‘Mr. Mercedes’ Season 1 Episodes 5-8: What Goes Around, Comes Around

Things are definitely heating up on “Mr. Mercedes,” as the bodies begin to drop and the endgame of psychopath Brady (Harry Treadaway) is coming into sight. Already this limited series is proving to be better by leaps and bounds than the summer’s previous Stephen King-inspired series, “The Mist,” from the high-quality production values to the ace cast, which is pretty dead-on, in terms of what I pictured while reading the book.

The writing has proven pretty solid as well, despite some of the liberties taken with the material, and changes that haven’t always proven to be wise. Of course, with such high-end writers as David E. Kelley- hot off the Emmy award-winning “Big Little Lies”- best-selling author Dennis Lehane (“Gone Baby Gone” and “Mystic River”) and A.M. Homes (“The End of Alice,” “The Safety of Objects”) onboard, excellent writing is practically a given.

By and large, I haven’t had a huge problem with most of the changes, though I continue to question the decision to make Brady a bit more nuts than he came across in the book. I mean, don’t get me wrong: we know from the jump that he’s crazy, but he also goes out of his way to at least seem normal, which doesn’t seem to be the case in the mini-series at all, where he barely even tries to hide his insanity.

Quite the opposite, really. This version of Brady Hartsfield is given to zoning out, saying and doing crazy things, and is actually even more overtly insane than the one in the book, to the point of killing more people than he does in the book. Okay, granted, only one more than he does in the book, and the scenario wasn’t completely removed from the book- you could easily see King’s version of Brady hauling off and killing a customer, as the TV one does here- but still.

My point is, the TV Brady takes a lot more risks than the book version, but I do get why they went there. After all, it’s far more suspenseful having a loose cannon as one of the main protagonists, rather than someone who is more reined-in and calculated. This being a TV show, it inherently makes it more exciting, knowing that this Brady could easily give himself away where the one in the book was much more careful.

Of course, books are books and TV is TV, and it makes more sense to put it all on the screen. It’s a lot easier to tell than show in a book, and King communicates how crazy Brady really is via his internal monologue, which we get right off the bat. Obviously, in a typical approach to this material, we wouldn’t already know who the psycho is from pretty much the get-go, so it works like gangbusters in the novel.

On TV, though, keeping things internal won’t really do. By default, you almost have to make Brady more outwardly crazy. Still, the show could have solved this problem by doing more of what we saw in “People in the Rain,” where Brady keeps hallucinating doing psychotic things at the job interview, killing everyone in sight.

This scene wasn’t in the book, and it was quite effective here, and perfectly showcased how close to the edge Brady is at all times, without being as dubious as some of the other choices made beforehand by the writers. In the TV version, Brady makes some decisions that are just plain dumb, from telling his mother about the device he made to break into people’s cars, to his shady behavior in general around people, i.e. his waving hello to Jerome (Jharrel Jerome) at the diner or buying “supplies” at a local store instead of going out of town to do it, like he does in the book.

Once again, I get why they did it- it makes the show more suspenseful, but at the cost of making the character dumber, so… yeah. Is it worth it in the end? Hard to say. I already know- or assume I know, to a certain degree- how this all ends, so an argument can be made that it actually makes sense within the context of the show, where it doesn’t in the book. I don’t want to get into spoiler territory, so I’ll stop there, but suffice it to say, there comes a point where Brady’s public behavior doesn’t matter as much.

That said, I didn’t mind some of the other changes so far. It makes sense that Jerome’s father, who isn’t really even a presence in the book at all, would be concerned about his getting involved with a case that could potentially get him killed and go off on Hodges (Brendan Gleeson) for it. I also didn’t mind the show expanding on Hodges’ estranged relationship with his daughter, Allie (Maddie Hasson, “Twisted”).

It also makes sense that the show would flesh out the relationship between Brady and his mother, Deborah (Kelly Lynch), though it maybe crosses the line a bit here and there, in terms of what he tells her about what he gets up to in the basement. Ditto the scene where she searches his room, which also wasn’t in the book. Book Brady definitely wouldn’t have left so much incriminating evidence behind.

Of course, those latter points are somewhat moot, given that, as we now know, Deborah is no longer in the picture, so it doesn’t really matter what she knows anymore. I loved the way the show handled this part of the book, and how it came across that much better that Brady’s actions had immediate repercussions, as if karma was immediately bitch-slapping him for what he did to Janey.

His sadistic impulse to go after Jerome’s dog comes back to bite him in the end, when the poisoned meat intended for the pet ends up being eaten by his mother, after he forgets in all the excitement of taking out Janey (Mary-Louise Parker) that he stashed the meat in the freezer when the cops came after his mom nearly burned the house down cooking, in a neat bit of foreshadowing.

The show also makes it clearer that Brady chooses to kill Janey, when he could have waited and killed Hodges as well. In the book, Brady doesn’t find out he killed Janey instead until later on, when Hodges overtly taunts him about it online, in an effort to tick him off. By showing visually in the TV version that it’s a choice, not a happenstance, the TV show actually improves on the source material for once.

Unfortunately, when talking the show over with people who hadn’t read the book, the more dubious side effect of the TV version doing this is, you kind of see what happens with the mother coming a mile away, as most of the people I talked to easily predicted what was going to happen to Deborah long before it did. That part was much subtler in the book. So, you win some, you lose some, I guess.

The show also heavily telegraphs what Brady’s endgame will be as well, much more so than in the book, where we don’t quite realize it until pretty close to the end. From the looks of things, it will be slightly different here than in the book, but essentially amounts to the same thing. However, I do wonder if the changes will work to make the end result less tense than the book events of the same. We shall see.

That said, I have genuinely enjoyed this adaption so far, and critical reaction seems to be mostly positive, though not entirely so. However, audience reaction, as per usual, for the most part, is more uniformly positive, making it a distinct possibility that the show might get “renewed,” so, we’ll see.

I put renewed in parentheses, as I have read the next book in the series, and it’s more tangentially related to the material here, though it eventually dovetails nicely with it towards the middle. It begins in the late 70’s and doesn’t “catch up” with the events of this book/show until a good halfway through it, so we don’t get even a mention of the characters here until then. As such, I can see where some people might be disappointed by that, especially if they’ve grown attached to the characters in this one and want to see more.

Whatever the case, I’ve really enjoyed this series a lot, as a fan of the original book, despite some of the more dubious changes. As I said, it’s way better than “The Mist,” which did not get renewed for a second season, and probably didn’t deserve to, really. Hopefully, this show will fare better, and garner a second season, even if it’s not what people expect.

There is a third book in the series, however, so, on the plus side, it’s got a built-in third season, should the next one fare well- if there is one- which is nice. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to seeing if this one ends well, despite the changes made along the way. I suspect it will, warts and all, thanks to a great cast, writing and direction overall.

I’m especially loving the casting of arguably the book’s best creation, Holly Gibney, as portrayed by the perfectly-cast Justine Lupe, of “Snowfall” and “Madame Secretary.” They really nailed it with the casting of that one, as well as Gleeson, who even King admitted he had in mind when he was writing Hodges, so there you go. The rest of the cast is pretty solid as well, though one can’t help but wonder what the late, great Anton Yelchin might have done with the Brady role.

This isn’t a slight on Treadaway, mind you, who is just fine, but yeah, I can’t help but wonder, as I was a huge fan of Yelchin’s. Ditto Ann-Margaret, who was scheduled to play the Holland Taylor role, but had to drop out. Taylor is also just fine, but you know, it’s Ann-Margret, so…

Oh well, no use crying over spilt actors, as it were. Overall, it’s a really strong cast, so no complaints there. Add to that an assured visual sense from the directors and an increasingly tense atmosphere on the whole, and you’ve got yourself a pretty dependable machine in “Mr. Mercedes.”

Join me in a few weeks for a final recap, and thanks for reading! Be sure and let me know what you thought of the show down below in the comment section!