It all comes down to this: A legal battle to determine the fate of Brady Hartsfield

By Christian Holub
October 24, 2018 at 11:05 PM EDT
Kent Smith/AT&T AUDIENCE Network

And now we come to the end. After one season of a serial killer cat-and-mouse game and one season of…vaguely sci-fi mystery manhunt, Mr. Mercedes ends by becoming a courtroom drama, of all things.

The legal drama starts in a jail cell, though. Last week’s episode ended with Bill Hodges arrested and put in a jail cell right next to Brady Hartsfield. We see now that this was an intentional ploy by Montez, hoping that Bill could bring out the “real” Brady and produce a confession that would override the Babineaus’ recent legal maneuvers to defend their cash cow patient. It doesn’t quite work out that way. For one thing, Brady does seem different now. He’s calm and empathetic and seems slightly remorseful. In this “staring contest,” Bill’s the one who breaks first. He reaches through the bars to choke Brady, which sends the cops rushing in. When they get there, Bill claims he was just stopping Brady from choking on a bit of plastic, but whatever the reason, this is at least the third time Bill’s had the chance to kill Brady and declined. You don’t get that many chances.

So with Brady still living, the legal drama begins. Montez expects Brady and his high-powered attorney to plead insanity, but they end up going for something else entirely. Their claim is that, due to the various surgeries and drug treatments, Brady has now developed a conscience, and is thus fundamentally different than the Mercedes killer who ran down those people at the job fair. Since he’s now a different person, he can’t possibly be expected to defend the thinking or actions of someone else. Everyone in the show hilariously proceeds as if this is a totally normal thing to argue in court, but the fundamental truth is that the Babineau’s and their pharmaceutical partners are putting a lot of money behind Brady’s legal defense. As Cora said last week, if you have enough money on your side, the American legal system bends to your will.

The Babineau’s bolster their claim by bringing in a litany of medical experts to testify about how the treatments probably did change Brady as a person. The funniest part is that Brady’s lawyer argues that he’s extra not culpable for his crimes because he had no say over the surgeries and medical treatments that were done to him…but the very people who administered those illegal drugs are a key part of his legal defense!

And yet, Bill has an ace up his sleeve. Montez says that the only way to disprove their case would be to bring in someone who has interacted with both the old Brady and the new Brady, and testify that they’re still fundamentally the same person. Bill, unfortunately, is not a reliable witness, given his well-documented obsession with catching Brady. But Lou Linklatter is.

As much as she wants to see justice delivered to Brady, Lou is really scared of being in the same room as him. Unfortunately, that’s a requirement if her testimony is going to mean anything. She needs to have a one-on-one talk with the “new” Brady, in order to tell if he’s really the same as the “old” Brady.

This scene, in which Lou and Brady are seated at a table together in a secure room, is probably the highlight of this entire finale. Brady says that he remembers their friendship and that he can’t imagine having hurt Lou in the way he did. That’s not enough for Lou. She says Brady wasn’t just her best friend or her favorite co-worker; he was the only one in the whole world who knew her. He didn’t just hurt her; he killed her, as far as she’s concerned. She’s alive, but she can’t understand her life anymore. All Brady wants is her forgiveness.

NEXT: That’s all, folks

Easier said than done! The next day at court, Lou takes the stand, and says that even though Brady does seem more compassionate now, “he’s still the same sociopath who stabbed me.” That’s not quite good enough for Brady’s lawyer, who argued that since he did things in their conversation he’s never done before (like cry, or express remorse) he must have fundamentally changed, right? For a minute it seems like he’s gotten the better of her, and Brady really will be able to walk free.

But then, after her testimony, Lou walks directly over to Brady’s table. She leans in close, tells him “I do not forgive you,” and then…shoots him right in the eye with a 3D-printed gun. Swarmed by cops, Lou is held down and forced to make eye contact with Brady as he finally dies. His last expression is the same devilish smile that used to be his symbol. I couldn’t help but think of Frank Miller’s classic line from The Dark Knight Returns about the Joker laughing one last time before dying: “Whatever’s in him rustles as it leaves.”

Bill can only watch on helplessly from the audience as his archenemy is finally vanquished. This marks two straight seasons of Mr. Mercedes defining itself as a show about the primal contest between hunter and killer, and then sidelining the hero from any kind of cathartic confrontation. This kind of storytelling is always going to be frustrating (as it was when season 1 of Fargo ended without Allison Tolman and Billy Bob Thornton ever interacting), but it also adds an interesting dimension to the archetypal hero-villain dynamic from stories like this. Bill had multiple chances to kill Brady and refused, just as Batman has never gone through with killing the Joker (except for imaginary endings like The Dark Knight Returns). But while the latter tension has lasted decades, what this Mr. Mercedes finale proves is that such a dynamic is not really workable in a realistic setting, because eventually, the villain’s victims might decide to take vengeance into their own hands.

What a strange season of TV this was. Mr. Mercedes season 2 threw a lot at the wall — mind control! Telepathic sexual harassment! Chinese pharmaceutical companies experimenting with superpower drugs! — and barely resolved any of it. Whatever happened to Jerome’s Harvard difficulties, anyway? Did Holly ever go on a date with that guy? Did his chemical tests prove anything about the Babineaus’ drugs? Who knows. Obviously, those things never felt central to the core story of Bill vs. Brady, but in retrospect, it all feels like padding to balloon this plot to 10 episodes. I appreciate it for getting as weird as it did, though.

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