Wednesday 20 February 2019

Pat Stacey: Mr Mercedes hurtles towards big finish - season 2 has been genre-bending wonder

Sleeper hit: Brendan Gleeson as retired detective Bill in Mr Mercedes
Sleeper hit: Brendan Gleeson as retired detective Bill in Mr Mercedes
Brendan Gleeson steps into the shoes of retired Detective Hodges in Mr Mercedes

Pat Stacey

There’s good news for everyone who was captivated by last night’s penultimate episode of season two of Mr Mercedes, which saw miraculously recovered sociopathic serial killer Brady Hartsfield on the loose again.

Accidentally rehabilitated (so he claims) by brain surgery and Dr Babineau’s unlicensed wonder drug, which he says have imbued him with a new sense of remorse, Hartsfield (the excellent Harry Treadaway) turned himself into the authorities and is playing everyone around him, as well as the media and the judicial system, like a harp.

Everyone, that is, except our bruised and battered hero Bill Hodges (a brilliant Brendan Gleeson), who knows exactly what the twisted murderer is up to.

Rather than leaving us dangling, biting our nails for the big finale, RTE2 has brought it forward to tonight. Presumably, this is to ensure it won’t get in the way of such irresistible locally produced Christmas Eve treats as... er... Bridget and Eamon and The Podge and Rodge Show.

Tormented ex-cop: Bill Hodges was splendidly played by Brendan Gleeson in Mr Mercedes, this year’s best drama by a long shot
Tormented ex-cop: Bill Hodges was splendidly played by Brendan Gleeson in Mr Mercedes, this year’s best drama by a long shot

Frankly, who cares what the reason is? The move makes good sense. It would be a shame if the closing chapter of what was, for my money, the outstanding US drama of the year (and for that matter, of last year as well) were to get lost in the Christmas Eve frenzy, when many people are more concerned with the last-minute scramble for presents than with what’s on television.

And speaking of getting lost, the even better news is that a third season of Mr Mercedes has already been commissioned. This is both a delight and a slight surprise, because I feared Mr Mercedes might not last the distance.

I’ve previously used this column to express my bafflement at why the series — based, increasingly freely in its second season, on a trilogy of novels by Stephen King, who recently tweeted that it’s a personal favourite among adaptations of his work — isn’t the enormous global success it richly deserves to be.

It has everything going for it: bulletproof source material, excellent scripts  and a superb cast — not just Gleeson and Treadaway, but Justine Lupe, Holland Taylor, Nancy Travis, Jherome Jarrell and Breeda Wool — all playing engaging, beautifully realised characters.

Brendan Gleeson steps into the shoes of retired Detective Hodges in Mr Mercedes
Brendan Gleeson steps into the shoes of retired Detective Hodges in Mr Mercedes

With lesser talents involved, the shift into supernatural/science-fiction territory in season two could easily have ended up looking bonkers, and derailed the entire series.

But we’re in the hands of experts here: seasoned professionals like David E Kelley, who developed the series; Dennis Lehane, who’s written or co-written many episodes; and Jack Bender, who’s directed most of them.

And yet, for two years running, Mr Mercedes didn’t receive so much as a single nomination, let alone an award, at either the Emmys or Golden Globes.

Both, on the other hand, were happy to recognise the leaden and bloated second season of The Handmaid’s Tale, when it was painfully obvious to viewers who doggedly slogged through all 13 dour episodes that the series had overreached and lost the plot.

No wonder the source novel’s author, Margaret Atwood, who gets a complimentary “executive producer” credit but has no hands-on involvement, decided to write a sequel, The Testaments, which comes out late next year and is unconnected to the series.

Just as unfathomably, Mr Mercedes has little presence outside of the United States. The only two channels in Europe to pick up the first season last year were RTE2 and Canal+ in Poland. It finally landed in the UK in the summer on Amazon Prime’s Starzplay channel, but the audience is limited.

Perhaps we should just count ourselves lucky that we’re getting to see it at all. Tonight’s finale is a cracker, by the way, full of twists and turns, and bowing out in a way that will leave you dying (like a key character) to know what happens next.

Season 2 of Mr Mercedes concludes on RTE2 at 9.30pm tonight

Read more: Pat Stacey: Brendan Gleeson's Golden Globes nomination snub is an outrage

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