Have you ever wondered where does a term “serial killer” come from?
Probably not, but “Mindhunter” – Netflix’s collaboration with David Fincher – provides a very stylish, gloomy and compelling answer.
In the late 1970s, two FBI agents – Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) and Bill Tench (Holt McCallany) begin a revolutionary project in the field of behavioral sciences. In order to better understand the mindsets of criminals, they begin travelling around the United States and interrogating the most notorious of them all.
The very beginning of “Mindhunter” is a scene in which Holden Ford is called to assist in a hostage negotiation. At that time, he’s a rookie agent, working in the behavioral science unit. The terms set by a madman are tough to meet, whilst Holden makes a difficult decision. The scene ends in an abrupt, yet bloody manner.
It’s a beginning that honors Alfred Hitchcock and his famous opinion that a film should start with an earthquake. Given the name of David Fincher as the opening credits roll in and the first scene, you may suspect that this series turns out to be an elaborate version of “Seven”. Yet, as “Mindhunter” unfolds, it clearly bears more resemblance to “Zodiac”.
Fincher has a peculiar way of turning a potentially riveting-yet-shallow story of a serial killer into a weary, moody stuff that often divides the audiences. It was the case of “Zodiac” – how to tell a story of the most famous psycho killer in the history of the U.S.? By showing how ridiculously pointless was trying to catch him. Such approach resonates strongly in “Mindhunter”. Instead of larding it with multiple killers and ongoing investigations, the story proceeds without any haste. It almost feels tiring, almost as if the viewer is supposed to witness the “un-startling” parts of the story. Holden and Bill – the two “opinion poles” – will often skirmish. Even when they will help out in an investigation, there won’t be much of the details like we are used to – disfigured bodies, brutal homicides happening on the screen. Instead, there will be lots of brainstorming and gloominess.
At the centre of things, there’s always Holden and Bill. But here’s a thing – the biggest flaw of Joe Penhall’s (the creator of the show) story is exactly these two guys or – more specifically – how it uses its protagonists to its own convenience. Despite that little do we learn about Holden and Bill’s private lives over the course of the season, these bits are shown only to emphasize their job’s influence on them. “Mindhunter” lacks a certain kind of depth to its characters, being too often focused on the details of the mechanisms and not the way they work. Whilst Bill’s family matters do play the right tune, the deteriorating relationship of agent Ford (which is the reflection of him getting bogged down in the cases) often kept me boggling at how corny it was. Jonathan Groff is partially guilty – as he lacks on-screen chemistry with Hannah Gross, who portrays Holden’s muse. Their conversations are often too contrived, even for a couple that consists of a hippie and an obsessed FBI agent.
Therefore, the series often hovers from parts when eyes will glue to the screen to fragments when you might feel the urge to peek at your watch. Luckily, the immersive part of the story is the much more substantial part of “Mindhunter”. It often happens so thanks to the incredible array of the supporting roles. The America in the 70s is full of wackos and terrifying mysteries swept under the rug. The first prominent moment of shine in the series is the first encounter with Edward Kemper, marvelously done by Cameron Britton. The actor is flawless in his portrayal of the hefty monster – even in the prison shackles, he still manages to make the hair stand on an end. The dialogue is also at its sharpest in all the interrogations, whilst perfect editing and acting elevate these scenes to a level of television’s mastership. As a fact, the more hideous minds Holden and Bill meet, the more absorbing “Mindhunter” becomes.
The story’s consistency in revealing the process of criminal psychology being made is also very convincing. It answers questions, that we might not even consider at all. After reading tons of crime thrillers, watching movies about murderers, many of us take it for granted that terms like “serial killer” simply exist. “Mindhunter” exhibits the long way from the moment when behavioral sciences where nothing but a joke, told among FBI agents working in the field. The series smartly uses its time frame to put an emphasis on it too. The methods used by the investigators never questioned “why something happens”, but often followed the usual whodunnit scheme.
In one season, Joe Penhall’s story told a compelling story of two people building fundamentals for modern criminal psychology. It was a difficult task to achieve and even though the production involved David Fincher and the freedom given by Netflix, “Mindhunter” is not the absolute best it probably could be. However, the plot’s firm and steady pace, extraordinary acting (mainly by supporting roles and definitely apart from Jonathan Groff) and the ultimately gloomy atmosphere makes this series a worthwhile thing and one of the best television pieces in 2017.
Mindhunter Season 1 (2017)
Creator: Joe Penhall
Starring: Jonathan Groff, Holt McCallany, Hannah Gross
Hate Grade: 3/10