I know I’ve been on a bit of a ’70s run recently, with the likes of The Long Goodbye, The French Connection, The Parallax View and Marathon Man, so I thought this would be a nice change of gear with recent Netflix series Mindhunter. But, ah ha! I’ve fooled you, because Mindhunter is actually set in the late ’70s, with second series bridging into the early eighties, so (sort of) maintains our theme, for the time being.
Starting in 2017, Mindhunter is the true story of Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) and Bill Tench (Holt McCallany), two special agents of the FBI, who stumble across the idea of a Behavioural Science Unit, analysing and interviewing some of the most dangerous men in history. With Wendy Carr (Anna Torv), a psychology professor, joining the team, they begin to try and understand the psyche of a serial killer – but at what cost to themselves?
What I love about this show is not only the fascinating insight into the serial killer mind, but the effect the serial killer mind has on normal people – and, in a way, that’s what this show is all about. These three people – Holden, Wendy and Bill – become obsessed with people convicted of violent crimes. They coin the term ‘serial killer’, they work out that absent fathers and abusive mothers are the recipe for a killer, and begin the first steps into truly understanding the narcissistic and sociopathic mind.
However, as they get more and more engrossed in their work, they lose sight of themselves. Holden fails to see his own narcissistic qualities, and, with a hole in his life, tries to fill it with his work on these dangerous men. The same goes for Bill – he’s constantly away from home, leaving his adopted and disturbed son in the hands of his cold wife, Nancy… you see where I’m going with this?
Joe Penhall, a talented playwright, is the show’s creator, and while it was Fincher’s idea, it was very much part of Penhall’s vision. Which probably explains why many scenes are in one room, and most of the time a group of people talking, much like a play. Most of these scenes end up being interrogations, but our two protagonists discover ways to bond and draw out the criminals, even ordering pizza. We would expect violence to be the driving force of the show, but these scenes are the heart beat of Mindhunter, and simple conversations end up being electric – everything is left up to the imagination.
In all reality, this show shouldn’t work. There are scenes stretching out fifteen minutes, and practically all dialogue. It’s a procedural taken to a new level of realism. This is unlike any other crime series ever made before, and I’d be willing to say that Mindhunter is the most experimental programme made since The Sopranos.
So why does it work? I think part of it is the dynamics between the characters. Take a typical interview that has become the staple of the show. Usually, not only are they talking to a fascinating character, but there’s tension between Bill and Holden, either because of the way the interview’s being conducted – the Richard Speck interview would be a prime example – or what’s going on in their own lives – the Charles Manson interview.
Another reason is probably because of humanity’s long running obsession with killers. It just appears we can’t get enough of them, and while you can read all the material you like, you’d be surprised how much you’d learn from Mindhunter. It’s an incredibly enjoyable education. And having these murders in the show isn’t only for enlightenment – they’re brilliantly played by a few gem actors, with Cameron Britten being nominated for a Primetime Emmy as Ed Kemper, the coed killer. Every scene has the feeling it could so quickly escalate into something much worse. And that’s seen in a wider sense with the first series. The tension slowly builds, consuming Holden, till he can’t take it any longer.
This is one of the best moments in the show. The joltiness of the camera is so effective because we’re usually so still and observant, a little like the characters themselves. Another is the cross carrying scene, which is horribly tense to watch. This is breaking point for Holden, and puts him amongst the best “panic attackers”: Tony Soprano and Hank Schrader being two.
Holden’s a very interesting character himself. He seems like the typical Boy Scout at the start: innocent, naive and a little wet. He would certainly never break the rules. Then he meets Bill, hits the road and is exposed to the true horrors of the world. His breaking bad isn’t particularly satisfying, unlike a Walter White, say, mainly because it isn’t supposed to be. At points, you can’t help but feel repulsed by him. Yet, for all his faults, he’s a sympathetic character. We like him. He’s arrogant, but he’s got the ability to back it up. At the end of the day, there’s no one who can do what Holden can do.
The second series focuses more on Bill and his family, with disconcerting problems involving his son, Brian. It’s a nice contrast to the first, where Holden struggles to fill a hole in his life, Bill struggles to empty out a blockage in his. But, at the end of the day, both are about getting consumed by their work. Wendy is also a big part of the show, providing vital insight, but with a secret to hide. As the show’s based around two flawed men, it’s nice to have some common sense in the room. She’s a character on the grow – but a growth that might not be fulfilled, unfortunately.
So why shouldn’t you watch this show? Because there’s only two seasons. David Fincher was exhausted by the whole experience and wanted to pursue some other work in the film industry. Both of the creatives found that the research into the characters came at a personal cost. There was a two year gap between season one and season two, so I’m still hopeful that eventually Mindhunter will return for a deserving third, but it may be a while. Like, “five years” a while. So, it’s currently in a state of limbo.
At this current moment, we don’t really have a proper ending. We have no idea what’s going to happen with BTK (a ADT serviceman/serial killer who appears in nearly every teaser), let alone the rest of the characters. It’s so engaging that it’s frustrating that we won’t know where this develops, but you’ll still get great entertainment for nineteen episodes. It’s worth giving your time for some fantastic performances and for some of the most well paced episodes made in television history.
Mindhunter – 8.5 out of 10