🚨This post contains spoilers for the Mare of Easttown finale. 🚨
There is nothing Hollywood loves more than a hit and this is an industry that has no qualms about sucking a story dry if it is still making money or attracting an audience. Mare of Easttown reached its conclusion on Sunday and it has been a huge hit for HBO. Oscar-winner Kate Winslet is a major selling point but positive word of mouth and the endless theorizing about who did it helped build an audience. In fact, viewing figures tripled from its debut back in April with nearly three million tuning in for the finale — not to mention HBO Max crashed because so many people were trying to use this service to watch the final installment.
As is often the case, when a limited series soars there are questions regarding a potential follow-up, and this is rarely a good idea. HBO has previous experience in this department having successfully won Emmys in the mini-series category in 2017 for Big Little Lies before a second season had been announced. This was a big night for David E. Kelley’s adaptation of Liane Moriarty’s novel of the same name, which won eight awards (including three acting accolades) from 16 nominations. When it entered the drama race in 2020, only five nominations followed with zero wins, and while this isn’t necessarily the only marker for success, not even Meryl Streep could save the lukewarm return to Monterey. Creative differences behind the scenes that saw director Andrea Arnold’s version get wrestled from her control probably played a part in the choppy nature of the narrative. However, this is a cautionary tale as to why sometimes a limited series should remain a self-contained one-off.
Source material can often impact whether there is wiggle room for more and Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale never referred to itself as a mini-series even though the events of Margaret Atwood’s book were covered by the end of Season 1 — Atwood has since gone on to publish a sequel. And while some viewers probably wish it had stopped at this point (because of the relentless misery), the dystopian narrative has found its groove once again in its fourth outing. Meanwhile, Damon Lindelof has so far resisted a follow-up to critical darling Watchmen, which ended on a cliffhanger and was already distanced in space and time from Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s graphic novel. On the other end of the spectrum, while the second season of HBO’s Perry Mason has been delayed (due to the global pandemic) when it debuted it hadn’t been confirmed whether it was a limited outing. The creative team purposefully left it open-ended with plenty of stories left to tell, so the news that we would see Perry (Matthew Rhys) back in the courtroom made sense — the same cannot be said for Mare of Easttown.
The series has made Wawa a household name outside of the East Coast and turned Mare (Winslet) into a surprising style icon via costume designer Meghan Kasperlik’s grounded garment choices, but this doesn’t mean HBO should bring this character back for more crime-solving capers. Unlike the other shows mentioned above, Mare of Easttown is an original story that doesn’t have additional source material as a roadmap for potential sequels. One of the reasons why the idea is being floated is because creator Brad Ingelsby didn’t give an outright no to this question in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter:
“It was written as a limited, and it ends — there’s no more mystery to be solved. Kate and I, if we could crack a story that we were really proud of and felt like it was a deserving second chapter in Mare’s journey, then maybe. I haven’t cracked that yet; I don’t know what that is, honestly. But if there was a world in which we were convinced, this is a continuation of the story that honors the first chapter and does things an audience will appreciate, then maybe. But as of right now, I have no idea what that could be.”
When a series that has been as popular as this one ends with the main character still breathing it is fairly typical to ask the creator whether they would like to pursue this venture. Inglesby’s answer leaves this question open and doesn’t shut down the possibility while speaking to specific creative parameters — it is a pretty lawyerly response. The idea that he has to come up with a story worthy of the characters is somewhat reassuring but I am sure the Big Little Lies team felt similarly after the incredible finale that even director Jean-Marc Vallée thought should and would be the end:
“If there’s an opportunity to reunite with Reese, Nicole and these characters of course, I’ll be a part of it, but Big Little Lies One is a one-time deal. Big Little Lies Two? Nah. The end is for the audience to talk about. Imagine what you want to imagine and that’s it. We won’t give you a season two because it’s so good like this. Why spoil it?”
“Why spoil it?” are words to live by and no matter how great the original experience was, there are diminishing returns when trying to recapture this magic. Mare of Easttown works because it is a fresh take on a familiar narrative that wraps a family story inside a whodunit. Mare is so closed off in the first episode as she refuses to confront her grief about her son’s death and by the end, she ventures up into the attic she hasn’t stepped foot in since finding Kevin’s lifeless body in this space. Not only has she solved Erin McMenamin’s (Cailee Spaeny) murder, but she has also cracked her hardest case — herself. And while this series is one of the year’s best, this doesn’t mean we need more to dilute its impact.
Ingelsby isn’t the only one fielding questions about more Mare and star Kate Winslet clearly relished playing the Easttown detective.“I would absolutely love to play Mare again. I miss her. I really do. It’s the strangest thing. I feel like I’m in mourning,” she told TVLine when asked about a potential Season 2. Nevertheless, just because she relished a role with this many layers doesn’t mean the actress should pick up Mare’s vape once more. Instead, she should bask in the adoration and maybe even consider another TV gig instead.
The richness offered by a limited series is evident in how stacked the Emmy actress race is going to be, and the potential line-up (including Michaela Coel, Anya Taylor-Joy, Elizabeth Olsen, and Thuso Mbedu) is one of the toughest choices for voters. Another lesson to be taken from this is that airing a mystery series weekly allows room for audience growth and discussion that is reduced when all episodes are released at once. Of course, if there was more Mare of Easttown, I would watch (I know I am part of the problem), but as with Erin's murder, this case is closed.
Emma Fraser spends most of her time writing about TV, fashion, and costume design; Dana Scully is the reason she loves a pantsuit. Words can also be found at Vulture, Elle, Primetimer, Collider, Little White Lies, Observer, and Girls on Tops. Emma has a Master’s in Film and Television, started a (defunct) blog that mainly focused on Mad Men in 2010, and has been getting paid to write about TV since 2015. It goes back way further as she got her big start making observations in her diary about My So-Called Life’s Angela Chase (and her style) at 14.
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