The finale of Mare of Easttown aired on HBO last weekend, but for anyone who's just caught up, it's time to talk about that final twist. We now know who killed Erin McMenamin, but it was a tricky road to get there.
Before we sob and say goodbye to the limited series that introduced us to the unruly backyards and messy kitchens of the Philadelphia suburbs, let's run through exactly what happened in that reveal-heavy seventh and final episode.
Warning: Spoilers ahead
Who murdered Erin McMenamin?
First things first. The death that kicked off the miniseries is revealed in a final twist to have been caused by 13-year-old Ryan Ross. After discovering his father John was having an incestuous affair with Erin (the pair are cousins once removed), beginning at their family reunion in Lake Harmony, Ryan stole elderly resident Mr. Carroll's old handgun with the intention of using it to threaten Erin to stay away from his family. As Erin attempts to wrestle it from him, Ryan accidentally pulls the trigger -- twice, first hitting one of Erin's fingers, then fatally wounding her in the head.
Why did Ryan's dad take the blame?
John, Ryan's dad and Lori's husband, confesses to Erin's murder, claiming Erin called him away from Frank's (Mare's ex-husband) engagement party, angry, asking him to pay for their baby DJ's ear surgery. John says she blamed him for ruining her life and threatened to shoot herself. He claims he accidentally shot her in the hand while wrestling the gun from her, then panicked and shot her in the face. He then drove her body to the woods with Billy's help and dumped it there so that it would seem like the teenagers drinking nearby were involved.
How did Mare figure out who the real killer was?
Surprisingly, about five minutes in, the mystery appears to be solved, when Mare discovers John holding a gun to his brother Billy's head. But something isn't quite right. In the previous episode, analysis of the found bullet reveals it came from an old handgun from the 1980s of the type carried by the police, including Mare's late father. Mare receives a seemingly innocuous call from Mr. Carroll and visits his house, where he tells her things have been going missing ever since his wife Betty died (in episode 5). One of those things is his gun, a Colt Detective Special, which he used in his days in the Ridley force. While the gun was shortly returned to his shed, Mr. Carroll found two rounds had gone missing. Mare asks who has access to the shed and Mr. Carroll replies that only he and Ryan Ross, who cuts his lawn, have access. Mare checks the house's security camera footage and sees the moment that, just before midnight, Ryan sneaks into the shed and stashes the gun in his pocket.
Did Ryan's mother know?
In the police interview, John says he convinced Lori to lie to Mare, her best friend growing up, and say that it was his brother Billy, who has a drinking problem, who killed Erin. When Mare comes to Lori's house to pick up Ryan for Erin's murder, Ryan runs to his mother, crying. He says that Mare knows and Lori hugs him, revealing that she knew Ryan had been the real killer. John had informed her the morning before he and Billy had driven up to Pat's fishing cabin. She agreed to lie about it to protect Ryan, her son. She later berates Mare for exposing the truth, instead of letting John take the full blame.
How did Ryan know about John's relationship with Erin?
Ryan discovered text messages on his dad's phone from Erin. Ryan confronted him about it, upset after his father had cheated previously, which had caused him and Lori to separate for a period until Lori agreed to get back together. Ryan acted in desperation to keep his family together.
What did Ryan do on the night of Erin's death?
On the night of Frank's engagement party, Ryan notices his father vehemently yelling at someone on the phone. He later sneaks a peek at the phone and discovers more messages from Erin asking John to meet her at Brandywine Park. This was around 10:45 p.m. When he returned home, Ryan snuck out and cycled to Mr. Carroll's house to pick up his gun, which he'd seen before over the many times he mowed the Carrolls' lawn in the summer. He then rode to the park and waited for Erin, where he would later kill her.
What secret did John tell Ryan to keep in episode 5?
The clue to Ryan's involvement was dropped in episode 5, when Lori overheard John telling Ryan to keep quiet about a secret. Ryan later violently defends his sister at school, showing how far he'll go to protect his family. Lori initially believes the secret is John has been cheating on her again with a woman named Sandra Elliott, not Erin.
What was Deacon Mark Burton's involvement?
The Catholic deacon, who'd been reassigned to Easttown after sexual misconduct allegations at his previous parish, drew plenty of attention to himself by not cooperating with the police. Erin's phone records reveal she'd spoken to him after her fight with Brianna, Dylan's girlfriend. Deacon Mark claims to have given Erin counseling, but is cagey thanks to his past allegations of inappropriate behavior with an underaged girl. It's revealed he picked Erin up from the woods after Brianna beat her, then took her to the park where she wanted to talk to John. In possession of her bike, deacon Mark dumped it in the lake and lied about it to police.
What was the photograph in Erin's journal of?
The photo shows Erin in bed next to a sleeping John, clear evidence they were having an affair.