A well spent weekend is the one where you can binge on a TV show without getting distracted and thank the creators that they released all their episodes at once. Netflix’s Mindhunter is just that show which makes you applaud the people at Netflix for creating content that can actually be binge-watched.
Mindhunter is set in the 70s when the term ‘serial killer’ did not exist yet and all violent criminals were put behind bars assuming they were born that way. FBI’s Behavourial Science Unit started analysing these patterns and came up with the term ‘serial killers’ and started interviewing them to figure out why they did what they did.
In one of the earlier episodes, the protagonist of the show, FBI Agent Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff), has a moment while watching the film ‘Dog Day Afternoon’ and has an idea that there is more to violent criminals than them just being bad people. He tries to implement some of these strategies at Quantico but is met with a lot of resistance. Remember, this was the time when being racist and sexist was quite acceptable in America.
The show centers around this newly made branch of FBI with Agents Holden Ford and Bill Tench (Holt McCallany) who travel across America teaching police departments and also solve a few cases for them that are beyond the expertise of the local guys. It is during these travels that Ford comes up with the idea of interviewing the notorious co-ed killer Ed Kemper (Cameron Britton). His unusually calm way of talking about his crimes opens a new door for Agent Ford where he starts believing that there has to be a way of identifying these violent criminals before they actually commit the crime. He finds these criminals fascinating which helps him in developing a rapport with them. In a scene in one of the earlier episodes, Ford tries convincing a bunch of law enforcement officials that Charles Manson was not born that way but his disturbed childhood with a violent past contributed in making him the most notorious killer America had known until then.
The gripping series handles individual cases and also follows a larger story arc. When Dr. Carr (Anna Torv) joins this team at the Behavioual Science Unit, they start cataloging the interviews, the behaviour patterns and even find a murderer who is very well on the path of becoming a serial killer. The show does not treat its lead characters as just crime-analysing caricatures but gives them actual depth by giving them screwed up personal lives.
Ford’s relationship with his girlfriend Debbie (Hannah Gross) is a strong influencing factor in his life but starts spiraling down as he starts turning into a megalomaniac. In an attempt to weed out a probable sexual offender, Ford starts believing like he has the final word on all things psychological and this gives a sense of his over-confident personality that is starting to take over him. Bill Tench is studying criminals who have had a childhood with absent fathers and starts realising that he has been the same to his 6-year old son. Dr. Carr, who poses to be the moral center of this unit, and is a stickler for rules is gradually pushed into a space of loneliness.
The actors especially Jonathan Groff (Ford) and Cameron Britton (Kemper) are simply outstanding and make you want to know more about their character’s lives. With 10 episodes in its first season, the show gives you enough to come back for a second season. But since the show is set in the 70s and our criteria for weird is way up than what these guys had in the 70s, it feels a little too obvious that most serial killers here have had absent fathers, relationship troubles with mothers and started turning violent when they were way too young.
Some of the show’s best scenes are the ones when the protagonists interview these violent criminals. Each one is vastly different than the other, yet all of them have an eerie sense about them. When Holden actually gets to use the techniques he has learnt in this newly established unit in solving a crime, the scene flows with perfection.
David Fincher has directed four of the ten episodes and it shows. It takes a genius to execute a serial killer drama when most of us have seen plenty already. Mindhunter does not seep you into its world instantly but by the second episode, it starts growing on you and soon enough, there is no way one can stop before binge-watching the whole season.