Mindhunter, the latest obsession-worthy Netflix original, takes true crime fans back to the dawn of criminal profiling. Centered around the FBI agents responsible for our modern techniques in detective work, the series takes place in a grim, heavily textured 1970’s. A more simple time when killers were either drunk on anger or just plain drunk, and murder was nothing more than an outlet for revenge. As stated in an early episode, the only motives police assumed existed were Need & Greed. Of course, Charles Manson and his hippy harem saw an end to that, ushering in a new age of seeking to understand the criminal mind.
Though created by Joe Penhall (The Road), the name you are most likely to see associated with Mindhunter is executive producer David Fincher (Se7en, Gone Girl). The series marks Fincher’s second foray into streaming content after House of Cards, and fits perfectly as a companion to the world of Zodiac (2007). While Zodiac followed detective struggling to solve the identity of The Zodiac Killer, Mindhunter concerns itself with the agents that struggled to understand the motivations of every killer. Adapted from Mind Hunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Killer Crime Unit by Mark Olshaker and John E. Douglas, the characters are composites of several real-life individuals that built what is commonly referred to as Psychological Profiling.
What I find so interesting about our main characters Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff, American Sniper) and Bill Tench (Holt McCallany, Creepshow 2 – Don’t believe me? Here’s PROOF) is how much they resemble true crime fans. At least one of your characters should be a stand-in for the audience, but Tech and Ford in the early days of these discoveries, are every true crime fan in the beginnings of their own obsession. As though reaching enlightenment, their eyes have been opened to an entirely new way of thinking about motive and motivation. The series also stars Anna Torv (Fringe) as Wendy Carr, a psychologist enlisted to help Holden and Bill make sense of the data collected. As the more academic arm of the group, she helps to standardize and streamline their interviews and create a one-size-fits-all questionnaire for the criminally deranged.
Beginning with an illuminating account from true-to-life serial killer Ed Kemper, the team travels the country speaking with “sequence killers” to gain insight into ongoing investigations. There’s also an almost useless subplot of Holden‘s sexual awakening, and a small change to the lab-created Netflix format. There’s no denying the platform has perfected the addictive binge. As someone who has come to expect the cliffhanger ending, I was surprised to see that approach tacked on to the beginning of each episode. And I can’t help but assume this was a calculated decision to strong-arm me into sleepless nights.
In episode 2 we are shown tiny glimpses of a man in Kansas city. As episodes go by we see more and more of this man exhibiting behavior the FBI is only know recognizing as warning signs of dark, abhorrent actions. Through these short clips we watch this man as he slowly, methodically plans an attack. *SPOILER ALERT* His name is Dennis Radder, better known as the B.T.K. (Bind. Torture. Kill) Killer. Rader was not arrested for his crimes until 2005 so it’s safe to assume that he will continue to play a role in Mindhunter going forward. It was recently announced that season 2 will follow the Atlanta Child Murders but surely B.T.K. will remain an ongoing nemesis to agents Ford and Tench.
Though criminal profiling has come under some criticism in recent years, Mindhunter acts as an origin story to one of today’s most recent obsessions. There has been an explosion of true crime content including Making of a Murder and Serial, and while the genre provides deep dives into the minds of killers we rarely see a world before our modern techniques existed. Episode by episode our investigators gain more insight into the mechanics of these people’s minds through interviews with some of America’s most notorious killers. And somehow, we (society), still manage to come out looking like the real bad guys here. It is hard to imagine a time where ideas on how to predict people’s behavior based on previous psychological analysis were met with such resistance. But the team pushes through to usher in a new era a criminal understanding and detection.