In season 3, Mr. Mercedes finds new life thanks to the demise of its titular serial killer, and delivers what may be the series’ most fulfilling season yet. The first two seasons of Audience Network’s best original series were overwhelmingly and understandably preoccupied with the goings-on of Brady Hartsfield (Harry Treadaway), the deranged killer who ran down a group of job seekers at a job fair with a stolen luxury automobile. Treadaway’s chilling performance puts his character among anyone who’s played a baddie (supernatural or otherwise) in any adaption of Stephen King’s work, but it’s the series’ team of investigators, headed up by the wonderful Brendan Gleeson, as the cranky ex-cop Bill Hodges, that makes Mr. Mercedes tick. And in season 3, the series refocuses much of its attention back onto Team Hodges, with entertaining results.
Created for TV by Big Little Lies’ David E. Kelley, and with some season 2 writing help from the likes of author Dennis Lehane (Shutter Island, Live By Night), the series dared to venture beyond the obvious appeal of a dogged former cop chasing a deranged killer by spending as much time getting into the minds of Bill’s cohort — which includes Succession’s Justine Lupe as Holly Gibney, Maximiliano Hernández as Antonio Montez, Jharrel Jerome as Jerome Robinson, and of course, Holland Taylor as Bill’s love interest/neighbor Ida Silver — as it did Brady’s demented brain. Those early season efforts pay off nicely at the beginning of season 3, which divides its time in the wake of Lou Linklater's (Breeda Wool) courtroom assassination of Mr. Mercedes as well as the murder of a famed American author played by Bruce Dern.
The new season is still interested in Brady, though by way of Lou, who’s facing first-degree murder charges in a courtroom presided over by a judge who sees trying the case of a vigilante killing as a lose-lose proposition for his future on the bench. Lou’s prospects don’t look particularly rosy, despite having Brett Gelman (Stranger Things) as her attorney, Roland Finkelstein. Gelman offers a familiar but slightly more sympathetic take his comedic brand of hyper-aggressive mania as Finkelstein, working as a necessary leavening agent to counterbalance Wool’s performance as an increasingly tortured Lou.
Yet in this third season, Mr. Mercedes lives up to its namesake, despite his being shot in the face at the end of last season, through a string of loosely connected, but ever-tightening storylines, many of which either lead back directly to Brady — e.g., Lou’s pending trial — or to the initial Mr. Mercedes attack at the job fair. To do this, the series introduces Gabriel Ebert as Morris Bellamy, a down-on-his-luck criminal looking to make a big score by robbing American author John Rothstein (Dern). This is the second of Dern’s 2019 performances where he spends the majority of his screen time yelling at uninvited guests from a bed. Unlike Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood, however, things get bad for Dern immediately, and escalate very quickly thereafter.
The Rothstein robbery-homicide sparks the series’ first non-Brady Hartsfield-related storyline and it's surprisingly compelling. Ebert’s Morris Bellamy is a fascinating change of pace, as the series takes his point of view to not only continue its exploration of working class hardship in a shaky economy, but to also begin examining the role of fandom, fan expectations, and the sense of ownership certain rabid fan bases have over their favorite stories and characters. While it’s a bit of a stretch to think anyone in 2019, let alone a guy in his mid-twenties, would be a superfan of a decades-old literary character, much less one written by a cantankerous author and amalgam of Philip Roth and J.D. Salinger (and maybe some of Stephen King himself), when he could be obsessing over Spider-Man no longer being in the MCU, it’s nice to see Mr. Mercedes employ its suspension of disbelief to make literature a key fixture in the lives of so many of its characters.
And though it would be worth it if Mr. Mercedes was wall-to-wall Gleeson and Taylor sipping scotch and making one another laugh, the series also manages to make room for its many newcomers, creating a compelling narrative that’s more small-town crime thriller than supernatural mass murderer. Season 3 also introduces Kate Mulgrew as Alma Lane, a femme fatale of sorts who uses the sway she has over Bellamy in her grudge with Rothstein. Meanwhile, Bellamy’s ill-gotten gains fall into the hands of Peter Saubers (Rarmian Newton), a teenager whose family has fallen on hard times after his father, Tom (Josh Daugherty) was nearly crippled in the Mr. Mercedes attack, putting them on a collision course with Rothstein's killer and, eventually, Hodges.
It all adds up to a new season that skillfully begins the footwork of distancing itself from a story that’s more or less reached its climax. The result, then, is a fascinating character-driven exploration of the emotional and legal fallout of Mr. Mercedes’ crimes, and how despite his being dead, Brady Hartsfield may never truly be gone. It’s a bit of trick to tell a story that no longer stars the character for which the series was named, but Mr. Mercedes is ready to reinvent itself without reinventing the wheel.
Mr. Mercedes season 3 premieres Tuesday @10pm on Audience Network.