If you’ve seen season one of Mindhunter (2017), there’s no forgetting whip-smart serial killer Ed Kemper (Cameron Britton) whose interviews become the catalyst for Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) and Bill Tench’s (Holt McCallany) studies in the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit. Kemper is featured again in season two with a plethora of other notable names, and though he has fewer scenes he makes just as notable an impact. In “Episode Five” Kemper sums up one of the central conflicts of the show with a comment right before Holden and Bill go in to interview Charles Manson: “Seems to me, everything you know about serial killers comes from the ones who have been caught.”
If season one is about Holden and Bill forming a team and starting to get into the minds of serial killers (as well as developing the terminology to categorize killers who commit multiple murders), season two is about how far they have yet to go to apply their findings to track down active killers before their body count increases. The long-awaited second season of Mindhunter, released August 16th, 2019 on Netflix, tackles the twisted psychology of serial killers and their intricate relationship with the media, public perception, and fame as well as continuing a fascinating exploration into themes developed in the first season, heavily featuring infamous names such as the BTK killer, the Atlanta child murders, and interviews with Charles Manson, Tex Watson, and the “Son of Sam” David Berkowitz, among many others.
“The long-awaited second season of Mindhunter[..] tackles the twisted psychology of serial killers and their intricate relationship with the media, public perception, and fame[..]”
Mindhunter season two is a treat for the true-crime obsessed. It’s an incredibly intimate and specific interrogation into the ways the FBI developed into catching some of America’s most well known and brutal killers. Season two keeps director/executive producer David Fincher’s signature style and lead actors Jonathan Groff (Frozen), Holt McCallany (Fight Club) and Anna Torv (Stephanie) drive both the intense dialogue and captivating subject matter while keeping the action grounded and personal.
Season two clips along at a faster pace than season one, due in part to a nine-episode order instead of ten, but also the iconic nature of the main plot. The BTK Killer and the Atlanta child murders, which are central, ongoing cases during the events of season two, frame most of the action. The ticking clock of murders increases tension, as the audience along with the characters feels the urgency of trying to find these killers before more victims have to die.
Both the BTK Killer and the Atlanta murderer exhibit a new phenomenon of following the news, enjoying the sensationalism of their stories, and using the media to mislead, confuse, and torment. Instead of random actions, their intelligence (exhibited first on the show in Kemper’s season one storyline, whose insights now prove invaluable), egos and need for control dominate their decision making. As Holden comments in “Episode Seven,” “they love to be the only ones at the table playing with a full deck.”
The exploration of narcissism and how fame and public perception drive this new breed of killer is a key element of season two. In their interview with “Son of Sam” David Berkowitz, they crack him down to admit that the demons and voices he claims to have heard were all made up, though now Berkowitz says he can hardly tell the difference between his own mind and the voices. It is narcissism that doesn’t allow him to plead not guilty due to insanity in court, and it’s narcissism that makes him admit the voices were made up because he cannot stand the thought of being deemed unintelligent (true schizophrenics cannot turn voices on or off). They refer to him as a tormented genius who had to correct the narrative about himself to continue exerting control. It’s Berkowitz that triggers Holden, Bill, and Dr. Wendy Carr to open up a new category of their studies in which killers use the media to create their own mythologies.
In between interviews and investigation, season two spends a good chunk of its time examining the psychology of those who deal with crime – the bureaucratic nature of the FBI and its push/pull with local police departments, the bureaucracy of law enforcement in general, and how dealing with the graphic nature of these crimes affects the FBI team and those in their personal lives. At the end of season one, we see Holden Ford collapse after a threatening, intense moment with Kemper – season two kicks off showing him in the hospital as the audience comes to realize he is beginning to suffer a panic disorder. One that manifests in panic attacks due to the intimacy required in his job to get killers to crack.
Another one of the most fascinating elements featured in Mindhunter season two is Bill and his wife Nancy (Stacey Roca)’s young son Brian becomes involved in the murder of a young boy. Season one briefly touched on the complicated relationship Bill and Nancy have with their adopted son, but season two complicates things further by adding the added debate of ‘Nature vs. Nurture’, right within Bill’s own home. Brian‘s subsequent monitoring by an assigned social worker and weekly appointments with a mental health profession drive Bill and Nancy nearly to the brink. The most intriguing aspect of the subplot revolving around Brian is how closely it mirrors Bill’s work with some of the most infamous serial killers of all time. Bill can help catch some gruesome murderers and sit in a cell with the Son of Sam, but he cannot seem to understand his own son or stop him from going down the same path of criminal psychology that he spends everyday submerged in.
All in all, Mindhunter season two is an incredibly satisfying watch and a dark deep dive into some of the most twisted minds, their desire for fame and notoriety, and how the FBI learned new tactics into analyzing this behavior while tracking down and identifying serial killers as they hunted.
(Fun fact for horror fans: one of the serial killers depicted in the series, Paul Bateson, has a unique connection to The Exorcist (1973). Bateson, who confessed to and was convicted of one murder but is suspected of killing six more, worked as a radiology technician and acted in a scene of the film where Regan MacNeil gets an angiogram. Director William Friedkin subsequently visited Bateson at Rikers Island jail where he claims Bateson confessed to another murder.)