This post contains spoilers about the Netflix series Mindhunter.
On October 13, Netflix released its newest incursion into the true crime genre, Mindhunter. Starring Jonathan Groff, Holt McCallany, and Anna Torv, the ten-episode series is a fictionalized account of the FBI’s development of criminal profiling in the ‘70s. The series emerges from the basement of the FBI’s Quantico headquarters and follows two agents and a Boston academic as they encounter heinous crimes and some of the 20th Century’s most vicious serial killers. Mindhunter is superbly written and acted and features a premise that has the potential to be a long-running hit.
Groff is the centerpiece of Mindhunter. He plays Holden Ford, a young FBI instructor who works for a conservative agency that is grappling with a changing America. Crime and society are becoming more complex and Groff’s character frequently pushes against boundaries as he tries to reach a new understanding of extremely deviant criminality by interviewing its perpetrators. This is most frequently explored through Ford’s relationship with Edmund Kemper (played by Cameron Britton), who murdered ten people over a nine-year period. The dangerously likable Kemper is Ford’s first interviewee and is the model for Mindhunter’s exploration into the roots of disturbing transgressions.
The show, which was renewed for a second season before it even aired, maintains a relatively moderate pace throughout its first ten episodes. Produced by David Fincher and Charlize Theron, the Netflix series is essentially an extended Law & Order: SVU interrogation scene. There are fewer quips, but fans of shows like the NBC drama will probably gravitate to Mindhunter. There are some emotionally gripping episodes throughout Mindhunter, yet the show feels like it is still building for a greater moment that will likely come as the agents interact with more even more notorious criminals.
This interaction with vicious killers and warped minds will likely keep Mindhunter interesting as the show progresses. Serial killers have a unique celebrity about them. At one point, Mindhunter notes that mass murderer Richard Speck even had groupies and revealed Ford’s odd fanboy fascination with the killer. Generally, even people who are not interested in true crime cannot help but take notice of names like Charles Manson, the Zodiac Killer, or Ted Bundy. Knowing that these men actually committed the crimes that are portrayed onscreen elevates the suspense.
The interaction with other infamous serial killers was planted during the first season. Throughout the season the show briefly flashed to scenes of the BTK Killer in Kansas. The sequence killer, who began committing murders in 1974, was not arrested until 2005. Mindhunter has also teased interactions with Charles Manson. Even for a show that explores some dark aspects of humanity, Manson is shown to be the most loathed object of disgust amongst law enforcement personnel. He is frequently alluded to as an object of interest for Ford, who does not seem to understand everyone else’s hesitancy in interviewing the patriarch of the Manson Family.
By the end of the season Mindhunter also depicts the torturous effects on the agents as they interviewed the serial killers. The moment is almost a welcome return to reality for Season One. With the binge-friendly style of Netflix programming it is easy to become wrapped up in a series, but the emotional breakdown of the FBI agents shows that the audience may not be the only ones feeling the attrition of so much cruelty.
Netflix has already shown a knack for delivering compelling true crime content. In 2015, the streaming service released the widely-discussed docuseries Making A Murderer, which scrutinized the convictions of two Wisconsin men. Earlier in 2017, The Keepers looked at the murder of Sister Cesnik and the Baltimore Archdiocese’s sexual abuse scandal. Mindhunter is the next edition in their true crime library and has a chance to become Netflix’s newest long running success.