Netflix new crime drama Mindhunter, based loosely on the real-life research of former FBI special agent and unit chief John Edward Douglas – one of the first criminal profilers and author of several books on criminal psychology – proves itself well worth the wait.
Starring Jonathan Groff (HBO’s Looking) as Holden Ford, an FBI Behavioral Scientist using the broadening science of psychology to better understand serial criminals, and Holt McCallany’s Bill Tench as his somewhat reluctant partner. We share Ford’s frustration as he tries to create a new area of understanding, and use it to not only catch criminals but to stop them before they happen.
At its root, it is a story of a scientist, a man who knows in his core that there are answers to what drives the darkest of humanity, serial killers. It is a shining example of its genre. Discussing some of the most horrific crimes of the modern era, but avoiding being needlessly graphic. Crime scene photos are used sparingly, leaving the crux of the gruesome crimes to your imagination.
Ford’s support team, his reluctant partner Tench, and Dr. Wendy Carr – who is loosely based on real-life Dr. Ann Wolbert Burgess – balance Ford’s seemingly relentless drive to prove himself right. Carr is not an FBI agent, and her drive is to use their research to help victims, and ultimately treat would be killers. While it may not be entirely historically accurate, Carr is treated as equal by the agents she works with. The issue of her being a woman comes up on the rare occasion, but with her co-workers, she is valued for her mind. Torv embodies an analytical distance while avoiding being cold. She and Ford are scientific books-ends to Tench’s everyman.
The show was renewed for a second season before the first episode was available to stream, and we’re already sorry we’ll have at least a year to wait before we can binge it again. The exploration of criminal psychology from its beginnings is every crime geeks dream come true. We meet a few real-life killers, as Ford and his team delve into the root and motivation of the heinous crimes. Cameron Britton is unsettling as the Co-Ed Killer Edmund Kemper, a man who killed several women as well as his grandfather and mother. His matter of fact nature captures the real killer with uncomfortable accuracy. Much of the dialogue is straight out of interviews with the man himself, immersing the audience in the moment.
Happy Anderson also appears as fetish killer Jerry Brudos, and his performance is likewise unsettling in its simplicity. One might have these men over for a cup of coffee, never knowing the darkness that lies within.
The plot thickens when Ford starts playing fast and loose with the rules, having learned that dealing with intelligent serial killers takes a degree of creative rule breaking. When they meet a particularly tough nut to crack, mass murderer Richard Speck (Jack Erdie), the team are faced with a moral dilemma that drives our characters toward the show’s next season.
Mindhunter explores the core of criminal psychology while balancing the lives of those who have dedicated their lives to it. The subtle use of gruesome images lends the show to a broader audience, and the men cast to embody the darkest of humanity provide the audience with a chance to feel just a tinge of empathy for individuals whose lives might have gone so differently. The subject matter is heavy, but the show is bingeable without causing serious depression.
GEEK Grade: A
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