Mare of Easttown Ending & Real Killer Identity Explained
Warning: Spoilers for Mare of Easttown's ending below.
has ended, revealing the identity of Erin’s killer and offering resolution for its main character, but what does it all mean? The , from writer Brad Ingelsby and director Craig Zobel, unfolds in the suburbs of Philadelphia and focuses on a detective named Mare Sheehan (Kate Winslet). While trying to keep her personal life from unraveling, due to a recent divorce and losing her son to suicide, Mare spends the bulk of the limited series investigating the murder of local teenage girl Erin McMenamin (Cailee Spaeny).
Given that Mare has been criticized by the Easttown community for failing to solve the disappearance of another teen girl, Katie Bailey (Caitlin Houlahan) for over a year, county detective Colin Zabel () is assigned to help Mare in the case of Erin’s murder. As it approached the end of its seven-episode run, Mare of Easttown revealed the truth behind Katie’s kidnapping. But several questions remained regarding what happened to Erin on the night that she was killed and what might have led up to it, with each episode offering several potential suspects and seemingly ruling out others. There was also the outstanding question of who was the real father to DJ, Erin’s one-year-old boy, and whether that person harmed Erin to keep his secret under wraps.
Beyond its has also examined Mare’s trauma and the immense reluctance she feels in terms of confronting her grief. The character throws herself into work, with occasionally tragic results, partially to avoid dealing with her own hardships. The finale provides some hope for its protagonist, while also making clear that she still has a difficult road ahead. Here’s everything that happens in Mare of Easttown’s last episode, and what it all means.
Mare of Easttown’s finale appears, initially at least, to quickly reveal its killer. Picking up from where the previous episode left off, with Mare arriving at the Ross family fishing retreat just as it looks like John (Joe Tippett) might shoot Billy (Robbie Tann). Mare prevents the situation from escalating further and, in a subsequent scene, . John claims that when Erin threatened to reveal that he was the biological father of DJ, he shot her. However, given that the confession happens mere minutes into the episode, the stage is set for another reveal.
Throughout the finale, Mare pieces together details that don’t add up regarding John’s confession. This culminates when she discovers that it was Ryan Ross (Cameron Mann), the young son of John and Lori, who shot Erin. Ryan confirms this at the police station, voluntarily explaining that he hadn’t meant to kill anyone and that it was an accident. He had only meant to scare Erin using a stolen gun, he says, in the hopes of getting her to cut off communication with John. However, as Erin attempted to wrestle the gun away from Ryan, he panicked and pulled the trigger.
The last time John engaged in an extramarital affair, it nearly resulted in Lori (Julianne Nicholson) and John splitting up. Ryan was fearful that the divorce would be inevitable if the truth about Erin were to come out. The fact that Ryan killed Erin matches with small hints that have been established throughout the series, as the camera would occasionally linger on the character when Erin’s death was discussed.
John Ross is revealed as the biological father of DJ. Mare of Easttown’s finale explains that, building on what was previously established. John’s affair with began at the Ross family reunion, though he insists it wasn’t merely a sexual relationship and that they had a real connection. Regardless of his claims, the fact remains that he and Lori were content to let Billy take the fall for incest and murder in order to protect their son and their reputations.
What’s interesting is that, at least to some extent, Billy appeared willing in the penultimate episode to confess to crimes he didn’t commit. It’s only when Mare arrives at the fishing retreat, in the finale, that he professes his innocence. This falls in line with one of the themes in Mare of Easttown, which has explored the solidarity small-town communities and families build in difficult situations. This solidarity and community are largely positive, but they can also have real and deleterious results. Billy is someone who believes that he doesn’t have a lot of prospects and appears tempted to throw his life away after some bullying by his older brother. This illustrates that the dark side that accompanies the pull of familial responsibility.
As for the rest of the Ross family, the reveal of John as DJ’s father leaves Lori in an unenviable situation. Though she embraces her role as DJ’s mother, both her son and her husband are behind bars. This quietly, but powerfully, illustrates the cost of John’s indiscretions. His decision to begin the affair, and carry on with it well after the initial incident, led to irrevocable losses that reverberate throughout Easttown.
In Mare of Easttown's ending, it's revealed that Dylan and Jess’ secret is a photograph of Erin in bed with John. As explained by Jess (Ruby Cruz), she kept the photo hidden and even agreed to help in destroying Erin’s journals for two reasons: She believed Erin wouldn’t have wanted the truth about John to be known. The other reason, which implicates Dylan (Jack Mulhern), the assumed father of DJ, is that Dylan’s parents wanted to maintain custody of DJ. They are no longer able to, once John admits that he’s DJ’s real father.
Of everything that occurs in the Mare of Easttown finale, this development might understandably strike viewers as the most contrived. In the penultimate episode, Dylan chases Jess like a horror movie villain and pulls a gun on her as a threat if she goes to the police with the John & Erin photo. He speaks of their secret in grave and serious tones, which contradicts their very understandable and even sympathetic motivations. The finale makes clear that, for all his considerable faults, Dylan only wanted what he believed was best for DJ. In the same vein, Jess is motivated by a desire to honor her best friend. The fact that their secret was depicted so sinisterly for a few episodes could boil down to the need to ramp up a mystery, but it also connects to the larger theme of everyone in Easttown instinctively guarding their secrets when coming clean would be simpler in the long haul.
Ingelsby, who wrote all seven episodes of the limited series, has noted that the crime drama aspects are not . In an interview with , Ingelsby stressed: “This is a show that isn’t necessarily about the procedural elements — that we have them, they’re a part of it, but it’s a show about a family and a woman who has to confront this grief.” Mare’s unwillingness to directly face the tragedy she’s endured has been a recurring thread throughout the show, beginning with the premiere and continuing from there. Mare’s ex-husband Frank (David Denman) yells, in one episode, that Mare can’t bring herself to talk about their son’s suicide. In episode 6, Mare’s daughter Siobhan (Angourie Rice) makes the same point and it becomes evident that the shared silence has taken a toll on the family.
However, Mare isn’t especially unique in her tendency to defer when it comes to painful memories. She reveals during a mandatory therapy session that her father, also a police officer, would struggle with bouts of depression. Rather than addressing the problem directly, Mare’s mother Helen (Jean Smart) would opt to send her husband away until he felt better enough to return home. This approach fell short, Mare reveals, as her father ultimately took his own life. It’s a cycle of avoidance, of clamping up and deflecting, that Mare tries to break by the end of the series with the help of therapy sessions.
It’s a problem that permeates almost . It’s there when John expects Billy to keep his secret. It’s there again when Lori wavers on whether she should divulge information pertinent to Erin’s case. It’s present even in lighter moments, such as when a minor character confesses at his wife’s wake that he’d been having an affair. It’s a comedic scene, but it serves to illustrate that just about everyone in Easttown has some sort of secret or sadness that they fight to hold onto. They do so often for the sake of keeping the peace, for maintaining amicable or at least functional relationships. But the tendency towards silence lingers and slowly destructs.
The series ends on an optimistic note, at least as it relates to Mare. She mends her strained relationships with Lori, Siobhan, and Helen, with the latter apologizing for her shortcomings as a mother. Mare also takes the big step, in the finale’s closing scene, of going up to the attic where her son hanged himself. It indicates that, although her healing isn’t complete and may likely never be complete, she’s open to moving beyond the pain of what happened to her.
Still, not everyone is so lucky. Erin wasn’t so lucky. In an almost throwaway scene, which goes mostly unremarked upon, it’s acknowledged that it was well-known Erin’s father was abusive to her. No one said anything, out of a desire to keep the peace and maintain normalcy. But perhaps if they had, Erin would have felt supported and loved and would have been able to move past her trauma without falling for John’s manipulations. Mare of Easttown makes painfully clear that it’s too late to fix that particular tragedy. But, maybe, for the rest of the small town’s residents, they’ll follow Mare’s example of leaving destructive patterns behind.