Look at this photograph!
Photo: HBO Max
Sunday night’s penultimate installment of Mare of Easttown has viewers obsessing over a photograph with a fervor not seen since the glory days of Chad Kroeger. As the episode drew to a close, the series’s primary whodunnit seemed to be all wrapped up: Billy Ross (Robbie Tann) had apparently confessed both to killing Erin McMenamin (Cailee Spaeny) and being the true father of her son, D.J. But before you could say “Ebert’s Law of Economy of Characters strikes again,” the show threw us one final last-minute twist in the form of a snapshot.
The all-important picture made its first appearance in episode five, showing up in one of Erin’s journals, and was significant enough that her bold-print-loving BFF Jess (Ruby Cruz) chose to surreptitiously pocket it rather than allow it to be burnt with the rest of Erin’s keepsakes. Stricken by guilt, Jess finally brought the photo to the Easttown police department, where Chief Carter (John Douglas) found its content so shocking he immediately ordered an underling to warn Mare off her one-woman mission to apprehend Billy. Clearly, this piece of evidence throws the case into total disarray. (Or as Mare would put it, toahdal disuhrreay.)
But because this is TV, viewers have been kept in the dark about exactly what’s in the photograph. Despite the fact that multiple characters have now seen the picture, we’ve only glimpsed it from behind, like a 5-by-7-inch version of the briefcase from Pulp Fiction. In a previous era of television fandom, that might have been the end of it. But thanks to the magic of technology, Mare fans have convinced themselves that they can crack the mystery. You see, for a split second, the photo is backlit and semi-see-through. Perhaps by adjusting the brightness and contrast we can enhance it and decipher what’s going on in this oh-so-important picture.
Vulture doesn’t have a supercomputer, but we do have a crack team of photo editors, and they whipped up this attempt at an enhanced close-up:
Photo: HBO Max
Wow! If you squint, it seems like you can see Erin … somewhere. (But of course, she would be in it, wouldn’t she?) Personally, I see her in the top-left corner of the frame, reclining with her right arm folded over her chest. Some people on Reddit see her in the lower-right corner. Or maybe she’s cut off near the top? And what happens if you rotate the photo to make it fit the way Jess originally saw it? Well, then it obviously becomes a photo of Erin with whichever male cast member you suspect is the killer: John Ross, Frank, perhaps Lori’s tiny son Ryan? Or could it be Mare’s late son Kevin, who many fans believe is the true father of Erin’s baby? (In that case, the killer would obviously not be Kevin, since ghosts don’t seem to exist in Mare of Easttown.) The only person we can be sure is not in it is Billy, since that would hardly be a surprise. But maybe it’s Billy and someone else? The possibilities are truly endless. Whichever post-production employee was responsible for making this image juuust murky enough deserves a huge raise.
In any event, Mare of Easttown has given us a perfect televisual Rorschach test. Amid all the noise, there’s only one image coming through loud and clear: the one that says “tune in on Sunday!”