The following is a review of the first season of MINDHUNTER – A Netflix Original Series
Have you ever found yourself reading Wikipedia late at night? Perhaps your venture into a deep Wikipedia rabbit hole, so to speak, has led you onto a page about some terrifying, but very real monster, and now you can’t stop reading about the Dahmers, Bundys, and Zodiacs of the world.
Don’t worry. It is a fairly normal thing to do. As dozens and dozens of articles will tell you online, people are fascinated by serial killers. If not, then why else would we get new films or shows about the fictional cannibal Dr. Hannibal Lecter or the very real serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer again and again.
Well, if you’re one of those people who find themselves fascinated by terrifying true crime Wikipedia pages, then Netflix’s new crime show MINDHUNTER – which is produced by the director of such films as Se7en and Zodiac – should work like catnip for you.
MINDHUNTER is a crime show based on John Douglas and Mark Olshaker’s bestselling book Mind Hunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit. It is a fascinating show about serial killers, but it probably isn’t exactly what you think it is. I would describe it as a mixture of HBO’s True Detective and David Fincher’s Zodiac.
But I should stress that this isn’t about the killings, per se; the show is actually about the killers — specifically why they do what they do. It isn’t a horror show and it doesn’t have a lot of action. It isn’t the typical procedural crime show; it is a show about criminal profiling.
MINDHUNTER follows FBI special agent Holden Ford (played by Jonathan Groff) — based on the real life former agent John Douglas — who, after having watched Dog Day Afternoon with his new girlfriend (played by Hannah Gross), becomes intrigued by what makes criminals tick, so to speak.
Ford soon starts working with Bill Tench (played by Holt McCallany) of the FBI Behavioral Science Unit — based on the real life former agent Robert Ressler. Together they travel around the United States to teach local law enforcement FBI methods. That is until Holden Ford starts talking to a serial killer (they don’t call them that initially, but they apparently invented the terminology).
That is the show. There isn’t a huge climactic action scene. Instead, get ready for these incredibly tense and intriguing conversations between an, initially, very impressionable Holden and the most extreme criminals they can interrogate. Holden Ford’s development as a special agent is one of the greatest things about the show, and having him bring his work home with him leads to a lot of interesting scenes.
However, I do think that his interactions with his girlfriend Debbie was one of the more problematic elements of the show, for me. I didn’t ever sense much chemistry between Groff and Gross, and that is frustrating considering how well-cast the rest of the show is.
Conversely, the best part of the show is whenever Holden has a conversation with one of the many serial killers that they interrogate. Cameron Britton gives, perhaps, the best performance in the entire season. He doesn’t appear in many episodes, but he is the most memorable thing about the season.
”An oeuvre, if you will. You could study it. You can spell ‘oeuvre,’ can’t you Holden?”
Britton plays the very articulate and creepy serial killer Edmund Kemper. Kemper towers above Holden, and he isn’t afraid to get in his face — but not like you think he might. The interrogation scenes with him can be both extremely fascinating and intriguing, but also just as frightening and chilling as the fantastic basement scene in Fincher’s Zodiac.
Speaking of Fincher — the two-time Oscar nominee directs four of the ten episodes of the first season, including what I consider to be the very best episode of the season — the second episode. Andrew Douglas (director of 2005’s The Amityville Horror), Asif Kapadia (the Oscar-winning director of the documentary Amy), and Tobias Lindholm (director of the Oscar-nominated Danish film The War) have directed the remaining 6 episodes.
If you’ve got time for a different kind of procedural, which is, admittedly, somewhat of a slow burn, then I suggest you check out MINDHUNTER immediately. The entire first season of the show is available on Netflix right now. It’s not necessarily an easy show to bingewatch, but I was never bored.
– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen