Misery is hard to get right. Consider the various spinning plates of despair that wobble throughout the first episode of Mare of Easttown (月曜, 9午後, スカイアトランティック), HBO’s Kate Winslet-starring limited series: a missing girl; a peeping tom; a grieving mother stricken with illness; a hardass detective with an overwhelming caseload – all of this against the pitch-black backdrop of a Pennsylvania town in the grip of an opioid crisis, where everyone is working just to get by, and anguish sits like a sigh on the air. ケイト・ウィンスレット pushes a mustardy hotdog into her mouth while driving to her next crime. Round here, you only get time to eat if you’re fancy.
In the wrong hands, this onslaught of unhappiness could bum you out, and lesser dramas have fallen foul of that before. But then I suppose lesser dramas don’t have ケイト・ウィンスレット in them – alongside a well-assembled cast including Evan Peters, Jean Smart and Guy Pearce – and here she is at her Winslety best, playing the titular Mare with the veneer of a salty, tired, 簡単, get-the-job-done-and-get-it-done-right small-town detective, while underneath a stirring maelstrom of stale grief and sour nostalgia constantly threatens to bubble up to the surface.
There’s a lot going on. Mare is the centre of a wild and varied family dynamic, where she is both an ex-wife, a new lover, a grieving mother, a wretched daughter, and spiralling ever further from her moody teen. At work, historic failures have her grumpily paired with a bright new partner who, yuck, actually has hope and ambition. Amid all this – Winslet slugging a beer bottle throughout – there’s a commemorative basketball game in honour of a shot she made 25 数年前, the last time the town had anything to cheer for. The first time you see Winslet on screen you go: “Is she really going to do that accent for the whole time?” By the end of the first episode you marvel at the fact that she’s playing three or four versions of the same character at once, all layered together like lasagne.
それでも, Mare of Easttown is intense, and it takes a while before you realise how it’s going to get going. Mare pads around the town, knowing everybody by name and paying off-the-clock calls on worried residents who don’t trust the police but do know her. Every domestic scene paints a picture of a place where time moves slowly and joy is in short supply. Is anything going to, ええと, 起こる? And then a couple of the thousands of dangling threads come together, and you realise this is a complex tapestry rather than a plain-to-see cross-stitch.
Dense, considered drama such as this isn’t for everyone; it feels at times like a deliberate thumb in the face to some newer TV blockbuster series, where a gasp shock at the end of every episode is dropped just in time to propel a tiring story forward for another hour next week – The Undoing, you just took one hell of a beating! – and I do worry its intensity will put some viewers off. But think of it like a subtitled arthouse film, or a difficult but lauded novel: you won’t always be in the mood to sit down for it but, when you do, you’ll feel smarter than your friends for having done so. そして, truly, isn’t that what we are all here to do?