There isn’t much that makes me drop everything and watch uncontrollably like Mindhunter over the past few years. The first season left quite a mark on me and it shouldn’t be a surprise as I rank Zodiac as my #2 favorite film of all time. Its Fincher’s follow up to police procedurals and the elevator pitch gives it more than enough opportunity for greatness. The first season makes it sparks while interviewing serial killers and the few moments the theory clicks in small town cases. While over repeat viewings, I’ve felt most of my critiques fade although now one thing stands clear after my two sittings with Season 2. Season 1 can feel very coincidental in the end. Each insightful interview is followed by a case where such insight comes into play, and there’s little wrong with the new procedure.
Lets recap first. Mindhunter follows FBI agent Holden Ford and Bill Tench as they interview serial killers or people who have committed particularly heinous crimes. In doing so, they evaluate their behaviour and develop the profiling standards used in law enforcement today. The duo interviewed the likes of Ed Kemper, Richard Speck, and more while on the road teaching basic FBI procedure to local police. Some of their roadshow spots request their assistance in some cases and each provide a chance to apply their findings in the real world. There’s little opposing the findings duo through the early days, like presenting the killers ‘shoe,’ in reference to Jefferey Brudos’ interview where his guard is penetrated because of his foot fetish. The only opposition they face is from outside the procedure, Assistant Director Robert Shepard butting heads with Holden in order to keep the image of the bureau clean and District Attorneys failing to properly present delicate cases in the judicial system. Beyond that, the Behavioral Science Unit’s progress in unhindered. Even a brush with Internal Affairs that gets resolved quickly in Season 2 barely affects the operation.
That changes here. Instead of taking on a handful of cases throughout, there is the Atlanta Monster that absorbs team. Faced with a killer that leaves little to no evidence and killing dozens of children, Ford’s tenacity on the profile draws disdain. With the few killers that were interviewed, one of the conclusions made were murders of such nature don’t cross racial lines, but given the victims in Atlanta were all black in a state ripe with Klan activity, this made the profile questionable. The parents of the victims were convinced it was the Klan taking their kids while the city and state largely chalked it up to gangs or other isolated incidents. Each of these conflicting ideas throughout creates the exact discord the first season was missing. While everything largely worked out for Ford as his profile matched the man captured for the killings, there was a proper sense of trial and error around the few prior suspects. It also identified another wedge in the duo with Tench being an investigator first and apart of the unit second. Working every angle instead of making the shoe fit. What helped the case beyond this chemistry is the general intrigue with the killings and its convicted killer Wayne Williams. The sheer amount killed in tragic and given the adapting MO (Modus Operandi), the story feels much like the daunting Zodiac spree. Williams on the other hand has a certain showmanship in every scene that balances someone putting on airs in order to look good vs someone hiding.
With the investigation tying Ford and Tench, Wendy Carr and Gregg Smith carry out some of the scheduled interviews. It acts as a bit of a reset button juxtaposed with Ford and Tench, getting back to finding the comfort and strategy when interviewing these killers. The process helps contextualize the difficulty of the interviews and coming across all the insight previously gathered. Although, our dynamic duo come in for two particularly high profile individuals, David Berkowitz and Charles Manson. Berkowitz’s interview was memorable for reasons I’ll get to later, but Manson followed by Tex Watson proved ambition can get in the way. Ford’s conviction when given a golden ticket to interview anyone could’ve been used on anyone, or better put, an actual killer. Instead, they got a high profile interview with little to show for their time and opportunity. I think on some level, the shift in focus away from the interviews might seem like a step away from what made the show what it is, but instead it shows the natural evolution it needs to capture the process.
What I haven’t spoken about much yet is the personal stories of Ford and Tench. Given the last scene of Season 1, let’s start with Ford. After the intimidating encounter with Ed Kemper and his hug, Holden’s episode is later revealed to be a panic attack. In the moment, the prison physicians believed it to be a heart attack and was initialled admitted forcing Bill to pick him up. The process brings Holden down to Earth and makes him much more vulnerable than his Season 1 Episode 10 self. The personality shift over Season 1 brings him to this cocky and emboldened state, and while the season shows he is still gung-ho for his work, there’s a reservation we see and how the awareness of his panic disorder affects him. Berkowitz’s interview is Holden’s first outing after being discharged, and because of that, he’s aware of the buttons he’s pushing. Having difficulty keeping composure when pressured and unable to ask if Berkowitz pleasured himself to the killings. At the same time, he is able to break and reveal the truth behind Berkowitz’s story. During the interview, Holden proves to himself and Bill that he can still kick ass. A little while later during the retirement party for Shepard, Holden is confronted and told it was his careless actions during the internal affairs investigation thats responsible for the early retirement. The moment comes after Holden makes a speech about his work during the retirement party, and is made clear how self centered he still is. The only difference now being after the grilling, Holden finds himself having another panic attack. While this is the only definitive panic attack in the season, the only questionable one being the rush to get the community crosses to the church before the vigil where we have the second instance of handheld camerawork although its the only time it was done over an entire sequence, the panic disorder is thrown to the wayside as a genuine concern for Holden. Episode 1 has the diagnosis, 2 spreads the word for the sake of the team, and the only other mention is during the finale at 9 when Bill snaps at Holden. Will it be more impactful as the series goes on? Hard to say, but seeing how the disorder affects one of the very people studying behavior would fill out the small gap of realism they brought to the season.
Although, what surprised me the most out of the season is Bill’s arc. With Season 1 following Holden through his realization and the inception of the unit through his ambition, Bill wasn’t explored as a character. Set up for future use, yes, but never given the spotlight while away from Holden. Here, anyone can make the argument that Bill takes more than half of the alloted time for personal conflict, and for good reason. Bill’s son Brian who previously isolated himself finds friends in old children at sunday school. One night his friends killed a toddler and Brian the story goes he tried to revive the child by laying the body on a cross. Given the proximity to the murder, the district attorney orders psychatric supervision. The event weighs heavily on the community as they ostracise Brian and the family navigate the social workers working the case. Most importantly though, Bill is pulled in every direction; Atlanta, supporting Holden, supporting his wife, trying to connect with Brian, and playing the face of the unit. The contrast of how Bill, his wife, and Holden in his arc makes for a fascinating series of case studies where Bill is the highlight despite being the stereotypical agent. There are moments his guard is down and his true emotions come out in the small mannerisms, like hearing a big-wig judge wish he could lock up kids who he believes will cause trouble and Bill’s cold subdued stunning connection to his life and work. Or after a rough afternoon, Bill’s hail mary attempt to finally connect by telling the story of a fishing trip, and the only bit of dialogue we hear from Brian is here asking if the fish died. Having that be the only line Brian has along with Bill at the end of his wit, there’s an awful sense of defeat that brought me to tears. That’s not even mentioning the struggle to keep his marriage together with his wife making ominous comments about leaving the couch when the family up and moves, while bouncing between Virginia and Atlanta every weekend. Small fights with his wife and Holden wherever he is just wear down reminding him of his inability to be there for everyone or anyone whose in front of him.
Honestly, I find myself struggling to stop writing. Just about every detail I feel deserves mentioning. The timing of shows comedy is realized now, the victims families taking the investigation into their own hands against the mayor and local police, more of the camerawork, the framing to delineate dynamic dialogue, editing, fucking everything. It’s such an incredible improvement over an already impeccable show.
Let me save you some time if you happened to skip everything I had to say just to get to the point. Just watch the show.