Netflix Series Review – Mindhunter

TMI About a Serial Killer’s Mind (in a Good Way)

Ages ago, way back in the 1970’s, the FBI had reputation for being a “just the facts, ma’am” organization.  Dressed in dark suits, slacks and simple ties, agents would project an air of cold professionalism, if not intimidation.  When the FBI showed up at a crime scene, you knew things were going down.  While J. Edgar’s investigative organization was very good at “finding their man”, Charles Manson, Edmund Kemper (the co-ed killer), Richard Speck (the townhouse massacre) and Jerry Brudos (the shoe fetish killer) had just committed such shocking violently and apparently random crimes that the agency turned its attention to identifying and preventing killers.

MindHunter, based on the best-selling 1995 book by John E. Douglas and Mark Olshaker, is the story of Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff of Frozen, Hamilton) as a young FBI agent whose primary job is teaching agents how to handle dangerous hostage situations.  After an initial negotiation goes terribly wrong, Holden begins pondering what drives men to behave this way.

Soon enough, after a short compelling discussion of his research idea, Ford is invited by co-instructor Bill Tench (Holt McCallany of Justice League) to include some of this insight as part of their cross-country FBI hostage management classes.  Ford begins to convince Tench that he may be onto something and the 10 hour-long episode series takes off from there.  The team begins interviewing notable killers at prisons that are around their teaching routes.

Suddenly, Ford and Tench are able to solve certain crimes based on what they’ve learned from the other killers.   Their FBI boss, played by Cotter Smith initially scoffs at their efforts, but eventually provides them a basement office and a modicum of moral support.  The series quickly adds a quirky if not irritating girlfriend (Debbie, played by Hannah Gross of I Used to Be Darker) to Ford’s life.   The group grows as psych professor Wendy Carr (Anna Torv) and agent Gregg Smith (Joe Tuttle) are added to the team.

667_Mindhunter_107_unit_01740R5-edThe series’ most compelling episodes are those where these violent killers are interviewed by Ford and Tench.  The almost calm and whimsical way some of these monsters describe their crimes is both entertaining and jarring.   Others are in denial and still others are just abjectly insane.  To make things creepier, the dialogue during these sessions is taking from actual transcripts of We watch as the questioning techniques improve along with the duo’s experience.  the original discussions. Professor Carr continues to push for a structured regimen around this process so that it can be studied, while Ford nearly refuses to.

The series does suffer from two minor problems, however.  The dialogue is often simplistic and even amateurish.  For example, one killer spends a few sentences describing in great detail how awfully his mother treated him and how much he was disgusted by her, to which Ford replies “So you hated your mom?”   Uh, yes?   Second, while Jonathan Groff is fine actor, his innate soft-spoken mannerisms don’t lend themselves to some of the very strong language he is forced to use.  Think Kristoff from Frozen.  So, it often sounds like a young child saying bad words – and thus the lines lose their impact or sound comical.   But those complaints are not significant when compared to the compelling story arc and the mostly well-developed characters.

A few episodes in, the series foreshadows a crime as each episode starts with a short vignette of an unidentified man preparing for what appears to be a murder.    But most of the shows focus on the techniques that are being developed on-the-fly to question murders, the friction the FBI senior management, Dr. Carr’s push for adhering to a sterile, reproducible process and the boundaries the team has to toe in order to get at the core of the psyche of these killers.   Through a number of key interactions, it’s clear that the way killers view their female victims is having an impact on Ford’s relationship with his girlfriend.   And to be clear, in the first season, it’s all about violence against women, often due to the killer’s perverted relationship with their mother.   Ford even tells an elementary school class that the perpetrator is nearly always a man killing a woman.

The show is often uncomfortable, periodically graphically horrific, with a very little sprinkle of humor just to keep the reader from complete revulsion.   It’s definitely interesting to learn how the term “serial” killer came to be, and how a disorganized murderer differs from an organized one.  The season finale is somewhat unsatisfying, but the series makes you wonder about very specific unresolved plot lines that should be addressed in Season 2.

For this reason among others, the show can often make for uncomfortable viewing. Yet why shouldn’t a show unsettle you? Mindhunter has already been renewed for a second season, so clearly people are not only watching but some are hooked. Guilty as charged.

Mindhunter has already been renewed for a second season, (before the first season was even released!).

Trailer – Mindhunter



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