(Note: This article contains major plot spoilers for the finale episode.)
The HBO drama “Mare of Easttown” proved to be the ultimate in water-cooler murder mysteries, provoking endless fan theories about the identity of its main baddie, but has a show ever gotten as much buzz for its prop work? Memes proved ubiquitous highlighting Delco detective Mare Sheehan’s (Kate Winslet) boundless affection for hoagies, Cheez Whiz, good coffee and her treasured vape pen, but what made these items so indelible is that they genuinely created a sense of lived-in character (try to forget Jean Smart swiping her hand left and right on that Fruit Ninja game), and as proved in the final episode, a prop even proves to be the eureka moment for Mare finally cracking the unwieldy, tragedy-strewn murder case at the heart of the series.
Property master Susannah McCarthy is most pleased by this attention to her efforts. “I’m so excited because prop masters usually go unnoticed unless we make a mistake. Nobody pays much attention to us”, said the also Pennsylvania-based McCarthy with a laugh. But what exactly is the obligation of a property master?
“It differs from region to region, but as an East Coast prop master, I’m in charge of a great number of things: food, cars, technology, animals, pretty much anything that appears on camera”, said McCarthy, noting that this was the most involved project she has worked on to date. “All of the props in ‘Mare;’ were scripted, writer Brad Ingelsby is from the region and it’s a compilation of different Pennsylvania towns. We would really tear through the scripts to get the most authentic and full-of-depth results. And sometimes that meant 15 different tactical bags for Mare or 15 different bicycles for another scene.”
And sometimes the actors provided valuable input, like how costar Evan Peters utilized a specially branded mug that emerges out of the coffee pas de deux his character and Mare have over their morning Wawa coffees (another ubiquitous, site-specific prop), and Winslet’s idea that Mare’s cellphone should permanently be cracked. “Evan and Kate looked at everything in advance, down to what holster they should be wearing, or her vape pen which represents escape to Mare. They’re amazing actors and were such a joy to work with.”
And, as previously noted, food is a noticeably big deal on the show, whether it’s Mare’s hoagies, her dinners with male suitors (which include both Peters’ co-detective and college prof-character Guy Pearce) or the various pizza nights depicted in the show. “The food was tricky, plus there’s a lot of drinking on this show [like Mare’s Rolling Rock beers]”, McCarthy noted, an issue exacerbated by the pandemic, which forced a months-long shutdown of production and more than a little concern over all these handsy details. “Our job is food hygiene and food safety, and we before we put any food on set, we were abundantly cautious, so it was on us to make sure we’re doing our best to be safe.”
Safety also extended to the final episode reveal (again: massive spoiler alert) in prop form, a gun found in a shed that proved to be the elusive clincher for Mare’s discovery of who actually pulled the trigger killing the young woman found in a creek in the first episode: the young son (Cameron Mann) of her best friend (Julianne Nicholson). “We were able to get the gun from a weapons shop but the box that contained had to be completely hand-crafted and engraved [to match its history revealed in the episode]. We had to make sure every part of that process was perfect”, said McCarthy, noting that having an underage perp in the storyline was another matter to consider. “We had many versions of the same gun, and we could not allow underage people to hold weapons that are going to fire, so I had many different guns that looked perfect, but were never going to fire.”
Viewers can next view McCarthy’s onscreen wares in this August’s Steve Martin/Martin Short/Selena Gomez-starring Hulu series “Only Murders in the Building,” which could not be more tonally different than “Mare,” even if solving a mystery lies at its center. “It was extreme comedy and for a prop master, that’s a whole new ballgame. But it was amazing and I can’t wait until it comes out!”
Mare of Easttown is available to watch on HBO and HBO Max