It amazes me how little fanfare that “Mr. Mercedes” is getting. Season 1 was not only one of the best Stephen King adaptations ever, I think it has the rare distinction of being even better that its source material. (I really liked 2014 novel, but I loved the show.) I might have a couple of minor quibbles about the ten-episode season, but they’re not enough to stop me from rating it a perfect 10.
I tend to think of this as more “mainstream King.” As with the book, the story here is devoid of the supernatural elements that usually characterize King’s work. It also doesn’t have any overt connection to King’s overarching, interconnected “Dark Tower” multiverse. It’s a depressingly real-world story about a mass murderer whose weapon of choice is a stolen Mercedes. (There is a plot-driving horror set-piece at the start of the pilot episode in which he mows down a crowd lined up for a job fair.)
What follows is a drama of surprising depth and authenticity. We see the extended aftermath of slaughter, throughout the lives of people connected to it — including one victim’s family, the now-retired investigating detective (Brendan Gleeson), the young killer himself (Harry Treadway) and his alcoholic, incestuous mother (Kelly Lynch). Gleeson was who first made me interested in the show, and his performance is outstanding. Lynch is amazing and perfect in her role, and is even talented enough make her onerous character truly sympathetic. But even they are outshined by Treadway’s frighteningly goddam perfect portrayal of the titular “Mr. Mercedes.” The guy is incredible.
The script was nothing short of terrific. There is certainly enough horror here — including one particularly cringe-inducing plot twist late in the game. (It was so disturbingly presented that I almost had to switch the episode off — and I knew it was coming, as I’d already read the book.) But the horror punctuates the unexpectedly touching drama among the story’s protagonists — and the sad relationship between the killer and his disordered mother. There were also some great moments of humor, and the subtexts here dealing with friendship and loyalty were surprisingly moving.
The rest of the cast was quite good. The directing shined as well — especially for a key sequence in Episode 7, “Willow Lake.” Even the soundtrack was excellent. Hell, they even referenced W. H. Auden in one episode.
My quibbles were minor. One was the story’s pacing. It’s actually quite slow for the first eight episodes — enough, I think to lose some viewers. This didn’t bother me much — I took it as “slow-burn” horror, and it matched the very slow pace of the book. Then the story seemed to move forward at a breakneck pace during episodes 9 and 10. I can’t help but wonder if it could have been scripted differently, as that felt odd.
My second quibble lies with Mary-Louise Parker’s portrayal of Janey, the sister of one of the killer’s victims. Parker is an excellent actress, but I found her version of the character to be remarkably detached for someone bereaved in such a horrifying fashion — to me, it seemed like a strange creative choice on the part of the actress.
I’d obviously recommend this; it’s currently the best horror show that I’m aware of.