This article contains some spoilers for Mare of Easttown’s first six episodes.
You don’t need me to tell you that Mare of Easttown – the HBO limited series starring Kate Winslet as A Person Who Has Suffered – is good.
While the show occasionally gets bogged down by the sheer amount of terrible shit going on (that child did not need to lie face down in the bath, my god), it has generally been lauded by both fans and critics. Praise has come in particular for Mare’s winding and unpredictable “whodunnit” plot, its realistic representation of the consequences of the opiate epidemic in the US, and for Winslet’s performance, into which the prim period drama actress from Reading entirely disappears, offering viewers a fully realised portrait of a troubled detective and mother in the Philadelphia suburbs.
However, Winslet’s turn doesn’t come in a vacuum. She’s surrounded by a bunch of great supporting players.
There’s Jean Smart, who is funny and lived-in as Mare’s mother, Helen (pro tip: if you like her in this, make a beeline for HBO Max’s Hacks, where Smart takes the lead role as a Vegas stand-up comic á la Joan Rivers); Joe Tippett, who is untrustworthy as fuck in the role of the BDWSH (Bearded Dad With Something to Hide), John Ross; and Evan Peters, who offered levity and brightness as Mare’s doomed colleague Detective Colin Zabel (RIP my beautiful boy).
All of these performers – and many of the others in the show – bring richness to the tapestry swaddling Winslet’s cantankerous Mare. But there’s one supporting actress who is head and shoulders above the rest – and, so far, has been criminally undersung.
I’m talking about the vape. Mare’s vape. Mare huffs on that vape morning ‘til night. She vapes when she is angry; she vapes when she is sad; she vapes when she is pensive. We do not know if she vapes when she is happy, because she is never happy.
What we do know is that the vape is a steady foil to Mare in moments where she is at her most heightened, grounding her in the scene – as all the best supporting performers are able to do – even as she rips fat clouds.
In all seriousness, Mare’s vape is perfectly placed because it tells us so much about her. The model she uses is on the chunkier side – it’s not one of those things that look like an oxygen tank, but it’s not tiny either – indicating that it’s an older vape pen, rather than anything new-fangled (can’t you imagine Mare’s daughter Siobhan buying her a Juul for Christmas, only for it to get lost down the side of the sofa after, like, a day?). This suggests Mare was an early vape adopter, and has stuck with her trusty original model over the years.
We also know that Mare used to smoke (she has a cigarette once during the series, which gives a fine performance, but it’s no vape). We can infer, then, that she possibly switched to vaping as a less harmful alternative as she got older, maybe because of her responsibilities as a caregiver for her grandson. And in terms of the vape itself, it’s fair to say that, aesthetically, a bulkier vape tends to be the preferred model among the middle aged community – to me, it occupies the same mental space as those folding leather iPhone cases that literally only parents use – and, as such, it makes total sense for Mare.
The vape in Mare of Easttown is one of those perfectly well thought out touches that make characters on TV feel real and properly observed – Carmela Soprano’s acrylic nails are another good example. While the vape adds absolutely nothing at all to the story, it’s a great way to communicate exactly who Mare is without having to say anything else.
Fundamentally, it just feels right that this bottle beer drinkin’, flannel wearin’, hoagie eatin’ detective would require an emotional support vape. Flavour-wise, I’m going to conjecture that someone who self-flagellates as much as Mare would only ever smoke menthol.