MERRY AND GORRY
Stephen King meets his fate in three stages, and will he die?
In the end, popular writers are always the victims of their own creations, their characters, who come back from hell to haunt them. Sometimes they DO come back.
STEPHEN KING — BRENDAN GLEESON — HARRY TREADAWAY — MR. MERCEDES FIRST SEASON — 2017
Stephen King as an executive producer is faithful to Stephen King as an author, and yet there are a few changes, cosmetic changes you will say, made necessary by the change of the medium. In this first season, Jerome, the young black highschool senior who is going to be the first black student at Harvard, we are still a few years in the past, is not shown in the close relationship he was having with Mr. Hodges in the novel. His father is even quite strict about it though for reasons that are as explicit as they are unreadable. Racism, fear, insinuations of all sorts, etc., with this kind of situation, innuendo is the only language you can speak. A few other things are rearranged for a serial form — and killer by the way — which means each episode has to end with a cliffhanger, and that is not always easy. A series also slows down the rhythm since it has to start rather slowly and it has to move not too fast so that the cliffhanger comes as a precipitous short punchline if I can use this word for a video, maybe a punch-scene.
This being said, Brady Hartsfield sure is a monster and he was in the novel, but the visualization of the monstrousness of the chap makes him so obviously unpleasant and distasteful to everyone that it is surprising his boss picks him to become a store manager, or his lesbian colleague more or less falls for him — as a friend of course — and we are also surprised that he may be a good ice-cream man, friendly with all and particularly children. That makes his deep-rooted psychiatric dysfunctioning all the more sort of artificial and based on some clichés. Written in the book the circumstances are not as shocking as they become in pictures. His causing the death of his brother with first an accident (the brother chokes on some apple slices) that ends well with the Heimlich maneuver, that is not very well performed in the series, and then second with pushing him down the stairs to the basement of the house, is cruel. His possessiveness towards his mother, and it is hinted that’s why he killed his younger brother, is, in fact: only his way to make her a slave in her absolute solitude and to satisfy his perverse desires by titillating and teasing his mother into satisfying her own perverse desires. That’s a cliché, but it is a true case of pedophilia generally minimized and forgotten. The pedophile in a family has to be the father, and can’t be the mother, and the child is too young to be a pedophile, isn’t he? Note the fact we are dealing with a son, not a daughter. It is the Oedipus complex in the absence of a male rival between the son and the mother, an absence constructed by the elimination of the younger brother.
The fact that based on such a situation the son becomes a mass serial killer is most surprising. But it is possible, though the child has to be particularly introverted not to be able to find alternative directions in school and with kids, boys and girls, his age. There is no empathy at all, and it is the belief, common and popular, even populist, that all perverts are born like that, just the same way all normal people are born like that. The basic and most unacceptable belief in American philosophy, psychiatry, and ideology (religious or not), that all criminals are born like that and thus are different at birth, and thus all those who are different at birth have to be born criminals. Read my lips as Ronald Reagan would have said. And the first difference is to be an immigrant. Good morning, Apocalypse!
The series also insists heavily on the ineptitude of the police to capture the situation and to act up to it in the name of hard evidence, circumstantiality, the first amendment, the Miranda protection of accused or suspected criminals, the fear the case may stall in court for who knows what kind of mistake in the punctuation of the investigation. But at the same time that makes Bill Hodges a sort of vigilante, a self-appointed justice-maker, a social trash collector and incinerator, a cop (or ex-cop, same thing, once a cop always a cop) and a judge and an executioner and an undertaker, all in one person. And that is another caricature that makes him slightly disagreeable, especially since he is all but civil with his neighbors and the people he meets and deals with.
Apart from that, it is not a detective story since we know from the very start who the berserk mind is. Then we would have liked a little bit more carefulness about the possibility for Brady Hartsfield to burn his house with two bodies in it, leaving all his tremendous equipment in the basement, moving out of it via a tunnel and the police do not catch him so that he can disappear in a second underground cave where he has the same level of equipment as in the basement of his mother’s house, where he can plan the final attack. It is true Stephen King seems to love tunnels and underground hiding places but at times it is sort of easy, even if in a series you do not need to give the specifics of this tunnel and the second underground laboratory because the audience of a series does not look for logic but they look for tempo, rhythm, cliffhanging moments, grossness more that terror or horror. But well since it was a series and could last ten episodes, the director could have been more careful about such logical elements. But the treatment of the subject seems to be very similar to that in the series The Path or Shameless (the American remake because the British original is quite different: The Brits are very careful with detail and logic). I must admit, and this is true in the book too, that it took these police officers a long time to understand that the electronic car keys we have nowadays work with a signal that can be easily captured if you have the proper equipment. I think James Bond and Mission Impossible have overused such elements of digital swiftness. I guess after a certain rather early age, police officers do not get any continued training and education, particularly in the technical fields. A shame.
Dr. Jacques COULARDEAU
STEPHEN KING — BRENDAN GLEESON — HARRY TREADAWAY — JUSTINE LUPE — MR. MERCEDES SECOND SEASON — 2018
The second season is always a challenge for an audience in two ways. First, will it keep the tempo and the density of the first season? Second, since here we are dealing with a printed trilogy adapted to the screen, will it follow the storyline of the novel and respect the characters as imagined by Stephen King?
My answer to these two questions is simple. The first question requires a positive answer: yes, the tempo and the density of the first season are kept. The suspense is strong, and all the dramatic elements are visually supported by what is shown and we can see on the screen. No problem there.
The second question is relevant only for the experts who try to measure the differences in inspiration, imagination, and faithfulness of the director of the series as opposed to Stephen King. That is not my point of view nor my interest. So, I will not even come close to answering the question, positively or negatively. Right now, and here, I want to consider only the video in its own interest and appeal. And there, we do have a lot to say.
The series brings forward two differently-abled people, Holly Gibney and Brady Hartsfield. The first one has not changed since the first season but the second has changed a lot since in most episodes he is a bedridden comatose unresponsive some will say vegetable, and yet he has been implanted with some brain board, we assume computerized with artificial intelligence, and he is kept alive with a drug produced in China that enables the regeneration of the brain in such situations, though it is said with a negative side-effect, brain tumors. This drug is not certified by the FDA and it is used illegally by Doctor Felix Babineau whose wife is part of the board of directors of the pharmaceutical company that produces it in China. It is of course imported illegally. Don’t ask me how, just ask the various security agencies who will tell you who can go through customs and airport security without being questioned, or searched, or simply scanned. They know airport security is nothing but a loose strainer that can let through very big “particles.”
Then you have two questions that are bluntly exposed and advocated here, rejected, and endorsed. The illegal treatment on a patient that arrived comatose and close to death but evading all sorts of controls because he is a serial mass killer and as such no one is going to stand for his human rights, or are you sure you can say that? It leads to the second question: do sick people keep their human rights and can they oppose a treatment even if their refusal endangers their life? The life of the sick person of course, but what about the life of other people if the sick person is contagious? And here we are confronted with COVID-19. Can a person actually testing positive refuse to go in quarantine, to be hospitalized and to receive the normal treatment, and in one or two months one of the vaccines that will be available? A patient who refuses vaccination endangers his own life. Frankly, who cares if a sick person commits suicide, even though it is not legal not to prevent it? But since his being contagious endangers the life of other people, can we impose vaccination on everyone, knowing that someone who is already positive cannot be vaccinated? Too late.
But this season goes a long way beyond this. We can accept the idea that this comatose person suddenly revives, and resuscitates, and walks away. But two questions are to be discussed here. How can this inner resurrection be shown on the screen and then what is the legal status of the killer who has been regenerated by medicine, surgery, and drugs?
The director chose a simple way to show that inner life that is totally normal but invisible on the hospital bed. An underground, dark basement in which Brady Hartsfield has all the machines he needs to control the world, including a small game tablet that enables this underground computerized command-room to take control of the people that are targeted, hence enables comatose Brady Hartsfield on his hospital bed to take command of an individual who becomes his killing slave. We are not explained how these tablets get to people, but we can I guess suspend our logical judgment, or our logical disbelief, a little bit. There you could say Stephen Kling was a lot more precise. This tablet is the door through which Brady Hartsfield will enter your mind, and then you will just do what he tells you to do. This dark underground, entirely robotized, computerized basement is a parallel world, in fact, entirely mental, hence virtual in the brain of the serial mass killer. This virtual world and the real world get connected from time to time when Brady Hartsfield decides to look for a gate and finds one in an individual he can take over and then he can achieve his criminal intention, essentially his vengeance.
The case developed in court is completely crazy. Brady Hartsfield is not going to be assessed as responsible or not psychologically. He obviously is not mentally handicapped. And he was not when he committed his mass killings in the first season. Deranged but not irresponsible. He chooses a completely different approach. “I have been resurrected with surgery, medicine, and drugs. I did not ask for it. It was imposed on me. That has changed me and has provided me with a sudden conscience that makes me regret what I have done.” In other words, he is a new man and the crimes were committed by an ancient man who is not anymore, so the new man cannot be tried for the crimes another man committed, what’s more, another man who does not exist anymore. And he walks free.
That leads to the last episode. The confrontation of Brady Hartsfield to one of his survivors who was his best friend in “another life.” Lou Linklatter tries to confront him and to assess whether he is the same man she knew or if he is another man. She sure is convinced he is the same man she knew, but with examination and cross-examination in court, as a witness under oath, she will have to be very strong to be crystal clear and crystal is fragile, as everyone knows. The end is hyper-dramatic, and will Brady Hartsfield ever disappear? In Bill Hodges neighborhood the famous ice-cream man appears anew in his van and with his music. Brady Hartsfield is a deranged person who was born, meaning carried into life, by this American society of ice-cream vans, street hockey, unawareness that we are little by little captured by the nets of the social networks, and controlled by big pharmaceutical companies, and do not believe the Chinese are in any way different. In the USA the big pharmaceutical companies, like Pfizer, are in many ways controlling us. Remember the still active opioid-epidemic, entirely man-made, and in the world, mostly American-made.
What is wrong with humanity when big anonymous and invisible or over-visible (hence entirely opaque) companies can control society as a whole and individuals, every single one, and the only resistance we can maybe stage against that is to refuse to do what is necessary when a real crisis appears. Imagine people refusing to evacuate when a tsunami or a hurricane is coming, or when a forest fire gets out of control. The flu kills many hundred thousand people every year in the world and what is the proportion of people who do not get vaccinated in the West? And wait and see what it is going to be in one month when the first COVID-19 vaccines arrive on the medical market. Rush on one side, and refusal on the other side. Big chaos. Good Morning, Vietnam, all over again. Robin Williams will land again in our living rooms.
This second season of this series is coming in good time. Our world is agitated and disorientated by populist demagogues and by a pandemic coming no one knows where from. We, all of us, have a Brady Hartsfield cogitating and digitizing the world and us in our very backyard, in our basement, in our mental virtual attic, just inside our skulls.
Dr. Jacques COULARDEAU
STEPHEN KING — BRENDAN GLEESON — HARRY TREADAWAY — JUSTINE LUPE — MR. MERCEDES THIRD SEASON — 2019
How to bring this series to an end, to closure, within a new development that has little to do with Brady Hartsfield, and yet is all about violence in the hands of uncertified vigilantes or plain criminals, deranged or not.
The first side of the closure has to come with the trial of Lou Linklatter who shot Brady Hartsfield right in the court where he was being tried and was going to be at worst released from a prison term to survive as a human guinea pig in some university laboratory, thus endorsing the supremacy of big pharmaceutical companies and their research as well as the omniscient power of academic medical research. He would never have been free again, but he would have survived in a very comfortable position. And what’s more, he would probably have found some way to enter some machines, computers, or tablets, to control other people and make them commit the crimes he would not be able to commit himself.
The outcome of this long trial is both surprising and too humane to be true. The most surprising element is the fact that the black judge is a real pain in the back for everyone, particularly the accused and defendant, Lou Linklatter. He imposes medical incarceration for the evaluation of her competence to face and go through a trial. Then he imposes limits on the prosecution and the defense in his court. He intervenes at all and any moments in the procedure. And yet this man who is thus asserted all along as a power freak, deliverers the worst possible sentence of clemency. Clemency since Lou is free after the trial. But the worst possible solution since for 14 years and three months she will be on probation. Nearly fifteen years during which she will have to report monthly if not more to an appointed court official about her suspended sentence. She will never be able to really move and go where she wanted, or even marry or have children without having to ask for permission first.
The second closure has to be found for Holly who recuperates her aunt’s Mercedes Benz car and decides to keep it and have it repainted in a flashy yellow color, and to drive it despite the opposition of Bill Hodges who considers it as a killing weapon, a mass-murder tool. But there she wins. Closure too because she is able to be an essential witness to Lou Linklatter about the “heritage” of Brady Hartsfield, a legacy that is both a monstrous balance of crimes, deaths, violence, vicious domination in order to inflict suffering and death, and at the same time a legacy that is full of the call, the demand, the request, the need for love, the love he never received, except from Lou Linklatter, and maybe love from Holly Gibney when she impaired him with a heavy metal bull sculpture just before he detonates himself with a bomb that would kill hundreds of people. Not love for him, but love for life, love for living human beings who would have been the blind victims of a deranged mind.
Holly finds some personal place in the friendship of the defense lawyer Roland Finkelstein who accompanies Lou Linklatter in her court ordeal. She is fascinated and attracted, and yet she is afraid because of her own mental state. She is attracted to some people and would like to establish some contact with them but as soon as that contact becomes in any way personal or intimate, she runs away, she rejects it, she cannot assume she has to jump into this chasm and trust the other person who is going to provide the net with his love. To establish a relationship with a woman is possible because it is entirely desexualized, but with a man Holly finds a Great Wall of China springing up between her and him. But closure has to be found and will be found, probably thanks to the yellow Mercedes Benz she drives.
Closure for Bill Hedges and his daughter, and his next-door neighbor, and his wife probably, and his tortoise that can live 150 years and will bury all the members of this Hodges family, even probably the future child of the daughter who is announced as pregnant. Closure with Ida Silver, the English Teacher next door, is more complicated to reach, but it comes to a dramatic hairpin turn when she is revealed as having been the English teacher who set the new criminal Morris Bellamy (note the perfectly French name) on the road to a local writer who had reached global fame, John Rothstein, and that was a perfectly well-intentioned absolutely bad action because that Morris Bellamy, who was at least disturbed if not deranged, identified with the main character of Rothstein’s novels, and he became the prey of an older woman who had been John Rothstein’s lover, Alma Lane, definitely a path not to follow, but Morris Bellamy jumped into that pedophile sex and decided, under the terroristic and power-freaked instigation from Alma Lane, to burglarize John Rothstein one night to recuperate unpublished manuscripts the rumor said he kept in his safe. And that was the beginning of a bloody trail with horrific murders all along the way.
This new crime gets entangled in the family of a survivor of the famous Jobs Fair when Mr. Mercedes drove the stolen Mercedes Benz into the queueing crowd: the husband crippled by the car; the wife who is trying to cope; and the son who by pure accident recuperates the unpublished manuscripts and the stolen money. Strangely enough closure for this young Peter Saubers is limited to the reunion of the son who had been bargaining with Morris Bellamy, the mother who had been taken hostage by Alma Lane (killed by Morris Bellamy when he discovers she had killed his girlfriend), and Morris Bellamy, and the father who had been quite helpless though he finally accepted to help Bill Hodges in his attempt to bring that case to an end.
No closure though for Jerome Robinson who seems to have dropped out of Harvard because as a black student he was not exactly welcome in this Ivy League University. Finders Keepers is not exactly what he could do if he did graduate from Harvard University, which he could do with no real effort, except to forget white students either hate you though they cannot show it, or treat you as some kind of anti-racist token (“One of my best friends is black,” only one of course, “Guess who is coming to Dinner”).
The best part of this final season though is the closure it represents for Brady Hartsfield. He is dead and cannot come back in real life, at least materially for and by himself. But he is haunting several people and as such could become the instigator of the future evolution of these haunted people towards a criminal career. Two women are the main targets, Lou Linklatter and Holly Gibney, but also some boys or men and this time not under the influence of Brady Hartsfield, but under the influence of the thrillers written by a writer. And this case is of course the fate of many writers in our modern world: their books can become the new Bible and Quran and Dhammapada of the Millennials and other more recent generations. It is also a theme Stephen King has used several times in his novels: an author who is haunted by a doppelganger coming from his past, or an author who is keeping in his mind, in his memory, in his drawers — or even writing — books under some kind of vision of the real world that he can directly influence if the books are actually written and practically published and thus distributed in the public. Au author only codifies in his writing what the world is, and his characters are nothing but the virtual essence of real people. In other words, Castle Rock is the virtual essence of any city in Maine, or as for that in the USA.
That leads to the responsibility, the accountability of the author in what his works might incite some people to do, with a secondary subsidiary question concerning teachers: do teachers have the right to present their students with works that might incite them to become criminals? The second question is revealed in its absurdity since all of Shakespeare’s plays would have to be banned from schools since they present a tremendous collection of crimes, including death-oriented clandestine teenage relationships. And Dickens should be banned too, not to mention many other classics. What bout Wuthering Heights or Conan Doyle, not to mention Agatha Christie and many other women who at times write mysteries under fake male names.
A third concluding season that we can’t miss if we want to come back to some balanced vision of the world, and yet many heavyweights are missing. You will remain hungry and thirsty after this third visit to Stephen King’s Needful Things Store held by the Devil himself. Have a good cup of laced tea in this big curiosity store that overflows with Hellbound Heart Pinhead Puzzle Boxes Caja De Lemarchand.
Dr. Jacques COULARDEAU
Stephen King meets his fate in three stages, What about the books?
Not much better, though richer on the descriptions.
STEPHEN KING — THE BILL HODGES TRILOGY — VOLUME ONE — MR. MERCEDES — 2014
Don’t believe all the book says. There are some mistakes like for instance the illegality of being able to read all formats from all zones on one DVD reader. Such a machine exists: it is produced by Sony, made in Malaysia, and distributed to the whole world from Chicago by, among others, I guess Amazon. At least the one I have came that way and was delivered to me by Amazon.fr. Some other elements from police speak are not always listed in various sites or glossary on the subject. He seems to be using some shortened forms that are popular in his own living circles. For example, “to steal the peek.” It refers to what is called “passive keyless entry and start” or PKES and the “signal” used to operate it can be captured from a short distance. As for the expression “stealing the peek,” it does not seem to exist as such. Yet it now does.
But apart from that the book is not a glossary of police speak, nor an urban dictionary of crime speak. It is a book in the line of several books Stephen King has recently written that have to do with some kind of criminal, some form of crime, and catching the former or stopping the latter. Here we are dealing with a serial offender who is turning into a serial mass murderer. That is in no way terrorism and critics like Chuck Bowen in Slant Magazine, House Next Door are totally wrong when they define the book as a cop-and-terrorist thriller. Terrorism implies some political aim and in this case, the man is deranged and nothing but a sociopath and psychopath. The Unabomber was a terrorist since he had a political agenda. But here Stephen King defines his criminal as a “mad bomber” and that does not make him a terrorist.
It is a thriller that does not use in any way supernatural or fantastic means like for instance in Doctor Sleep that deals with a band of criminals who are in a way living dead people and some kind of vampires though they do not drink blood but vital energy. It is in the line of Joyland in which a simple young man is tracking and bringing out and down a serial killer. Stephen King is thus in line with some of the books he has written before, though this one is original because it uses an ex-cop, a retired detective as the main character, though Stephen King adds to this man an underage high school student and a psychologically deranged middle-aged woman who is somewhere between neurosis, psychosis, and autism, definitely compulsive obsessive and yet sane enough to be of great help and to manage to get out of the super low state of mind and extreme dependence she is in at the beginning and reach some independence and equilibrium at the end.
The main criminal, aka Mr. Mercedes, is a psychopath and sociopath but as the result of an intense and prolonged trauma that started when his younger brother came into the picture and when their father got out of it leaving their mother with two sons, no income or nearly none, and the younger son is slightly retarded. Misery, poverty, and later on the assassination of the younger son after a dumb accident in which the child chokes on a slice of apple and his mother aggravates the situation by trying to get the slice out of his larynx with her fingers instead of using the Heimlich maneuver. Stephen King knows everything about Heimlich and his maneuver since he used it in Christine. Thus, it is a choice leading to drastic elimination. The assassination is performed on the incoherent child after his being brought back to life by doctors with a severe mental impairment by his mother and his brother together.
Then there is an allusion to a stepfather who took to using his stepson as a sexual toy torturing him too with cigarettes and other elements that are not mentioned. The mother took part in the victimization that implied rape even if it is only alluded to. The child becomes an adult for sure but attached to his mother and his mother considers him as a sexual partner, a surrogate to a man who would be her husband or lover, though with strict limits: she is the onanistic tool of the grown man. I would say this long-lasting trauma can only produce the asocial psychopath we have in the book, though it is a little bit easy on the inside. The pattern of a stepfather and a mother victimizing the stepson (and son) is a little bit simple. We are spared, though, the direct gay sexuality which would not have been in any way sane and the result of a choice, though he is clearly described as a closet-homo who hates women, especially young women and teenage girls Most of his direct victims are women, at times unwillingly on his part but women nevertheless. The last crime he plans is a mass murder of essentially teenage girls and chaperoning mothers.
What is particularly catching, appealing in the book is what Chuck Bowen hates. The writing is in a language that borrows a lot from colloquial discourse and even social dialect. His high school senior Jerome, a black teenager, uses a lot of linguistic Ebonics in his discourse and this is quite typical of that black young man whose family members have typical Caucasian, hence American names and he wants to go to Harvard. He is the victim of quite a lot of racial prejudice in the mild ostracism that has taken the place of open segregative rejection of previous decades but that is rejection, nevertheless. To compensate for this rejection, and to assert his blackness, with some white people he is in regular contact, he uses Ebonics. This is natural and even both sane and healthy. That’s some kind of homeopathic medicine to overcome and tolerate any kind of bigotry, present or only intended around him.
The retired detective, Kermit William Hodges, is also quite typical of people in his situation. He is alone and he easily slips into some fattening lifestyle that leads him to overweight and a coronary accident at the end. He has abandoned all sexual activity that implies a partner. In other words, he is a social and psychological wreck. All the easier for him to jump on the bandwagon of some police work on the side of official duties, hence, to become an uncle. Since the criminal is making it a personal case against him, he reacts in the very same way and makes it a personal case against the criminal. Nothing new under the sun. Circumstances just add some more disinterest from the official police department of the city that sidetracks him into being his own master in clandestine police work. Circumstances (his heart attack) will enable him not to perform the last stage of the neutralization of the criminal.
The writing itself is split into short sequences jumping from one character to the other, from the retired detective to the criminal essentially but not only. This is cinematographic writing of course, which makes this novel an easily adaptable story for a film. But that is the way all modern writers write today with TV and cinema in mind. Chuck Bowen has it wrong: most modern novels have that structure of an unfinished scenario and that cannot be considered as a shortcoming because it corresponds to the viewing habits of a modern audience who watches TV series and films all the time, stories that are more and more exploded into some kind of mosaic of short sequences.
This very storyline is catching and appealing. We get into the story and then we are in a way mesmerized by the storytelling. We can maybe say everything is understandable before it happens, and we can foresee every event. That is true and false. At every crucial point in the novel, we can see the options that are available to the author. It is true most of the time what the author chooses is among these options, but it is only one option in a set of several. The end is predictable and yet, apart from the idea that the criminal will be stopped, we cannot really predict how, where, when, and by whom before it happens. The very conclusion of the novel is tremendously moving. We cannot resist thinking of Misery, though the cruelty against Retired Detective K. William Hodges is a lot less intense than that described in that older novel. The book altogether is more luminous than older books and is in the line of Joyland as for this luminosity. That is probably the element that could be regretted: the brutal rude cruelty of the Richard Bachman side of Stephen King. He seems to have curbed it in his latest novels. Should we regret it?
But he is indeed experimenting with other styles under the collaborative influence of his son Joe Hill, a novelist of his own. He has thus a real future and heir for the coming decades in the cinema, in fiction, and in other genres like the musical. Maybe he should concentrate on these new forms and aim at producing more miniseries or films than books. He maybe has written enough books and should change media. But such a choice has to be his decision. It is true it is difficult to do better than a good dozen of his older novels, not to speak of The Dark Tower series, IT, or The Stand that are plain masterpieces. But yet there still are some territories he can explore for our pleasure.
Dr. Jacques COULARDEAU
STEPHEN KING — THE BILL HODGES TRILOGY — VOLUME TWO — FINDERS KEEPERS — 2015
“Mr. Mercedes” was a prodigy in Stephen King’s long and voluminous work. But this sequel is a miracle this time. And there are so many reasons that I can only give you a few.
First, the suspense is perfect. The end is unpredictable, really, at most one among many others. It is centered on a teenager, a junior in high school who is totally trapped by life. And the big event in his life is the 2009 depression that makes his father unemployed and his mother unemployed and then employed in a lower job. Then there is the phenomenal Mercedes terrorist attack at the job fair at the Municipal center. The son is suffering because his parents are bound to end up in separation and divorce and he hates the idea, for them, for himself, and for his younger sister. What can HE, HIMSELF, and HIM AGAIN do about it?
That’s the genius of Stephen King. He knows how to center his stories on children, teenagers particularly, and he seems to be able to capture their psyche, their strange mind and growing personality, growing in tortured anguish, awe, and angst, permanently victimized by their own self-centered altruistic ego. They want to do something for other people and yet it is always for their own sake and that’s why it hurts. So, what happens then? They launch themselves on the most incredible schemes that are supposed to bring salvation and epiphany, redemption, and regeneration to everyone they may think of, but first of all, and mostly to themselves. Then they will twist their minds and their psyches and their neurons, mirror or not, because their schemes are bringing some wounds and pains to those who they love instead of only helping them along.
Stephen King has always been able to do that, to describe that, to delve, dive, and soak himself in such contradictory antagonistic and dialectical good bad-doing or bad good-doing. You would use a long M-word, and that would not be Mercedes if it were some solitary play, but these teenagers or tweenagers cannot do anything without involving other people in their intentions or in their targets, and good morning Vietnam, let me introduce you to the catastrophe of the century who kills quite a few people and nearly kills a few more. The criminal, the psychopath, the sociopath, and whatever else you may think of along that path, is an ex-convict on parole who is absolutely crazy, I mean a “path” of any type you can think of: sociopath, psychopath and even, that’s new, just out of the magic hat, culture-path. The poor man, because it has to be a man, is so fixated on the work of the writer he killed out of vanity and disillusion that he is able to kill half a dozen people to just have the chance of reading the novels this writer never published. Bad luck all along since he is frozen feces-less by his own intellectual mother and he gets drunk and he rapes a woman, a substitute for his mother that he would have liked to rape, that he should in his small logic have raped twenty times at least as soon as he was something like 12.
Then the heart of the novel is that the money he stole and the notebooks he stole too from that assassinated writer, he buries them before being caught raping a woman and before being railroaded down into some penitentiary for life. Then the whole novel is the peregrination of the money, that ends up in some charitable saving plan, and the notebooks, that end up all burnt up in the final catastrophic and abysmally apocalyptic scene, though six were saved by the teenager who plays the hero — maybe he is in a way — and Stephen King seems to forget about these and seems to assume that they have all been destroyed. Maybe he should check the loose board at the back of the closet of this young teenager.
That kind of suspense novel is perfect, absolutely perfect and Stephen King manages to include some allusions to some of his short stories and films but forget about it. It is gently vain and funnily gentle.
But the book has a tremendous symbolic value. 185 minus 6 notebooks (if I am not wrong on the numbers) get burnt up at the end of the book. An “autodafe,” an act of faith my foot, an act of barbarity from another time, another civilization, another barbarism, another monstrous inquisition in some Mesoamerican or South American Spanish or Portuguese colony based on burn them all, the male Indians, and keep the females for your service. And burn them all they did there in the basement of that closed and disaffected and abandoned Municipal Centre. All except six of them. How can Stephen King even imagine such a crime against humanity and against human culture? I swear I will hate him forever for this act, but I must admit it is the perfect climax in the grisly repellent suspense crime story this book contains.
And Stephen King cannot obviously resist putting some “magic” or supernatural energy somewhere, but I can’t reveal it since it is going to be the starting point of the next volume of this psychopathic series.
Enjoy the novel, especially at night, and in the middle of the night get your courage up in your hands and feet and walk to the out-house at the back of the yard outside in the pitch-dark night, if you still have an out-house, and imagine the monsters that are going to catch you while you are tiptoeing along to that small bungalow of your physiological needs, but please do not wet your pants, underwear or pajamas, or whatever you are wearing, or the grass if you are wearing no encasement for your family jewels, just an XXX-large T-shirt you have put on as a nightshirt with some provocative inscription on it, front and back, like Bill Hodges’s assistant.
Have a good reading session under the full moon of all crimes.
Dr. Jacques COULARDEAU
STEPHEN KING — THE BILL HODGES TRILOGY — VOLUME THREE — END OF WATCH — 2016
I will dedicate this review to our good old friend Bill Hodges, alias Kermit William Hodges, aka Kermit, otherwise known as the Det-Ret, who died at the end of his third statutory case and eponymous volume, and was buried in total privacy by his own father and creator Stephen King when this one was finally through with exploiting the character in his fictional stories. Let us pray for a minute for this glorious and courageous character who could not enjoy his fame more than a few months after his victory and yet in great pain, despite morphine.
Now let’s become what we should always be, busy beavers.
This volume, like the previous two, could be taken all by itself and that’s how I am going to look at it. We are dealing with a psychic psychopath, Brady Hartsfield, alias Library Al or Z-boy, aka Dr. Babineau or Dr. Z, also named Zeetheend in virtual reality, and even known as Zappit Zero, in game-hardware. We could refresh you on the previous crimes, but it is not necessary here and, in the book, there is no summary of the previous action or actions though the essential elements are given by Stephen King when necessary.
But let’s be clear, at least a little bit more. In the first volume, Brady Hartsfield ran a stolen Mercedes Benz into a crowd waiting for the opening of a special job fair, very early in the morning in 2009 killing quite a few and maiming quite a lot more. Later on, Brady Hartsfield tries to blow himself up in a boy-band concert in the middle of thousands of kids, essentially girls, and parents. He is stopped just in time by Holly Gibney who seriously concusses his skull and mashes his brain into a total coma for a while and a paraplegic situation afterward. He thus ends up in a special unit in a hospital in a state that is declared catatonic though we have a glimpse at the end of the second volume that he is maybe not completely catatonic, at least not on the mental side of his being.
The second volume concerns a completely different business like a vacation from the Hartsfield case, while this hard-core criminal is recuperating from his catatonic state. A vacation to recuperate from mental vacancy.
In this here third volume we go back to Hartsfield and we discover how an over 60-year-old doctor used this patient as a guinea pig for not yet certified experimental drugs under no control at all. The patient then re-conquers his mind and develops some particular capabilities, like telekinesis but also the great ability to use hypnosis to capture the attention of people and take control of their minds and at first direct them to his obsession, to commit suicide, and even later to host his own mind and thus transport him in a body that is little by little made a simple pod for the mind of the criminal Brady Hartsfield. This is not a new idea and Anne Rice used it a lot in her novel “The Body Thief” where Lestat de Lioncourt, her vampire, and another man who is in no way a vampire have this ability and play around with it. Here Brady Hartsfield uses this ability to move around when he is paraplegic to go and do things he could not do, to organize his big scheme and set up the whole technical apparatus he needs to do it, either under the appearance of Library Al, alias Z-Boy, or under the appearance of Dr. Babineau, alias Dr. Z.
He will thus buy a whole batch of game consoles that are out of the market because of some bankruptcy, have them reprogrammed into hypnotic machines that will enable him to take control of the minds of the users and lead them to suicide because his main objective is to make hundreds of people commit suicide, to start and feed a real suicide epidemic. He is then known as the Suicide Prince, or Prince Suicide if you prefer, or even the Prince of Suicide. He is a genius in computer science though in his hospital wheelchair he cannot do much. He will have to take control of a girl with whom he had worked in the first volume to be able to achieve his aim. She is Frederica Linklatter. For the sake of money, she finds herself involved in that completely crazy project. She even let her own lesbian friend if not partner go just for the thousands of dollars that are falling into her basket. Then Brady Hartsfield is able to plan and start his vengeance against three people essentially, Barbara Robinson, a black girl who is essentially the sister of Jerome Robinson. Brady Hartsfield had noticed her in his second terrorist attack on the concert. Then he is targeting Jerome Robinson, a black boy he calls the Det-Ret’s nigger lawnmower because he used to do that for Bill Hodges when he was a teenager, and of course Bill Hodges, though he does not so much want to kill that last one as to make him suffer from the suicide epidemic he is planning.
I am not going to tell the story that leads to the full and final destruction of Brady Hartsfield. I’m going to make a few remarks at a wider and higher level.
My first remark is that — for once — Stephen King closes the trilogy with a “no survivor” situation, at least the main pair of characters are exterminated, the criminal Brady Hartsfield and the ex-cop Det-Ret Bill Hodges. The end is not a new beginning. It is a real end, not like the second coming restart of the Dark Tower, and if there were to be a new beginning it would have to be of a somewhat totally different nature. One may out-Caesar Caesar but as long as Caesar and Brutus are still alive, both of them. Then out-Hodging Hodges becomes impossible once Hodges is out.
My second remark is that more than ever the third volume is a metaphor for America. In the previous episodes, the situation was saved by a woman Holly Gibney and a young black teenager Barbara Robinson. In the same way, the second volume was saved by this same Holly Gibney and a young black teenager Jerome Robinson. In this third volume, taking place six years after the events of the first Bill Hodges and Holly Gibney are going to be killed by Brady Hartsfield when Jerome Robinson, now a young black man, arrives with the cavalry and the cavalry is one horrible monstrous snowmobile or snow tank that saves the day by crushing Brady Hartsfield into some dying pulp led to his own death by such a rolling over and abandoned in the snowstorm to freeze till the cops may arrive. The famous Christine is revisited in this end. Jerome Robinson is an obvious personification of Obama. Holly is the personification of Hillary Clinton, except that the woman came first and will stay last. But is it not the very situation we had in 2008 and then 2016? The Blackman will naturally move on to his own life.
My third remark is that any institution in the USA, including the police, are institutionalized into impotence, and not only by the Peter Principle. This volume as much as the two previous ones shows how all institutions are the victims of the ambitions of their members who prefer messing up a case to jeopardizing their personal goals, though some private initiative is going to force them into doing what they refused to do at first and they then are very good at making it part of their plans. They are vampires sucking the pith and marrow of the adventurous individuals who seize the day and change the world. At the same time if they cannot recuperate those adventurous individuals, then they will push them into oblivion and inexistence by all means possible. Here the X Files are the matrix of such a bureaucratic administrative perversion we all have encountered here and there.
My fourth remark is that Stephen King has become obsessed with and by death, “one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel.” (347) There is no escape from some obvious elements in life — and death. “Friends and neighbors, does the sun rise in the east?” (296) “If life hands you lemons, make lemonade.” (293) “Two survivors of the City Center massacre. . . have committed suicide. . .“ (263) No getaway from your fate. Even if it is racial/racist and sexist. “She is blackish, a word that seems the same as useless, and she doesn’t deserve to live.” (115) And that fate is often repaired with patches and elastic bands. “Deep in his thoughts, he misses the primer-spotted Chevy Malibu for the third time in two days . . . standing next to it an elderly man in an old Army surplus parka that has been mended with masking tape.” (108–9) It is all nothing but a backside front countdown. Nine pink fish to capture that are carrying numbers. Numbers that have to be captured in these pink fish to add up to one hundred and twenty in one hundred and twenty seconds. The obsession of the diabolical hour of Jesus’ death on the cross, the ninth hour. The obsession of the twelve disciples, of the twelve months of the year, that all accompany the Lord in his death on the cross; accompany and reject, to maybe recompose themselves when the danger is passed, except John at the foot of the cross and the two Mary’s, the last two not being disciples, at least officially, but these are a kid under 15 and two women. And this book all starts with a survivor of the City Center Massacre, Martine Stover, being put to sleep by her mother, Mrs. Ellerton, who then commits suicide.
Seen like that in backward retrospective the whole book is like a descent into hell and we can then think of the seven screens of Brady Hartsfield’s own morbid regressive perspective. (91)
1- His brother Frankie he helped die by pushing him down some staircase.
2- His mother Deborah he helped commit suicide with psychic means.
3- Thing One and Thing Two, his long-lived and still-born inventions.
4- Mrs. Trelawney’s gray Mercedes sedan that killed quite a few at the City Center.
5- The wheelchair in which his body is now locked up as the result of his failed attack against the Mingo Auditorium.
6- A handsome, smiling young man. . . , the old Det-Ret’s nigger lawn boy.
7- Hodges himself who will lead the attack bringing the death of this pitiful excuse for anything as far away as possible from what we generally call a man, and yet this chase will lead to closure six months later.
How can you be more gruesome in your regression than that? Just a child turned into a monster by his family conditions, his jealousy against his little brother, the ambiguous and obscure role of his mother and this child will grow into a computing genius who will use his capabilities to in the end commit suicide, kill himself, destroy his sorry excuse for a human being, but along with dragging as many people down behind and with him as possible. Don’t tell me that does not exist. San Bernardino, Orlando, Paris, Brussels, and so many other places where one can die and kill dozens at the same time, as if these deaths, including theirs, were able to compensate for their mentally neutered and physically spayed frustration.
Strangely enough, I found an obvious mistake in the book. Page 234 and page 237 the Chevy Malibu, the possession of Library Al, is absent from Dr. Babineau’s property when the police arrive, though Library Al is sleeping and snoring upstairs. This Library Al is attributed later the coming to Dr. Babineau’s, then going to the hospital and then coming back to Dr. Babineau’s and staying there, and yet his car is absent, and Dr. Babineau’s has been shot at, by whom? And this Chevy Malibu is the car Brady Hartsfield in the body of Dr. Babineau uses to get to the hunting camp for the end of his suicide inflicting and suicide committing mission. This discrepancy is surprising, but I guess when we are dealing with a mental monster, we may lose some threads, or some threads may get loose.
I will conclude with a double question.
Is Stephen King obsessed and fascinated by his own death, which would be morbid?
Is Stephen King the simple mirror capturing the reflection of what life is in the world? The absolute domination of inflicted and self-inflicted death everywhere in the world? And when there is no war in a country you can be sure there will be a San Bernardino in California or an Orlando in Florida to inflict their load of victims onto our souls and minds.
We could wonder if Stephen King is not recapturing the self-drawing of blood that was ritualistic among all men in Maya society a long time ago. And this is only one case of self-sacrifice. What about the systematic human sacrifice that is still going on in our societies under the name of the death penalty?
We can go on wondering, but it is a sad state of affairs in this supposedly civilized world where one candidate in the US presidential election is advocating torture not to get information since we all know it is ineffective for that, but to get even with the barbarity of the other side. A never-ending competition at who was first and who will be last. There is always an ugly duckling in a brood of political fledglings.
Dr. Jacques COULARDEAU