Mare of Easttown has had a slew of memorable moments, but when a character was killed in episode 5, it was shocking. Here’s why the show had to do it.
Mare of Easttown has had plenty of unexpected and memorable moments, but why did the show kill off Colin Zabel in episode 5? The HBO limited series mainly follows Mare Sheehan (Kate Winslet), a small-town Pennsylvania detective, and her family as she investigates a local murder. Another young woman from the area has been missing for some time without any leads. So when the teen girl’s body is found by a creek, the pressure on law enforcement – particularly Mare – only intensifies.
Colin Zabel (Evan Peters), a younger detective on the force, is brought in to assist her. He’s become a murder case-solving hotshot within the state after discovering the killer of a young girl in another nearby town. Over time, his wholesome, likable nature becomes as apparent to Mare as it is to viewers. But Mare of Easttown takes a jarring turn in episode 5, when Zabel is suddenly shot in the forehead and killed while the two detectives are questioning a possible suspect – who is, in fact, a criminal they’re looking for.
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The unforeseen character death has left fans rattled. But, given the nature of the show and where it seems to be going, it had to happen. For Mare, watching Zabel die right next to her (followed by her tension-riddled, Silence of the Lambs-esque showdown with the kidnapper) is just another trauma to add to the list she’s only beginning to unpack. Her father died by suicide when she was in her early teens and her son also took his own life around two years prior to the show’s crime drama timeline kicking in. Her marriage fell apart, most likely due in part to her son’s death, and it’s looking as though she may lose custody of her grandson. Losing Zabel, especially after the two begin to develop some real chemistry, is another reminder that this isn’t a show with a happy ending.
Mare of Easttown is a realistic series that deals with crime, violence, mental health conditions, suicide, general loss, and bad things happening to good people. Even if the titular main character can track down the person/people responsible for the local kidnappings and murder, she still has no resolution for the damage done to the victims, the untimely death of her own son, or the dissolution of the family she once had. And it’s even more tragic that Zabel’s life is taken right as he’s trying to make strides in what he believes to be the right direction. He’s romantically pursuing Mare and leaning into a murder/kidnapping case that could, in his mind, redeem him for the sins of his past (he took the credit for solving his past, high-profile case, but wasn’t actually the one to crack it). He’s also expressed dissatisfaction with his life to different characters, a void that he never saw coming. Now, he’s a true hero and he doesn’t even get to savor it.
Brad Ingelsby, the series’ showrunner, told TV Insider regarding Zabel’s death and Mare’s showdown, “[y]es, she saved the girls, but here’s Zabel, dead, and anyone could make a case. They’d [her bosses and colleagues] go, ‘If you weren’t tracking down these tips, he would never have been there.’ And so I think it’s a moment where Mare has to reevaluate her way of acting and behaving.” In a dark and twisty murder drama like Mare of Easttown, even moments of catharsis and overall good deeds can’t absolve characters of their behavior or resolve wounds or themes that will always exist within the show’s universe.
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