Wednesday, August 9, 2017

REVIEW: 'Mr. Mercedes' - A Brutal Display of Violence Starts a Twisted Game Between Detective and Killer in 'Pilot'

Audience's Mr. Mercedes - Episode 1.01 "Pilot"

Two years after retiring, former homicide detective Bill Hodges is still haunted by his last case - a massacre that left sixteen people dead. When the demented culprit begins to torment Hodges, he is compelled to revisit the case. 

The opening scene of Mr. Mercedes is bound to stir up quite a bit of conversation. It will more than likely be the most discussed moment on any series the Audience Network has produced so far. It depicts such a vicious moment of brutality. It doesn't shy away from the destructive quality of it. But it's also incredibly bloodied and graphic as well. The question will become: How much of this was necessary for the audience to understand the impact it will have on the overall story? It does set a strong template for the remainder of the series. It's very eery and creepy long before Brady gets into the Mercedes with his clown mask and drives into a crowd full of people desperately looking for work. The symbolism is powerful in regards to an unassuming white man being able to destroy people's lives simply because of their economic statuses. A person from this community who needed to attend a job fair wouldn't be able to afford the title car. It's a statement on class and socioeconomics. But the rest of the hour also reveals that the story is about mental health and the systems in place that either help or hurt people simply through communication or lack thereof. It's really delicate material coupled with these horrifying visuals of brutality. It's effective in starting the series even though it also feels all too familiar from the every day world.

The series starts innocently enough with a man being disappointed about a long line at a job fair. He strikes up a courteous dynamic with the person ahead of him in line who has also brought her baby with. It's such an important dynamic in the overall story. These two individuals don't know each other previously to this moment. But they forge a bond that is so powerful and interesting to watch because they take the time to actually be friendly and helpful. They are struggling and desperate to find something to improve their lives moving forward. The woman has issues when it comes to providing for her child. The man is more than accommodating to her despite the rudeness of the other people in line. And then, the car shows up in the scene. The mood doesn't entirely change. From the very first second of the show, there is a sense of dread that something bad is about to happen. The car pulls up and it's suddenly revealed just where the source of trauma will come from. But it's also depicted in a very blunt and matter-of-fact way. It has its eccentricities too. The face of the driver is masked. He is wearing latex gloves. The lights from the car are blinding to the people in line. For the most part though, it's played from the perspective of the two main characters. The car drives into the crowd forcefully. The audience sees as the two people are quickly struck and ripped apart. It's horrifying to see. Again, the audience is meant to question if the show goes too far in its depiction of these events. It sets the tone immediately. This is going to be a very graphic show that doesn't flinch away from the true monstrosity of humanity. It's going to force the audience into this story as it's only bound to get more complicated and darker as well.

It's fascinating how the show does that moment and then jumps ahead in time two years. We get to see Detectives Hodges and Dixon arrive on the scene and be disgusted by the carnage. But then, it moves forward to reveal the life that becomes of Hodges because of this case. In two years time, he is retired and has gained a significant amount of weight. He never caught the guy responsible. Now, he's just reclined to a life of beer and television. He's barely finding the motivation to meet his former partner (who is still a detective) for lunch. The show and Brendan Gleeson communicate so much about this guy without a whole lot of dialogue at all. It just throws the audience into this guy's every day world knowing that it was all corrupted because of this central case. And now, the case is bound to stir things up for him once more as well. He's never able to rest into a comfortable retirement because he's still being contacted by the killer. The moments of levity come from the mundane details of Hodges life in the suburbs. He has fun relationships with the next-door neighbor, Ida, and the guy who does maintenance around the house, Jerome. Those friendships are key because they represent the ability to pull him out of the darkness. Ida forces Hodges to think about sex and personal connections. Jerome has the youthful energy and the skill set to help him with technology and tasks around the house. Both are pleasant to see even though it's also clear that he is keeping a fair amount of his dark past away from them. They can see the damage to his psyche but they don't know the specific details. He is still shielding them from that.

Hodges being contacted by the central killer in order to lure him into a game of cat-and-mouse makes the story seem a little more conventional and formulaic. It's still dealing with dark themes like constant surveillance and the loss of privacy in this ever-changing world. But this is a device that has been used in shows like this before. Mr. Mercedes makes things more unique though by actually spending time with its main antagonist. That's just as creepy and unnerving as well. The story depicts a day in the life of Brady Hartsfield too. He seems like an average guy simply juggling a couple of jobs in order to pull himself up into a better life. He's saving money for college. He has the technical knowledge to excel at his job while also having the discipline to behave in front a very demanding boss. But the more this hour spends with him the more it reveals the dark corners of his mind and how he was shaped into the human he is today. He's taunting Hodges into playing this game with him. He did this incredibly violent thing and evaded capture. He followed the story and investigation obsessively. He can still remind Hodges of the press conference where he promised to hunt down the killer to bring justice to his victims. He didn't fulfill that promise. And now, Brady is stalking Hodges and doing a remarkable job in revealing just how smart and observant he truly is. He has eyes on Hodges. He knows what his life has become. Even when Hodges attempts to gain control again, he shops at the store where Brady is employed. No, the two of them don't have a run-in there. But it shows just how intimate this community can be and how the lives of these two characters are inter-connected in the most mundane of ways.

And of course, the scene between Brady and his mother, Deb, deserves intense analysis as well. That too is a scene of intense pressure where the audience is made uncomfortable immediately and then the show just continues to reveal more and more darkness. It starts simply as a mother who is completely out-of-touch with her son's life. She has no idea about the brutality he is capable of doing because she's too busy with her own addictions. And yet, she reveals an intense amount of love and affection for him as well. The two of them sexualize each other in an immediate way. It's so eery and unpredictable. At first, it seems like the troubled mind of a young psychopath who is sexually frustrated and has these images of a woman's body right in front of him all the time. She is there for him to see in her skimpy clothing. She's the image he needs to masturbate too as soon as he gets to his private quarters in the basement. But there is so much more going on with this twisted relationship as well. Deb is actually playing into it. She's traumatizing her son by actually being obsessed with his looks and sexual desires too. She questions why he's never had a girlfriend and demands a kiss from him. She pulls him in closer and starts kissing him on the mouth and grabbing at his crotch. It's not normal behavior at all. Brady still has the responsibility to avoid acting on these urges. But the temptation is still there. It has probably always been present because both of them are troubled individuals. That's a fascinating approach to this subject matter. The actions of the parent led to the creation of this demented mind. But it's so much more complicated here because of this additional layer of Deb's own inner workings. That will more than likely become more complex as the season goes along and thus even more traumatizing to behold.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Pilot" was written by David E. Kelley and directed by Jack Bender.
  • This story isn't set in the present-day. That explains why Hodges is listening to an Obama speech on the radio as he's driving home. But it's still incredibly timely because it explores a world that may have gone unnoticed and under-appreciated over the years. One where words and programs seemed to be enough but clearly weren't in terms of improvement.
  • Brady is able to keep a watchful eye over Hodges' house because he happens to be the driver of the local ice cream truck. It's interesting that the two jobs Brady has are for businesses that are seemingly going away. Ice cream trucks are scarcely seen while electronics stores are being replaced by big corporations. And yet, they are beneficial to Brady and his endeavors.
  • Ida comes across as a very blunt woman. However, she's not a broad personality. There is a sense of grounded honesty to her that really works because of Holland Taylor's performance. She asks Hodges for sex and shows him naked pictures of herself. He recoils in horror about the idea of naked pictures on cell phones. The idea creeps him out. Ida needs him to actually look at her body though in order for things to be good between them which is empowering in its own way.
  • It's clear that Hodges was forced to retire because of his obsession over the Mercedes case. He's distant from his partner. Their lunch is even interrupted because Dixon still has crime scenes to run off to while Hodges has nothing. He's not going to be very cooperative either because he knows the history Hodges has with this case. That's information the audience doesn't quite have yet.
  • Brady's boss, Robi, sees himself as a mentor figure whom his wayward employees are lucky to have teaching them the ways of this business. Meanwhile, Brady's co-worker, Lou, is very fun because she always speaks her mind and pushes back even though it will more than likely cost her this job.