Mare of Easttown Finale Recap: The Sins of the Father — Grade It!

After weeks of shocking twists and red herrings, Mare of Easttown‘s finale gave us the answers we wanted… but maybe not the ones we expected.

Sunday’s episode picks up right where we left off, with Mare approaching Billy and John at the fishing spot. Back at the police station, we finally see the photo Jess gave Chief Carter: It’s of Erin… with John asleep in bed next to her. (Jess confirms that John is actually DJ’s father; Dylan only destroyed Erin’s journals because he wanted to keep custody of DJ, even though it’s not his kid.) And at the river, John pulls the gun out of the tackle box and points it at Billy, telling him that “it’s the only way I can be sure.”

Mare finally sees them, and when she shouts at John to put the gun down, he puts it to his own head. Billy wrestles it away, with the two brothers struggling for the gun on the slippery wet rocks. Mare gets there and tackles John to the ground, and he’s sobbing: “Just f—king kill me, Mare. Please.” In the interrogation room, he tells all: His relationship with Erin started at the family reunion, but “it wasn’t just sex.” They had a real connection, he says. The night she was killed, she called John and demanded he pay for DJ’s ear surgery, threatening to tell Lori everything. He went to meet her, and she pulled out a gun, saying she was going to kill herself. He tried to pull the gun away, accidentally shooting her in the hand. Then he panicked… and shot her in the head.

Mare of Easttown Finale HBO John RossJohn says Billy helped him move the body to the woods so the cops would think someone at the party did it, and he even went back to Frank’s engagement party so he’d have an alibi. Lori knew everything, too, and lied to Mare about it. John gets hauled into court and charged with criminal homicide, and he asks Lori to take DJ in, since the kid has no parents now. Deacon Mark gets released from prison, with all charges dropped. Lori takes DJ in for his ear surgery — and DJ is short for “Dylan John”! Of course! So case closed, right? Well… maybe not.

At a pizza party with her family, Mare spots Sandra Elliott, the woman John had been sleeping with. She confronts Sandra about the renewed affair, but Sandra says she only slept with John years ago, and never again since. Then Mr. Carroll calls Mare over to tell her things keep going missing in his house, including a gun he kept in the shed. The gun was mysteriously returned, with two rounds missing. And yep, it’s a Colt detective special — just like the gun that killed Erin. Mr. Carroll says the only people who have access to the shed are him… and John and Lori’s son Ryan, who cuts his grass. Mare runs to the surveillance tapes to see Ryan breaking into the shed, and her face crumbles.

Mare of Easttown Finale HBO Lori Julianne NicholsonShe heads straight to Ryan’s school, and the boy panics and sprints home, telling Lori: “It’s Mare! She knows!” Ryan admits that he knew about his dad’s affair with Erin and agreed to keep it a secret if he ended it. But he got angry when he saw John talking with Erin that night and texted her back from John’s phone, telling her to meet him at the park. He brought Mr. Carroll’s gun just to scare her into leaving John alone, but she grabbed the gun… and it went off. John and Billy took care of the body, and Lori learned the real story right before John and Billy went fishing. “I agreed to lie to protect my son,” she tells Mare, “and I would’ve taken that to my grave if you hadn’t shown up at the house today.”

Ryan is sent to juvenile prison, and Lori blames Mare, angrily pushing her away and declaring she never wants to see her again. (“My whole family is gone because of this.”) But time passes, and wounds start to heal. Mare’s therapist asks if she’s ready to start processing her grief about Kevin. Ryan settles in at juvie. Deacon Mark addresses the congregation, urging them to reach out to people they’ve rejected. So Mare pays Lori a visit, and they share an embrace, with Mare tenderly cradling her friend as she collapses to the floor in tears. And finally, Mare wakes up one morning and decides to pull down those attic stairs and walk up there for the first time since Kevin died. As she told Mr. Carroll, grief never gets any easier, “but after a while, you learn to live with the unacceptable.”

Mare of Easttown Finale HBO Richard Guy PearceElsewhere in “Sacrament”: Richard slow-danced with Mare at Frank’s wedding before leaving town for a year to teach at another college (see that, haters? He was just a nice guy after all!); Carrie tearfully gave up custody of Drew, admitting that she’s been using drugs again; Dylan nobly handed Lori an envelope full of cash for DJ’s ear surgery; Siobhan went away to school at Berkeley; and God bless her, Helen drunkenly fell on the floor trying to switch off the TV, and it was hilarious.

Did you guess the real killer’s identity? And how’d you like the finale overall? Grade it in our poll, along with the full season, and drop your post-finale thoughts in the comments below. (Plus, for more Mare, check out our post mortem with director/EP Craig Zobel.)