Wednesday, September 20, 2017

REVIEW: 'Mr. Mercedes' - Janey Gets Closer to Hodges Just as Brady Strikes Again in 'Willow Lake'

Audience's Mr. Mercedes - Episode 1.07 "Willow Lake"

As Hodges helps Janey through a difficult time, their connection deepens. Realizing he still needs their help, Hodges brings Jerome and Holly back into the investigation. Deborah confronts Brady with her concerns.

Death has always been an effective plot device in order to increase tension and uncertainty in a narrative. It's become a common trope as well. So many beats surrounding death have gotten predictable. That's especially true when a woman is killed in an epic display of violence just to create a reaction from the male lead character. It's not surprising that all of this happens in Mr. Mercedes as it begins to ramp up to its finale. This game of cat-and-mouse between Hodges and Brady has been simmering for awhile now. No significant progress has been made on either end too. Hodges isn't any closer to figuring out Brady's true identity. He's been too focused on helping Janey throughout this difficult time of losing her sister and mother. Meanwhile, Brady hasn't been able to torture Hodges into killing himself. Those are the grand ambitions of this story. When the two of them talked over a face chat, that was a key turning point in this war. It meant that action needed to be taken in order to raise the stakes further. Death is an obvious way to do that. Death is such a crucial part of this story. The season began with a vicious display of violence. Brady has had thoughts about killing people multiple times throughout the season. And now, he has successfully done it once more. It's absolutely chilling to watch. But more importantly, the execution makes it seem like the show is aware of the stereotypes and traps it could potential fall into while telling this story.

This is fundamentally a story about toxic masculinity. Brady has grown into the man he is today because he's had such a traumatic life of abuse by the world around him and the inability to get help for his disturbed impulses. His side of this narrative has been incredibly dark. His father died in a tragic accident. He and his mother clearly had something to do with his younger brother's death. But this trauma isn't what shaped Brady into the man he is today who shows a reckless disregard for human life. He has always been this way and these incidents of trauma and tragedy only reaffirmed the person he was underneath. This episode reveals that Deb has known that all along. That's not particularly surprising given what happened to Brady's younger brother. But she also fully believed that Brady had grown out of these dark impulses. She keeps a journal of his from his youth to remind herself of just how cruel he used to be. It's notated with "DMFD" all over the place. It stands for "die mother fuckers die." Deb is only now starting to doubt whether Brady is truly better after all of these years. He clearly isn't but she's been too blind to see. The drinking and her love for him are to blame for that. But now, she's been rejected by him and wants to be sober. That's allowed her to be more aware of what's going on even though it's still not good enough.

Deb even confronts Brady about what she finds hidden in his room. She can't break the lock to get to the basement. She still doesn't know what's going on down there. She just has the innocent-looking room upstairs. It appears to be a messy and average room of a young adult. It's even comforting to her that he still has the hat that belonged to his father. But underneath that lies the true darkness. She finds the clown mask that he wore on the night he killed all of those people as the Mercedes killer. That's his souvenir and reminder of that night. He's fantasized a bunch about that event over the years. He doesn't need that mask in order to feel connected to it. But it's still a terrifying sight. Deb has the right instinct to confront him. She wants to know why he wants to keep her drunk and hidden away in the house. But it produces nothing meaningful for her to do. Brady having to explain himself to her as well as what happens at work are contributing factors for what happens later on with Hodges and Janey. His workplace has always been a toxic environment. He's only relied upon because he's so good with technology. But now, all of the employees are literally being condemned by Robi's boss who is punishing them for Robi not meeting his quota for the year. It's absolutely twisted and manipulative. It's not right that Lou is fired just so someone is punished. Brady doesn't stand up for her but he's clearly affected by what happens to her. That's enough to send him into a rage cycle which is only accelerated once he comes home to his mother's questions about his life.

Meanwhile, Hodges is still just playing catch-up with his investigation. He now has Olivia's computer. That will perhaps hold some clues as to what was happening in her life before she died. But no one has the password. So, Jerome and Holly meet to crack into the computer. That's a meeting that's only possible once Hodges apologizes for his behavior to Jerome. He wanted him far away from this investigation. But technology is such a prominent part of the case that he needs Jerome's help. Of course, Holly proves herself to be even more capable in that regard. But even that only produces so much. There still isn't a significant amount of progress made with this investigation. Jerome and Holly get into the computer but can't open the file that could provide answers. That has its own set of encryption which likely came from the killer. So they are on the case. Meanwhile, Hodges is helping Janey with her mother's funeral. That reveals that Ida owns the local funeral home. So, all three of the characters are forced to interact with one another. That's amusing. But all of this largely just brings Hodges and Janey closer. She wanted nothing to do with him after her mother revealed that he harassed Olivia too. But following her mother's death, she's relied on his support in order to get through it. She is only able to figure out her true feelings towards her mother with his help. It's such a fascinating realization that she didn't really know her mother at all. She knew the broad details and what she was like. But she didn't actually know her on a deep, personal level. That's devastating and leaves her clueless as to what she's going to say in her eulogy. Hodges is helpful. But even in getting closer, she's ready to push him away. She's ready to return to her life in California because she doesn't want to be hurt like she was previously in her life. That's a reveal that shows there is still more to her than Hodges is aware of.

And yet, Janey dies because she got too close to Hodges. The moment that the show cut away from the funeral before Janey gave her eulogy was a very curious moment. The episode set up the expectation that it was going to be this big moment of clarity for her. If the show didn't then feature it, it would have been weird. Instead, the show is being a little manipulative. It cuts to the events after the funeral before revealing the message of the eulogy. It's a smart creative decision as well because it keeps the focus on Janey. Following the ceremony, she's the one driving Hodges' car. It's a little forced to get her there. But it doesn't derail Brady's plans to detonate his bomb at all. He's just taking the one person Hodges cares about most in this world instead of actually killing him. That will keep their game going for a little while longer. He's striking now to show just how wide his influence and control really is. The usual tendency of this kind of twist is to focus on the aftermath and how it affects Hodges. He's the one who put Janey into this situation. He's the one who'll have to deal with the ramifications of it. But those are concerns for the future. The show doesn't need to spend a lot of time on his shock to what has just happened. Instead, it gives this moment to Janey. This is her final moment on the show. But it's highlighted through her eulogy. In it, she talks about the non-existence of time in Heaven. That's what her mother believed. They weren't a religious family at all. Janey's mother believed that heaven is like Willow Lake - a place she used to visit in her youth. It was a happy memory where her entire family would be there out-of-place in time. Heaven would have no limits. It would be this perfect existence for the legacy of this family to exist within. That's a compelling abstract thought. It's then punctuated by Janey joining her family in the afterlife just moments later. It's a devastating reveal while also showing that the series is aware of the tropes of this plot device and trying to avoid them. It's still fundamentally the same but the execution makes it slightly more tolerable.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Willow Lake" was written by Dennis Lehane and directed by Jack Bender.
  • Throughout this entire season, the show has struggled with how much violence is too much violence to show in this story. It's been very provocative with its imagery. The burning car isn't a new or inventive sight but it's still a strong twist. And yet, did we really need to see the arm that was severed and burning in the middle of the street? It was already clear what had happened to Janey. That just seemed like a little too much.
  • Janey's death will more than likely force Hodges to push away all of his friends and allies again as well. He just brought Jerome and Holly into this investigation. But now, he'll want them far away to ensure that they don't meet a similar fate. Of course, it still seems likely that death will continue to hang over this show. So who is most likely to go next amongst this ensemble?
  • The show doesn't overplay its hand in signaling Janey's death either. At first, it's just creepy and unsettling that Brady is at the church spying on the funeral. He's continuing to watch Hodges and Janey from afar. As soon as Janey gets into the car, it's clear what's going to happen. It wasn't necessary to show Brady planting the bomb. So, it was really told well.
  • This won't be the last time that Lou will be seen, right? If so, it will feel like a very anti-climatic ending for her. If so, it would mean her only purpose in this world was in motivating Brady into action because he didn't do anything to save her job. But the connection probably goes deeper than that, right? Now, she'll be seen elsewhere in the world.
  • There definitely seems to be a spark between Jerome and Holly as well. They immediately get along. He's very understanding of the various neurosis she has in interacting with other people. And yet, how old are these characters suppose to be? Jerome is still in high school while Holly seems older than that. And yet, it's suppose to be important that they are getting close right now to help Hodges.