Ah, what a journey Mare of Easttown has been: from the very first moments, when I realized this wasn’t a show about a horse, to that lingering shot of Mare unwrapping a hoagie, to every time the dulcet tones of Kate Winslet’s Delco accent rang in our ears. Go ahead and take a joyless drag out of your vape in her honor.
In the finale, Mare, a beleaguered detective with a messy home life, solves the murder of local teen mom Erin. Let’s quickly recap how it went down. We start the episode knowing that Billy Ross—brother to John Ross, who is married to Mare’s lifelong best friend Lori—has privately and tearfully confessed to John that he’s Erin’s killer. But Erin’s best friend, Jess, heads over to the police station and turns over an intimate photo of Erin and John Ross, who are niece and uncle, together in bed. Turns out he was actually the secret father of Erin’s baby. Mare apprehends John and he confesses and gets hauled off to jail. The end! Or is it? (No.)
Mare stops at local widower Glen Carroll’s place on a routine call. Things around the house keep disappearing, like his Eagles cup. (Props to the writers’ room for riding the Philly bit all the way to the end.) More importantly, his gun was lifted from the shed out back and then returned with two bullets missing. Mare asks who has access to the shed and Glen says it’s just him and the kid who mows his lawn: that would be Ryan Ross, John and Lori’s 13-year-old son. She checks the camera system and finds footage of Ryan pilfering the gun from the shed the night of Erin’s murder. Mare arrests the boy and he admits to accidentally killing Erin after finding out about his dad and her. Ryan lured Erin to the park late at night with the intention of scaring her enough that she would stay away from his family, but shot her in an ensuing struggle. John and Billy took care of the body, while Lori knew as of episode six and was hiding it from Mare. Oh, and the Guy Pearce character gets a teaching job at Bates. Good for him.
This twist has been an increasingly popular fan theory and was obviously not as far-fetched or logistically impossible as some believed. Plus, it adheres to the classic crime drama rule that the killer is probably much closer than you think.
Here, let’s review the clues that pointed to this ending the whole time.
We knew young ne’er-do-well teen Dylan was not the real father of Erin’s baby starting from episode two, when Jess says that Erin confided that much in her. She went over to Lori and John’s house to tell Lori that she suspected that the real father was Mare’s ex-husband, Frank—though it’s reasonable to wonder if Jess knew it was John after all and chickened out about telling Lori at the last moment. This suspicion kept building as we learned that John had a history of adulterous behavior and that Ryan was especially affected by it. By episode four, DNA tests establish that Dylan and Frank are both definitely not the father.
Also in that episode, Mare is searching Erin’s room when she finds a heart-shaped necklace engraved with an inscription: 5.29.17. This comes up again in episode six, when Mare realizes that it’s the same date as the big Ross family reunion, which Erin, Billy, and John all attended. When Mare goes to the local jewelry store to try to track down its provenance, she learns that it was purchased by a Ross.
And when John moves in with his father and brother in episode six, Billy explodes, saying “you made a mess of your life because you couldn’t keep your dick in your fucking pants.” He’s not wrong!
Although Ryan was a relatively minor presence throughout the series, he was a regularly unsettled one.
In episode two, Deacon Mark is preaching to the congregation and the camera pans to pretty much every single character. (We get it, we’re in a small town.) When it gets to Ryan, he looks deep in thought, almost guilt-ridden. I mean, more so than your average Catholic.
By episode four, the murder (as well as another, unrelated disappearance of a local girl) are on the news. Ryan comes into his parents’ bedroom as they’re watching and asks, rather tensely, “what are they saying now?” John responds, “just everybody needs to be careful, bud.”
Episode five contains the most breadcrumbs. For starters, Lori walks by Ryan’s bedroom at night. As she hangs out in the doorway, she sees Ryan sitting on the edge of his bed with his head hanging down. His father is kneeling beside him and comforting him, saying “it’s our secret, right? Only us.” “Mhmm,” Ryan mumbles back. Later on, all the Rosses are at Mare’s house one evening. The adults are in the living room and Lori mentions that Erin’s dad asked them to take in her baby. At that point, Ryan, who is seated at the nearby kitchen table, quickly looks over, concerned.
Soon after comes Ryan’s biggest scene in the series until the finale. After a fellow student at school taunts his younger sister, who has Down syndrome, Ryan rushes over and starts savagely beating the bully with a lunch tray. When Lori picks Ryan up, he breaks down crying and nods yes when she asks if John is having an affair again with the same woman as before. In retrospect, the outburst could definitely be chalked up to the secret he was carrying.