Mindhunter returns

Aditya Mani Jha | Updated on August 30, 2019 Published on August 30, 2019

One on one: The series does an ace job of balancing the serial killer interviews with episodic arcs about the three main characters   -  Netflix

In its second season, Netflix crime drama Mindhunter doggedly tracks the fallout of lives spent chasing those who feel compelled to kill

When David Fincher’s Netflix crime drama Mindhunter dropped its first season last year, a lot of the rave reviews focused on the performance of Cameron Britton, who played the surrendered serial killer Ed Kemper, dubbed ‘The Co-Ed Killer’ by the press. Mindhunter is based on the 1995 non-fiction book of the same name, co-authored by retired FBI profiler John E Douglas, who is a pioneer in modern-day psychological profiling. Audiences took to Kemper because of his slow, shuffling yet quietly ominous (this bit was helped by his massive physical dimensions) demeanour. At one point, Kemper says: “People who hunt other people for a vocation. All we want to talk about is what it’s like. Shit that went down. The entire f*****d-upness of it. It’s not easy butchering people. It’s hard work. Physically and mentally it’s hard work. People don’t realise, you need to vent.”

Now consider the sentences up until the point Kemper mentions ‘butchering’ — wouldn’t his words hold up just as well for Douglas, or the character inspired by him, special agent Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff)? They too were, in a manner of speaking, “hunting other people”. And they were absolutely susceptible to the toll this takes on a person, as Kemper predicted. The fallout of a life spent chasing those who feel compelled to kill — this is the biggest plot point of Mindhunter’s second season, which was released on Netflix earlier this month.

Straight off the bat, we see Ford having a panic attack more severe than the one brought on after Kemper hugs him in the first season finale. Without revealing what brought on his panic attack, we’ll say this — it’s funny how often arrogance (of which Ford has plenty) is closely aligned to a deep-seated need for approval (especially of those predisposed against him). In a somewhat grotesque moment, the person talking to Ford doesn’t even realise what the latter’s unresponsive, blank stare into the distance and dangerously laboured breathing mean. He just says, “God, you are a pussy” and leaves. Interestingly, even Ford’s colleague and mentor of sorts, Bill Tench (Holt McCallany), has a very similar reaction to his panic attacks.

These attitudes are a reminder that we are in the 1980s, and while the idiosyncrasies of the mind can lead us to dangerous criminals, it cannot, apparently, bring about observable, physical symptoms in a person.

The second season of Mindhunter is a triumph mostly because the writing is considerably tighter — and does an ace job of balancing the serial killer interviews (these remain the show’s fertile core) with episodic arcs about each of the three main characters — Ford, Tench and Wendy Carr (Anna Torv), the psychologist. This is a slower season in many ways, even though the editing masks that effectively — and it gives the writers some much-needed breathing space. I really enjoyed the story arc of Carr’s love life. We see her striking up a friendship and then a romantic relationship with a bartender called Kay (Lauren Glazier). How their relationship evolves, and how the realities of Carr’s job affect it, make for fascinating viewing thanks to Torv’s impressively subtle performance. A sequence where she talks about a professor she once dated is one of the season’s high points.

The overarching story of the second season is about Ford, Tench and Carr bringing their findings and their new methods to an ongoing investigation — the first step towards profilers being part of the ‘first response’ team. Cheered on by their enthusiastic but officious new boss, the team becomes a part of the investigation into the Atlanta child killings of 1979-81. Because of Atlanta’s history with the Ku Klux Klan, initially everyone is sceptical and even a little hostile towards Ford when his profile of the killer indicates a young, black, single man — for some reason, though, Mindhunter doesn’t quite explore this angle beyond a couple of perfunctory mentions. Dubious, eugenics-like ‘science’ that proclaims racial superiority has been tolerated for ages now. Conversely, it would have been interesting to see if a legitimate, if nascent science like profiling would suffer because of Ford’s obvious contempt for everyone who feels his theory is rubbish (and that the killer is a white man).

It’d be wrong of me to write this review without bringing up the M-word. After his all-too-brief outing as the notorious cult leader and murderer Charles Manson (in Quentin Tarantino’s latest film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood), Aussie actor Damon Herriman gets another go here, midway through Mindhunter’s second season. And while Herriman is excellent, don’t expect him back. Manson isn’t really an investigative juncture for the team, since he doesn’t quite fit the pathology of a compulsive killer and, moreover, he never pulled the trigger himself. Nevertheless, watching Ford and Tench face off against the diminutive but larger-than-life Manson is blockbuster stuff.

Mindhunter is arguably one of Netflix’s best dramas. Its basic subject matter is never not in vogue. It has an easygoing structure and its three leads deliver solid performances, Torv in particular this year. With these basics firmly in place, Mindhunter is fast becoming a fan favourite and it’s not implausible to see a further three or four seasons in the offing.

Published on August 30, 2019
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