Things are not going well for Mare Sheehan in the latest episode of HBO’s Mare Of Easttown—to say the least. The titular character is dealing with being suspended from the police force after planting two bags of heroin in her late son’s girlfriend’s car, in a desperate attempt to keep custody of her five-year-old grandson, Drew. No longer investigating the murders of Katie Bailey and Erin McMenamin has proven particularly difficult: Another local girl, Missy Sayers, has been killed, and Mare’s continued attention to the cases is jeopardizing the work of her colleague, Colin Zabel. But as Mare struggles with the consequences, her daughter Siobhan is going through major changes of her own. When we last saw Siobhan, she was making a documentary about her brother, Kevin, who died by suicide—an attempt to understand why he made that choice. She was also disenchanted in her relationship with her bandmate Becca. Seeing Becca irresponsibly eat a bunch of edibles—and puke on herself—during a college radio performance by their band Androgynous was seemingly the last straw. In last night’s episode, Siobhan decides to act. She dumps Becca, spends more time with flirty DJ Anne, and begins to think about her life goals in a broader sense, no longer feeling like she has to remain in a toxic home environment simply to keep her mom from falling apart.
“What I loved about Siobhan is that she feels like she can’t change,” Angourie Rice, who plays Siobhan, tells The A.V. Club. “She feels like she has to stay a constant pillar for her family because her mom’s life is falling apart, her mom’s relationship with her dad is really tense, her grandma is living with them and that poses a whole bunch of weird tension. She’s essentially a second or third [caregiver] for this 5-year-old kid, so I think she feels like it’s always been taken for granted that she will be fine, and that she will be there to pick up the pieces for everyone else.”
But after an illuminating conversation with Anne, Siobhan finds strength in her realization that it’s not selfish to consider her own needs—even if her decisions might affect others in a way that isn’t favorable to them. “She’s slowly starting to realize that ‘Actually, I want to think about myself for a change, maybe I want to try this thing, maybe I want to experiment, maybe I don’t want to be in this relationship that’s staying the same and keeping me the same.’ And I think her relationship with Anne opens a whole new world of opportunities,” says Rice.
The actor also notes that Siobhan had to grow up quicker than her peers and take on challenging responsibilities after her brother’s death. Though Rice hasn’t experienced the grief Siobhan goes through, she can relate to that aspect of having to take on adult responsibilities too quickly. The actor had her first role at eight years old, and had her first big role at 15, playing Ryan Gosling’s daughter in The Nice Guys.
“I really connected with that storyline, because I felt like growing up I had to be an adult working in a professional environment on set and in films, I had to grow up really quickly and be mature,” admits the actor. But Rice acknowledges that when she first read the show’s script, she couldn’t really identify with Siobhan: “When I first read the script I was like, ‘I’m nothing like her. I’m a goodie-two-shoes, I’m really strait-laced, so responsible, I’ve never stepped out of my comfort zone in the way Siobhan seems to.’ But the more that I thought about her character, the more similarities I found. She tries to be this pillar of strength all the time, she tries to hold it together all the time, and there were also certain things I related to in her relationships.”
We’ve spent most of the series piecing together how Kevin’s death affected Mare and her seemingly irrational actions—including her impulsive decision to plant the drugs in Carrie’s car without realizing it’d potentially ruin her career. But we’re slowly starting to see more of how Siobhan’s grief affected her and her relationship with her family. Rice teases that in the sixth episode airing on May 23, “you can really see where the tension between her and her mom comes from, and [how that tension] is the root of why there’s a disconnect in the way they’ve both handled the death of Kevin.”