Hands up, who loves a good crime series? Here’s another for you to add to the list. But instead of just watching heads roll, you are invited to investigate inside them…
When I was little, I wanted to be a CSI. I religiously watched every episode of the boxsets and even have a diploma in Forensic Science. Although I’m not CSI Smith in real life; I live out my desires through most crime related shows so I was automatically drawn to Netflix’s new serial killer drama – Mindhunter. The thought of another show in this format may send you up the wall because lets face it, how many times have we seen the same old thing? However, fear is not needed this time my friend.
A Netflix collaboration with the efforts of executive producer and 4 episode director David Fincher, the drama doesn’t focus on depicting how but rather on asking why. Why do serial killers kill? Why do they have deranged motives? What exactly in their psychology allows them to commit violent murder? This is what makes it much more than your average serial killer drama, there’s no usual layout of: dead body – evidence – investigation – killer found. Side note, this is in no way a detriment to other shows, this is just an advantageous feature for Mindhunter.
Set in 1977, we follow FBI Agent Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) as the main protagonist and alongside him; veteran agent Bill Tench (Holt McCallany) as his teacher on serial killer psychology. Ford is an ambitious annoyance; a ‘goody-to-shoes’ wanting to succeed. At first, his character sails through a rocky tide of career and love woes which to be honest, you don’t really care about. It’s hard to build any connection with him until Tench is introduced. Confrontational and masculine, he is the opposite to Ford but they’re like a weird spin on ‘Thelma & Louise; they aren’t suppose to go together but they compliment each other wonderfully. Their professional bromance is built through them both wanting to delve deeper into human psyche; they do this by interviewing the killers whose acts were so malicious that the question of ‘why? needs to be asked.
Based on the work of real life FBI Agent John Douglas who through the seventies and eighties interviewed the likes of Ted Bundy & Charles Manson, Ford and Tench’s first guinea pig is Edmund Kemper; an necrophillic murderer of 10 women. Kemper is mirrored through every little monstrosity the real life monster committed, played incredibly by Cameron Britton (my favourite performance from the series). It’s not for the faint hearted and I bloody love it like that. Think you can handle listening to how he decapitated his mother and then had sex with her head multiple times? It’s raw and intense; how interviewing a psychopath should make you feel. Kemper is the main focus through this first series but as Ford & Tench’s work becomes more acceptable to the department, they deviate to others.
Jerry Brudos, another necrophillic murderer is their next subject. After testing the water with Kemper, Ford’s confidence has grown tenfold when they approach Brudos. Known for killing 4 women whom he then photographed, raped and mutilated; his interview results in the most memorable scene of the series. Brudos has a sexual fetish with stilettos and Ford capitalises on this by bringing in a brand of heel his victims wore in; something completely opposite to what his FBI handbook dictates. The result? Brudos ends up masturbating to the stiletto in front of the agents. The depravity of the scene is the pinnacle of Ford’s transformation from kiss-ass to rebellious fool. Interlinked with these fantastic interview scenes is a progression of Ford’s life; comparable to a boy becoming a man. The climax of this occurs through his work which subsequently tests his already difficult relationships with his girlfriend, colleagues and boss.
This latter part of the series holds the better drama, made better by the introduction of psychologist Wendy Carr (Anna Torv) who acts as Ford’s moral conflict; while herself dealing with issues and societal restraints. Its safe to say that the flaws lie within the first few episodes of the series (not to say the other episodes are perfect), which is understandable as a new starter but it’s hard to want to carry on. It is slow and a tad boring in places, but it picks up the pace through side stories where Ford and Tench are called upon to help solve gruesome and fictional crimes. The only other big negative I did uphold is the believability of Fords’ relationship with girlfriend Debbie (Hannah Goss) It lacked more chemistry than a year 9 science class.
The name ‘Fincher’ will be the biggest draw for this show. (Charlize Theron is a producer also fyi) For me, that was certainly the case as I enjoy his work. But the even greater thing with ‘Mindhunter’ is that the style is very ‘Fincher-esque’ but the content isn’t’. To peel back the layers of these famous monsters, a slow approach is taken; no cliff-hangers, no dramatic twists. It doesn’t work amazingly but it works. I struggled to stay committed to watching it consistently which is why it doesn’t work amazingly. However the psychology of these serial killers mesmerise you; making you want to hear more.
Visually, it’s a dull and bland colour scheme but it fits the macabre tone. Acting wise, there’s a few gems in there but I wasn’t blown away. Overall, if you’re one of these people who watches documentaries about killers or is a fan of shows such as True Detective, Hannibal or more recently Rellik (see my review here) then definitely try this out. Stick with it if it doesn’t’ click straight away. The mastermind behind Se7en and Zodiac is at the helm of this one; you don’t want to miss the chance to see another of his creations.
3 out of 5 decapitated heads
If you are still unsure or perhaps gave up after the first episode, read more on Metacritic