Bev Vincent reviews Mr. Mercedes Season 2

Stephen King News From the Dead Zone

“I Feel Like He’s Still Among Us”

The creators of the Mr. Mercedes, the TV adaptation of Stephen King’s crime novels, were faced with a dilemma when the series was renewed for a second season. Protagonist Bill Hodges (Brendan Gleeson) doesn’t appear until 150 pages into the second novel, Finders Keepers, and his nemesis, Brady Hartsfield (Harry Treadaway) is effectively not in the book at all.

That’s easier to manage in a book than in a movie or TV series, where you can’t keep the talent in reserve. Viewers expect them to show up in the opening scenes and appear regularly throughout the season. Imagine The Empire Strikes Back, but with Han Solo in a coma for the entire film and Luke Skywalker not showing up until an hour in.

To address this issue, Season 2 of Mr. Mercedes (which premieres on August 22 on AT&T’s Audience Network) skips Finders Keepers and goes straight into the third Hodges book, End of Watch, for the most part. Snippets of Finders Keepers make their way into the series, mostly having to do with cases handled by Hodges and Holly Gibney (Justine Lupe) in their new private investigation business. None of the Pete Saubers/Morris Bellamy plot from Finders Keepers is used, though.

The first episode of Season 2 backs up a step from the previous season’s finale (Season 1 is now available on DVD, by the way), showing Hodges and Brady being taken to the hospital after the incident at the gallery opening. We are introduced to Dr. Felix Babineau, much younger than the 63-year-old in End of Watch (Jack Huston, from Boardwalk Empire), the neurosurgeon who pieces Brady’s skull back together after Holly conked him on the head with a bulldog statue. District Attorney Tony Montez (Maximiliano Hernández, from The Americans) thinks prosecuting Brady will be the biggest case of his career. Babineau’s ego won’t allow him to say Brady will never recover to face prosecution, although he’s pessimistic.

Season 2 Trailer

Babineau’s manipulative wife Cora (Tessa Ferrer from Grey’s Anatomy and singer Debby Boone’s daughter), however, has a plan: she works for a pharmaceutical company and has access to an experimental drug from China that she pressures her husband into trying out on Brady, off the books. What’s the worst thing that could happen? she argues. Brady is a monster. If the drug kills him, no one will care. The hospital administrator thinks Brady is a drain on their resources and without definite signs of progress, he’s ready to pull the plug on Babineau’s experiments and transfer Brady to another facility.

So, already the TV series is diverging from King’s novel, and the changes keep coming. That’s not a bad thing: film/TV is different from print and the story appears to be in good hands (crime novelist Dennis Lehane is one of the writers this season). Literal/slavish adaptations bore me: I like to be surprised, and the only way for that to happen is for the adaptation to take us in a different direction while remaining true to the characters.

Not everything is different. Hodges is still obsessed with Brady, and there are some neat scenes that show him lurking in Brady’s hospital room as the seasons pass, as indicated by the changing weather outside the window. In the aftermath of his heart attack, Hodges is eating well, doing physical therapy and refraining from drink. Eventually he kicks the Brady habit, too, and turns his attention to Finders Keepers, the investigation business he and Holly run from a dingy office in what looks like a bad part of town. Holly has an affinity for the job, but Hodges isn’t completely satisfied, especially after he is forced to repossess things from poor people.

But what else is he to do in retirement? His former partner, Pete, is also looking forward (with “a huge fucking smile” on his face) to pulling the pin on his career with the police department. Hodges’ next-door neighbor, Ida Silver (Holland Taylor), accuses him of reacting to life rather than living it.

The centerpiece of the first episode of season 2 is a funeral, which calls to mind a similar ceremony in the first season, although this one is more personal for Hodges. It also reunites him with his ex-wife Donna (Nancy Travis), who suggests that Hodges find a way to enjoy life rather than constantly seeking to find value in it.

Bill Hodges (Brendan Gleeson) and ex-wife Donna (Nancy Travis)

Despite the cat-and-mouse nature of their characters’ relationship, Gleeson and Treadaway shared virtually no screen time together in the first season. This year, they get to play off each other, although at the start of the season it is either with Hodges looming over Brady’s comatose body or in dream sequences. The most creative of these features Hodges and Brady communing over an open grave. Flaunting convention, Hodges is dressed in dark clothes while Brady is in a white suit. Brady performs a jaunty song-and-dance routine around the cemetery that includes a cameo appearance by his ice-cream truck. Dream-Brady, too, has an opinion about Hodges’ retirement: “I’m what keeps you alive. Men need goals.”

Bill Hodges and Brady Hartsfield

The writers also came up with an innovative way of handling Brady being in a coma. As Babineau’s illicit experiments take effect (perhaps facilitated by an inadvertent jump-start by Hodges), Brady’s mind starts to awaken. This is depicted cinematically by putting Brady in the basement of the house he shared with his now-deceased mother, among his computers, the damaged Mercedes from his greatest success, and the symbolic headstones of his family members. This “mind palace” is akin to something King has used in other works. Brady metaphorically reconnects and rewires his computers as his brain attempts to heal itself. When his body begins to respond to external stimuli, internal Brady hides in his basement to avoid detection. He doesn’t want anyone to know he is returning to consciousness.

As in the book, Brady discovers the ability to project his consciousness into other minds — first with Sadie (Virginia Kull), the nurse who suffers epileptic seizures that leave her vulnerable. He can see himself through her eyes, and he can force her to move like a zombie around the hospital. She’s also the first person to see signs of activity in Brady. When she shares her belief that Brady is waking up with a colleague, the news spreads rapidly. By the end of the second episode, Hodges hears of it, too, and returns to Brady’s room to see for himself.

Over a year has passed since the end of Season 1. Holly has gained a great deal of self-confidence in the interim, although she still displays obsessive-compulsive behavior, especially under stress. She has learned to set boundaries with her overbearing mother, for example, and her orderly and methodical routines make her perfect for the more tedious tasks associated with Finders Keepers’ fugitive recovery cases. Hodges tells his ex-wife Holly is like a daughter, only to be reminded that he already has one of those. When Holly senses Hodges needs emotional support, she moves into his place — without asking — after researching the precise recommended amount of time for her to stay.

Bill Hodges and Holly Gibney

Hodges’ young friend Jerome Robinson (Jharrel Jerome) returns from Harvard. His first year in university wasn’t a success, although he hasn’t revealed that to his father yet and he tells Hodges everything is “rock solid.” Hodges, who has spent a lifetime dealing with liars, isn’t convinced. Lou Linklatter (Breeda Wool) is recovering from the knife would Brady inflicted on he and contemplating a tattoo.

The Zappit tablet makes its debut when Ida distributes the “crappy devices” to her summer school class. Based on the trailer for Season 2, it seems that one of the major deviations from End of Watch is that the people mesmerized by the Zappits will suspect that Brady is behind what’s happening to them. It also seems that Hodges will join forces with Dr. Babineau and his wife, trying to provoke Brady into emerging from hiding.

Season 2 Official Featurette

One of the best aspects of this adaptation is the character of Bill Hodges, as portrayed by Gleeson. The only thing that’s Irish in King’s novel Mr. Mercedes is Jerome’s dog, an Irish setter. However, Gleeson is Irish and he doesn’t downplay it in the least. His brogue and his terse, sarcastic, crude and funny way of saying things, often as put-downs, afterthoughts or asides, add humor to the series. When a man dressed up as a pig at an arcade criticizes Hodges’s profession, Hodges glances at his costume and says, “You mean to compare careers?”

Another of the show’s delights is the music, mostly drawn from Hodges’ extensive record collection. A poignant scene where Hodges cleans his house after a funeral reception and struggles with the temptation of half-empty glasses of alcohol is accompanied by Randy Newman’s haunting “I Think It’s Going To Rain Today.” While Hodges makes breakfast at the beginning of Episode 2, we hear “Till the Morning Comes” by Neil Young, a brief and peppy piece that belies its lyrics. [1]

It’s not clear yet exactly what direction the showrunners and writers will take us this season, but based on the first two episodes it looks like we’re in for a hell of a ride. I’m very much looking forward to it.

[1] Oddly, the record Hodges pulls off his shelf and puts on the turntable is “Up Close” by Kevin Burke.

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