With Mr Mercedes, Stephen King makes us scared of every day events and items
If you are into the kind of crime thrillers in which you find yourself gradually developing a soft spot for the homicidal anti-hero; so much so, that you start hoping that he doesn't get caught, then Mr Mercedes is just the series for you.
Based on Stephen King’s best-seller of the same name, the 10-part adaptation hits a little too close to home with multiple recent real life cases of vehicular terrorism occuring throughout the globe.
The show kicks off with an incident when a silver Mercedes, driven by a man in a clown mask rams into a powerless crowd waiting outside a convention centre to get into a job fair. The carnage involving 16 casualties, including a mother and her newborn baby, shakes this small Ohio town down to its core but Irish-American former detective Bill Hodges (Brendan Gleeson) is tormented the most, especially since he was the one tasked with this impossible-to-crack case.
Two years after the brutal murders, Hodges is living a life of a cantankerous old retiree who is still seething due to his failure to solve the massacre. But then completely out of the blue, the detective is rescued from his melancholic suffering when he receives a visual message on his laptop from the mass murderer, taunting Hodges for his inability to catch him.
Mr Mercedes/Brady Hartsfield (Harry Treadaway), whose identity is revealed pretty early in the series, continues with the goading by sending in some more twisted videos to our protagonist. These small audiovisual files could prove to be a major piece of clue in unravelling the case, but the problem is that these messages immediately disappear from Hodge’s computer as soon as they are watched. Enter Jerome, a local computer-savvy kid who helps the technology-shy detective in retrieving the videos. But it might not be as easy as it seems since Brady is a computer whizz himself and makes sure he covers his tracks.
He also happens to drive an ice-cream van as a second job, allowing him to get inside our hero’s neighbourhood to keep a much closer eye on his activities, while all the time planning for another much deadlier strike. So will Hodges succeed by nabbing the sociopathic Brady before another bloodbath? Or will this out-of-sorts sexagenarian only manage to make matters worse by provoking the killer?
Since I never had the chance to go through the novel, the biggest surprise this particular TV show had in store for me was the fact that it was not one of King’s signature horror stories. If my memory serves me right, Mr Mercedes could very well be King’s first hard-boiled detective work.
But in spite of the fact that the source material is grounded in reality, the final product is still horrifying. King yet again manages to elicit scares out of every day events and items. The aforementioned is all the more vital, since unlike any other conventional detective story we already know who the culprit is.
Instead what actually makes the whole narrative riveting is the cerebral cat-and-mouse chase between the two leads. The unpredictable nature of their relationship provides drama while its evolution is fuelling suspense.
Speaking of the primary actors, Treadaway's chillingly captivating performance as the titular character is so nuanced and detailed that you feel like you are in the head of the antagonist. Considering how the whole premise is built around the audience empathising with this particular character, Treadaway’s role as the sociopathic killer should be a huge feather in the actor’s hat. Gleeson’s Hodges is not far behind either; with his performance as the tormented retired cop matching Treadaway’s Brady every step of the way.
The rest of the characters are also well cast with Holland Taylor playing Hodges’ widow neighbour Ida, the pick of the bunch.
Mr Mercedes is one of those rare King’s TV adaptations that actually works. This particular medium has never done complete justice to his books but looking at how this one turned out as a TV show, I would be highly surprised if the remaining two books in the Hodges’ trilogy are left on the shelf.