THE SCENE: MARE OF EASTTOWN SEASON ONE, EPISODE THREE
At almost exactly the halfway mark of Mare of Easttown, the first of several curveballs in this twisty whodunit comes hurtling at Kate Winslet’s Detective Mare Sheehan. Sitting at a local bar and on the verge of making a potentially life-ruining decision, Mare runs into her new young partner, Detective Colin Zabel (Evan Peters), who is three sheets to the wind after his own no good, very bad high school reunion. Their exchange lasts less than five minutes, but during that time Winslet generously lets Peters snatch the spotlight as Zabel runs the full drunken gamut of despair, sarcastic humor, and unsubtle flirtation.
It’s a pivotal scene for the series, both setting up Zabel’s arc and establishing him as a viable romantic interest—at least in his mind—for Mare. It’s also a scene that transformed significantly as series director Craig Zobel and Peters worked on it. The duo decided that the character of Zabel, written as a brash hotshot with a lot of swagger, would work better as a troubled young man plagued with imposter syndrome and a big secret to keep. The idea behind this scene, then, was to show Zabel at his most appealingly vulnerable while signaling some chaotic turmoil lurking behind his buttoned-down demeanor. It was also crucial in landing the emotional impact of what happens with Zabel in a later episode.
This deep dive focuses mainly on episode three, but contains some discussion of the rest of the series. If you’re not all caught up on what happens to Mare, Zabel, etc., proceed with caution.
How It Started
When series creator Brad Ingelsby wrote this scene, he always intended for it to be Zabel’s entry into Mare’s romantic sphere. But the approach changed dramatically when Craig Zobel took over for departing series director Gavin O’Connor, and was interested in a different angle on the Evan Peters character. Zobel was tasked with somewhat reinventing the series while still incorporating the footage Hood had already shot from multiple episodes. It was an unenviable task. “I wanted to do some things differently, but I wanted to make sure [it matched] the stuff that already existed so that we’re in the same world,” Zobel says. One opportunity he may have seen was in the reinvention of Colin Zabel.
There’s still some lingering evidence of the original Zabel concept in Peters’s wardrobe. The nice shirts and slick overcoat were meant for the flashier version of the character, the one Peters took pool lessons in order to play. “But the more we did it,” Peters says, “I mean, he’s living with his mom. He’s kind of stuck and stunted and trapped.” The nice clothes, then, just became another brick in the imposter syndrome wall Zabel constructed around himself.
This new, more anxious version of the character they constructed, though, might not have boldly sauntered up to Mare at the bar without even more liquid courage sloshing around inside him than was written on the page. Zobel is not only carrying insecurities about this new case, he’s also burying the secret that he took credit for another investigator’s work on his last one.
“Craig and I met to talk about Zabel and this is a scene that came up,” Peters says. “I said, I think he should be shitcanned. He has so much that he’s hiding. He seems like he has it all together. By the time you find out in [episode] five that he’s been carrying this thing this whole time, you want to see him at the bar and go, man, there’s something behind this.” Peters’s own insecurity about portraying this new, more emotionally chaotic Zabel, served as added fuel to the scene.
Setting the Scene
Peters, Winslet, and Zobel shot the bar interaction at the beginning of the day, at around 8 a.m. or 9 a.m.. Though Peters jokingly cites his own 20s spent “blowing [his] brains out” with substances as solid research for playing drunk, he was given a little early morning help: “When I was taking the shots on the scene, I was doing apple cider vinegar. It has a very acidic, strange taste to it. But if you drink enough of it, it starts to taste good. So it sounds very similar to booze to me.” Peters isn’t sure if it was the vinegar that reddened his face and made his veins pop out though: “I guess that sort of happens when I get intense or emotional. Veins popping out of my freaking head.”
Peters also leaned heavily on long nights spent with his own brother, Andrew Peters, in order to nail Zabel’s chaotic yet charismatic journey through a drunken bender. “My brother is absolutely hilarious when he drinks,” Peters says. “He’s a very sort of dry, quiet man but once he starts knocking back a few, he is just ripping up the dance floor.… I channeled him a lot, thinking about what it’s like to be back at a bar in St. Louis binge drinking with all the guys.”
Hitting the Right Note
Another tactic Peters employed, a favorite of his, was playing songs to help get him in the right mindset. The episode itself is called “Enter Number Two,” a reference to the Gordon Lightfoot tune “If You Could Read My Mind,” where a lyric—“enter number two, a movie queen to play the scene”—describes a new love interest. “At one point we had that song in the episode,” Ingelsby says, “it was the moment Zabel really kind of entered [Mare’s] life as a romantic interest. She has these two guys, how is that going to play out?” The Lightfoot song didn’t make it into the final cut. Instead, the song playing on the sports bar’s jukebox is the Killers’ “Mr. Brightside.” It’s a classic-rock reframing of a 2004 smash hit sure to make millennial viewers feel an ache in their bones, and appropriate for a high school reunion after-party attended by the 34-year-old Peters.