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Alex Carnevale

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Ethan Peterson

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Driver's Manual


Mr. Mercedes
creator David E. Kelley

Retired detective Bill Hodges (Brendan Gleeson) is absolutely disgusting. In the first episode of Mr. Mercedes, he starts to eat a slice of rum cake before he has even begun his lunch. This kind of cursory character-building detail is the bread and butter of Stephen King, who has written a novel on every single subject. This approach means that more talented people can adapt them at their leisure depending on when the subject becomes relevant in the contemporary social discourse.

The relevant subject in this relentlessly dull adaptation of the similarly boring source material is the dissociation of young white men from reality. A murderer named Brady Hartsfield (Harry Treadaway) works at an electronics store and has an incestuous relationship with his mother (an unrecognizable Kelly Lynch). In the first twenty minutes of Mr. Mercedes, Brady has run over a bunch of job-seekers lining up for an employment fair, gawked at his mother's ample cleavage, and been dressed-down by his not-so-inspirational manager.

Without meaning to, I think, King and showrunner David E. Kelley are giving some kind of bizarre justification for racism, bigotry and hatred. Even The Silence of Lambs did not go to extensive lengths to humanize the behavior of Hannibal Lecter, and god knows that was a possible direction since most of his victims were incredibly annoying.

Let me change the topic since it seems like the right moment for that. I recently attended an event seeking to explain the phenomenon of various neo-Nazi gatherings that caused some branches of the ACLU to completely abandon their principles. The panelists mostly focused on structural racism, wisely staying away from identifying the motives of the actual people involved.

Why are some people full of hatred? There is no justification or excuse that will render this subject operable in the mind of a normal, non-bigoted person. Mr. Mercedes is proof of this, since there are plenty of great writers (Dennis Lehane, A.M. Homes, Sophie Owens-Bender) working on this project, and throughout this series, which is exclusive to the Direct TV channel Audience for now, nothing much is accomplished when it comes to knowing who or what Brady Hartsfield is.

Since that inquiry fails either because it is the wrong question, or because the answer is unknowable to non-sociopaths, we seek to learn what we can from Brady Hartsfield's counterpart in Mr. Mercedes. To his credit, King has always been willing to take risks with his protagonists that other writers generally eschew. Sometimes that makes those protagonists rather unlikable, rendering their stories impotent, but this is of no concern to Stephen, since there is always another novel if you are not liking the one you've got.

Gleeson really throws everything into this alcoholic, near-suicidal retiree. Hodges' general crankiness is actual charming when administered in bits and pieces, even if we acknowledge we are witnessing the slow death of a dinosaur being purged from his natural habitat. Far less forgivable is the fact that Hodges is not really much of a detective -- in fact he relies upon a teenager named Jerome (Jharrel Jerome) to fix his computer, mow his lawn, and generally discover what is relevant to the investigation. "You have to find a purpose," his good-natured neighbor Ida (Holland Taylor) tells him.

It is impossible not to read this as an oblique commentary on Brady Hartsfield, who is portrayed by one of the most talented English actors at imitating an American we have seen in some time. If we would simply give our racists some other purpose, David E. Kelley (Ally McBeal) seems to be saying, they would forget about their true nature. I don't know whether this is true, but I do know that goodwill towards those unwilling to help themselves rarely goes unpunished.

Ethan Peterson is the reviews editor of This Recording.

Reader Comments (1)

Thanks for sharing
October 7, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterfarhan khan

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