Review: Season 2 of 'Mr. Mercedes' may polarize fans as the show take on a sci-fi horror flavor
The Stephen King adaptation returns to explore the classic 'good vs. evil' trope, but with a new supernatural twist added to the plot.
Audience Network's Stephen King adaptation 'Mr. Mercedes' returns for a second season today, leading with the first of the new ten episodes, titled 'Missed You.' If you missed the first season of the show, now would be a good time to catch up because 'Mr. Mercedes' has managed to hit a sweet spot amidst the recent Stephen King adaptation fever to produce a masterful edge-of-the-seat crime thriller.
The first season had viewers embroiled in a classic game of cat-and-mouse between the anti-hero - grumpy retired Detective Bill Hodges (Brendan Gleeson) - and the deranged psychopathic mass murderer Brady Hartsfield (Harry Treadaway). With an equally impressive supporting cast including the likes of Holland Taylor (as Bill's neighbor Ida Silver), Jharrel Jerome (Hodes' sidekick Jerome Robinson) and Justin Lupe (as Holly Gibney), the show did a fantastic job of bringing The King of Horror's first book of the 'Bill Hodges Trilogy' to life. Now, a year later, 'Mr. Mercedes' returns with a fresh new plot and all the twists and turns that one would expect from a classic King novel.
Although the finale of the first season did seem a little lackluster, with the final showdown happening at an arts district gala premiere instead of a pop concert (as in the book), it did nothing to take away the edge from building the climax of the show. The last we saw them, Hodges was just about to nab Brady but suffered a heart attack before he could reach his gun, leaving Holly to take up the job of smashing Brady's skull in. Although both of them were left in nearly-dead states, the Brady-Hodges battle is clearly far from over.
As we mentioned earlier in our breakdown of what to expect in the new season, the show skips over the second book from the trilogy, 'Finders Keepers' -- which deals with an unrelated murder case that Hodges finds himself entangled in -- and jumps straight ahead to the final book of the series 'End of Watch'.
The show's creative team, led by director Jack Bender ('Under the Dome'), and writers David E. Kelley ('Big Little Lies') and Dennis Lehane ('Shutter Island'), rightly identify Hodges and Brady as the key propellors of the show and that could be the reason for this key creative decision. The problem is that in the final book, Stephen King pulls a fast one on readers by switching up the style from the hard-boiled detective genre into a full-blown supernatural thriller and translating that onto the screen could have proved problematic. But by the looks of the first episode at least, the showrunners have the reigns firmly clasped in their hands.
Season 2 picks up just where the finale left off, with both the show's leading gentlemen being rushed to the hospital in an ambulance - Hodges in cardiac arrest and Brady barely alive with a fractured skull. We see Bill's recovery at the hospital through a montage set to the tune of Perry Como's 'Catch a Falling Star' (another brilliant example of the show's exemplary choice in music) as we catch glimpses of his routine - patiently sitting by Brady's bed waiting for him to awake from his coma, which might not happen any time soon, at least in the traditional sense.
Meanwhile, we are introduced to a new character who is sure to have a major role through the rest of the episodes. Treating Brady at the hospital is neurosurgeon extraordinaire Doctor Felix Badineau (Jack Huston) who seems to be dumping a suspicious looking blue fluid into Brady, what we later learn is an experimental Chinese drug that his wife Cora (Tessa Ferrer) is lobbying for, using Brady Hartsfield as a human guinea-pig to push the boundaries of neural network regeneration. If foreshadowing in the horror genre has taught us anything, Cora is definitely going to regret her decision.
While season 1 started off with a bang (or should I say a sickening thud), what with the prologue giving us a POV shot of the vehicular massacre, season 2 chooses to lay the groundwork at a pace that can be described as deliberate at best. But it still doesn't leave the viewers disinterested mainly because of the chemistry in the character-driven scenes, which is handled with great mastery by the top-notch cast of the show.
Bill Hodges is a changed man after his recovery. His usual Irish Catholic glumness is all but gone, and there's almost a spring in his step as he teams up with Holly to form 'Finders Keepers,' a private-eye agency that they run out of a defunct Chinese restaurant.
Fans will remember that Holly is not only the one who put Hartsfield into a coma but is also the cousin of Janey Patterson (Mary-Louise Parker from last season), whom Hodges had been dating before Brady literally blew her up. Holly is coping with her OCD and is finally independent, and thanks to Lupe's sensitive rendition of the character, is an instantly relatable character and soon to be crowd-favorite.
Meanwhile, Bill's friendship with Ida is portrayed deftly with their usual black-comedy banter jabs. Brendan Gleeson is at his natural best and is matched toe-to-toe by Holland Taylor's vixen-like charm.
Bill unexpectedly loses his long-time partner Pete Dixon mid-way through the episode and his tragi-comic funeral speech is another great moment that explores character depth in the show. We also get to see his ex-wife Donna, and his relationship with her, both in the past and the present seem to play a big role in upcoming episodes.
The choice of music in the soundtrack shines yet again as Bill cleans up after the funeral guests to the tune of Peter Gabriel's 'I Think It's Gonna Rain.' We also get to listen to Neil Young's 'Till The Morning Comes' courtesy of Hodges' trusty old record player. I must add that compared to season 1, there is a disappointingly low amount of time spent in indulgent, almost-pornographic shots of vinyls spinning on Hodges' record player!
Mainly, it's this interplay between the characters, who fans are already invested in, that makes the premiere of season 2 so strong. So it might not be very welcoming for a new audience. That being said, the cinematic treatment given to the new genre is spot-on. We see a dream sequence in which Hodges and Brady sit by an open grave and indulge in a classic hero-villain dialogue. Hodges is the flawed hero dressed in black, and Brady is chaos incarnate dressed in sparkly white.
The dichotomy is glaring throughout the sequence. It's a trope that's been done to death - Good vs Evil. Light vs. Dark. From great classics to comic legends, it has proven to be a timeless theme. Sherlock Holmes would be nothing if not for his arch-nemesis Professor Moriarty. Batman would have no purpose if not for The Joker. It's the same with Brady and Hodges. As the trailer for season 2 teased, Donna Hodges tells Bill, "You are an addict. And Brady is your drug."
Towards the end of the episode, after Bill's unsettling dream sequence, he goes over to the hospital and tries to cut off Brady's air supply, but he finds himself unable to take his life, even when good men like Pete are dead and gone and monsters like Brady continue to live. The scene has to be the very epitome of the trope.
The tipping point where the good-guy ceases to be good and logically cannot proceed with the action. How many times have we seen Batman have The Joker in his grasp, only to let him live? Countless.
The tricky bit is this. What kept the trope so fresh and exciting in season 1 was the fact that the hero and the villain were not extraordinary geniuses or supervillains. They were ordinary people. The show was buried under the grit and grime of reality. Anybody could end up like Bill Hodges, and with the right mix of terribly scarring childhood events, anybody could end up like Brady Hartsfield.
But now, in season 2, things are slightly detached from that reality. At the very end of the episode, Dr. Badineau caves to his wife's pressure and dumps an ungodly dose of the experimental drug into Brady's IV. Soon after, we get a sneak peek into Brady's mind. His hi-tech basement man-cave that we saw a lot of in season 1 has now been moved into a cerebral space, with his consciousness being personified by Harry Treadaway in a hospital gown.
All signs suggest that this drug is now going to let Brady infiltrate people's mind, and my money is that the dazed and innocent nurse who tends to Brady at the hospital is first on the list.
Whether this transition into the supernatural will still allow the previously discussed trope to shine on remains to be seen through the rest of the episode. It's never an easy thing to adapt a Stephen King work to a different medium. The plethora of terrible 80's adaptations of his works are proof enough. But season 1 of 'Mr. Mercedes' succeeded in doing just that. Whether it will continue to do that while tinkering with elements of the supernatural is the big question.