nicest women of society. But deep inside, Grace is suffocating in her perfect, privileged life. You feel this most especially when her character is shown walking around the city in solitude. Little does she know that when a young mother with a son on scholarship—Elena Alves (Matilda De Angelis)—walks into her life, hers begins to come undone.
Yes, Elena zeroes in on Grace and bares herself (figuratively and literally) to her. And being the kind-natured and empathetic person that she is, she extends her hand to her.
A Perfect Life Coming Apart
Her perfect life starts to unravel when her husband, Jonathan goes missing when Elena’s gruesomely murdered body is discovered. Grace is then hounded by authorities because these two incidents turn out to be related. It’s also revealed to Grace that her husband of 14 years was having an affair with the murdered woman, making him the prime suspect.
Grace then strives to understand how she wasn’t able to see the secrets her husband was hiding. At the same time, she had to protect their son from a highly publicized murder trial.
When Jonathan resurfaces, Grace is forced to take a look at him beyond the lenses of how she looked at him throughout their marriage. In all this, what remains is her love for him. And as she makes a decision to stand by her husband—who insists he did not kill Elena—she is forced to reexamine her life and look at how one murder can change its entire course.
Thoughts on The Undoing
The show makes you think that it’s a murder mystery case of “who done it”. Especially since it’s a psychological drama involving two great character studies of narcissism and confirmation bias. It then ceases to become just an affair story complicated by murder.
In fact, it becomes an introspection of the self. Why are we attracted to the people we are attracted to and how do we fail to see them as infallible and deeply flawed? Seeing a person truthfully is not only masked by the love we feel for them but mostly about how we’re built by the traumas in our childhood.
The Undoing is not just a nail-biting thriller. It’s a profoundly intelligent and emotional touchstone on what makes all of us imperfect—even for those with seemingly perfect lives.
I strongly recommend this series as well. It makes you want to have a deeper understanding of the people we choose to love, what we can conceal for them, and reveal about them when we are betrayed against our best judgment.
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