Mr. Mercedes author Stephen King may be most famous for traumatizing readers with the likes of Pennywise and the creatures from The Mist, but at the end of the day, it's the real-life horrors that he evokes which scare us most.
In King's first take on the detective genre, serial killer Brady Hartsfield commits some heinous acts, but none are more horrifying than the opening scene in which he drives into innocent people waiting outside a job fair. Written before terrorists began to drive cars into people with disturbing regularity, reading how the attack plays out now just a few years later is far more unsettling in 2017 than it was in 2014.
Should Mr. Mercedes Have Avoided That Opening Scene?
Blood-curdling screams. The smell of burnt rubber. People pushing and shoving in all directions. The frenzied chaos that opens the first episode of Mr. Mercedes is all too familiar to anyone who takes even a passing glance at the news these days. In fact, the sight of a car driving into a crowd has become a painfully common occurrence now, one that instils fear in anyone gathered at a large public event.
With that in mind, it wouldn't have been too surprising if David E. Kelley's TV adaptation had steered away from depicting that opening massacre, despite it being one of the book's signature moments. After all, Audience doesn't have the wide, well, audience that other networks wield, so it would have been entirely understandable if Mr. Mercedes had tried to maximize viewers by censoring some of the more violent scenes from the book.
Fortunately, the team behind the Mr. Mercedes adaptation recognized that it was vitally important to include this scene still. Changing or removing the murderous rampage that kickstarts the story would have undoubtedly upset fans of the book as this event serves as the catalyst for everything that follows. Even more importantly though, avoiding shocking acts of violence such as this on TV also does more harm than good.
According to Deadline, director Jack Bender discussed how important it is to neither glamorize or ignore real-life violence on TV during a conference at TCA:
“I felt it was a responsibility to show that. It’s all about the repercussions and how many lives were affected. It was my responsibility as a filmmaker to show it in a realistic way and not put any frame on it. Don’t glamorize it. Just put the audience in that horror without trying to walk the tight rope and getting into literal horror, which was never our desire."
By taking the time to introduce characters that readers knew would die momentarily, Bender and the team behind Mr. Mercedes captured the randomness that horrific attacks of this nature evoke. Visually, Bender pulled no punches either, graphically depicting the deaths of those caught under the wheels of Brady Hartsfield's car, including a young mother and her infant daughter. The question remains though:
Do The Acts Of Violence In Mr. Mercedes Hit Too Close To Home?
The senseless travesty of attacks like this may be hard to watch for those who personally know the victims or have experienced terrorism at this level for themselves, but as Bender said, there is a responsibility to show such ordeals on film. Lead actor Brendan Gleeson agreed, stating during the TCA that:
"Jack made it very clear that from our point of view, there’s no indulgence in the violence for a titillating aspect. The great thing about it is that consequences are real."
Fans of the show will note that violence occurs sparingly throughout the episodes of Mr. Mercedes aired so far and is only used to further the story rather than titivate or shock viewers for the sake of it. Where possible, brutal acts will be depicted in full if they're necessary to the show, yet question marks still surround Brady's final act of malice in the book.
In #StephenKing's story, the Mr. Mercedes killer tried to set off a nail bomb at a pop concert and failed thanks to the intervention of Detective Hodges. Tragically though, on May 22, 2017, a real-life suicide bomber killed 22 people at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester Arena.
Despite choosing to keep the murderous opening intact for the show, director Jack Bender revealed that the team behind Mr. Mercedes has opted to replace this concert attack with another threat, finding a "better way to make [the finale] a potentially more catastrophic event."
Whether it's the uniquely cruel nature of this terrorist attack that encouraged the show runners to veer away from depicting something similar or whether they decided to alter the show's finale before the Manchester attack took place remains unclear. However, what is clear is that Mr. Mercedes will neither shy away from the violence depicted in the book or stick rigidly to the source material if it doesn't serve the interests of the show. It's a fine balancing act, but one that has helped make Mr. Mercedes one of the best Stephen King adaptations in years.
Just like we shouldn't stop gathering in large crowds for public celebrations, we also shouldn't stop depicting violence on #TV, even if it sometimes resembles real life events. There are those who may argue that copycat killers could be influenced by what they see in shows like Mr. Mercedes, but the reality is that people with this outlook will act regardless of the media that they consume.
What's more important is to help audiences understand the pain that victims feel rather than just sweep it under the rug. Knowledge is our best weapon against such acts of terrorism and also informs the way we deal with those who suffer as a result of them. However, on those rare occasions when the violence involved does mirror recent events too closely, it makes sense to adjust what happened in order to accommodate those still affected without avoiding the event completely.
It remains to be seen exactly how close the Season 1 finale of #MrMercedes will mirror the Manchester attack, or if it even will at all, but if the opening act of violence from Episode 1 is anything to go by, then it seems as though the issue will be dealt with carefully and sensitively regardless.
Do you think TV violence that reflects real-world events should be depicted on TV? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below!