Mr. Mercedes is back! For its third season, the Audience Network drama about retired police detective Bill Hodges (Brendan Gleeson) is set to adapt parts of Finders Keepers, the only of Stephen King’s three novels about Hodges that the show has yet to tackle. The show went a bit out of order, addressing elements of End of Watch, the third book, in season 2. Because of that switch, the titular character is now missing from the show. Brady Hartsfield (Harry Treadaway), the killer called Mr. Mercedes after he used such a car to mow down a crowd of people at a job fair in the series premiere, was killed by his old friend Lou Linklatter (Breeda Wool) at the end of last season.
Brady may be gone, but there are still killers afoot. The season 3 premiere, which aired Tuesday night, opens with two young men murdering acclaimed author John Rothstein (Bruce Dern) in a robbery gone bad. At first, the crime doesn’t have any obvious connections to Brady, but Gleeson tells EW that it’s still a consequence of the evil he brought to town.
“There’s a consistency to what we’ve been trying to do from the beginning,” Gleeson says. “The opening of episode 1 of the series was horrific. When we were chatting about doing the series, one thing we could see there was the idea of examining the repercussions and consequences of a catastrophic event like that. It doesn’t finish. We move on, the headlines move on, but in the meantime, all these other lives were smashed up by that and influenced by that. Now a horrific thing happens at the beginning of season 3, but we hear that the guys who are robbing Rothstein were at the jobs fair when Brady was there. There’s a whole interconnectedness between what’s happening now and that one event. So this season continues Brady’s malign influence and presence. As long as all those broken people are there, he’s always going to be around.”
Hodges becomes invested in the Rothstein case because of a personal connection to the author’s work. That connection illustrates one of the show’s interesting departures from King’s source material. Unlike the book version, Gleeson’s Hodges is an Irish immigrant, which allows him to speak with his natural accent. We learn this season that Rothstein’s writing was one of the main things that helped Hodges acclimate to his new home — and inspired him to come in the first place.
“We took Bill Hodges as an all-American guy and turned him into somebody who started off in Ireland and became an all-American guy. After seeing different people here who all had different accents but were Americans, it became less of an issue to me,” Gleeson says. “A lot of all-American guys weren’t born here, that’s just the way it is. It meant I could go back into a backstory in my own culture, which was easier than pretending to have played softball, if you know what I mean. And one of the things was the fatherly influence. It always felt like he and his mother were close. His father didn’t feature, for whatever reason. So what he got from Rothstein was the idea of a man, in the lack of a paternal influence. There’s a certain amount of Old West going on, but also a certain cynicism and modernity about it. There’s a line where Hodges says that Rothstein’s America felt real, so he wanted to start there. He wasn’t coming to America for the bright lights. He wanted to work in the real world, where real things happen, where real men operate. It was formative for him in a way. He used Rothstein’s writing as a template for what a man should be. But as this season goes, that starts to be debunked.”
The investigation into Rothstein’s murder and the fallout from it form one of the main plot pillars of this season of Mr. Mercedes. The other is Lou’s criminal trial for killing Brady. Lou is the first killer Hodges has dealt with on this show for whom he has sympathy — but the fact remains that by killing Brady, she still crossed a line that even he had refused to.
Like its preceding seasons, season 3 of Mr. Mercedes has a sharp awareness of the broken nature of post-recession America. Remember, Brady’s original massacre was at a job fair, preying on desperate people. Things haven’t gotten much better for regular folk in the years since, which is why the money from the Rothstein robbery could mean life or death for a family struggling to pay medical bills.
“It’s particularly strong in the books. Stephen King is really really good at that, and not enough people are talking about the reality for a vast amount of people in America: It’s not the American dream,” Gleeson says. “It’s the American dream under huge assault. All these families are being set up to believe that if you work hard, it will arrive, but then you have these vast areas of the country that have just been abandoned. It’s a huge theme in King’s trilogy, and it’s been important for us to maintain as an element of the show. There’s an absolute malaise. The massacre was the nadir of that, but we have all these broken lives everywhere. And still there’s a spirit that trying to find and maintain decency.”
Mr. Mercedes airs at 10 p.m. ET on the Audience Network.
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