Warning: contains spoilers.
I was so excited for this dark 1970s show about criminal profiling, produced and partly directed by David Fincher, that I was almost scared to watch it in case it didn’t live up to my expectations. Two days of binge-watching later and I was not disappointed – Mindhunter is excellent, and it is especially essential viewing for any true crime fan.
A 1970s aesthetic can be cheesy and jarring on TV, but Mindhunter pulls it off with style, and your attention isn’t drawn away from the plot by anyone’s outrageously patterned shirt or comedy flares. As you’d expect, there’s a lot of brown, but the washed-out and slightly colourless production design works with the subject matter – dark basements and dingy dive bars seem like appropriate places to be talking about some of the worst serial crimes imaginable.
Considering the subject matter, though, there’s surprisingly little gore, and what there is tends to be contained within grainy photographs being analysed by the police and FBI. The viewer is seeing the crimes as the FBI agents are – after the fact, rather than as it happens.
One of the best parts of Mindhunter is the way Holden Ford’s character develops. At the start, he’s a somewhat awkward and naive idealist, who is excited to create the new science of criminal profiling. He’s so passionate about the project that it rubs a lot of his colleagues up the wrong way, especially his boss, who asks Agent Tench in one episode if it’s possible to make Ford shut up. Tench replies, “I have not been able to do that, sir.”
As the series progresses, Ford becomes more arrogant, and you get the feeling that his newfound fame as the FBI’s new star of criminal profiling is going to his head. His behaviour towards his girlfriend becomes more antagonistic, and he begins to flout rules and protocol at work. His interviews with serial killers become an obsession, and an opportunity for him to go toe-to-toe with brutal murderers in a kind of psychological battle, which he is determined to win. By the end of episode 10, you see his steely facade crumbling when he finally understands quite how frightening the people he’s spent so many hours with really are. He says in one scene that if “you want truffles, you’ve got to get in the dirt with the pigs”, but clearly the dirt is beginning to rub off on him.
One criticism is in regards to the two female characters in the show. Dr Wendy Carr is a smart, intelligent woman who will not be patronised by her male colleagues and is not afraid to stand her ground, but there could have been more development of her character. I’m still not exactly sure what the scenes where she was feeding a cat in her basement were supposed to mean. I feel like they were supposed to tell us something deep and revealing about her personality, but the point was lost on me. Holden’s girlfriend, Debbie, is delightfully snarky and self-confident. I wanted to see more of her, and more of Debbie and Holden’s odd-couple dynamic.
Something else that’s left me a little confused is the appearance of a character who crops up throughout the episodes in very short scenes, working for a security firm and creeping around in darkened houses waiting for his victims. True crime nerds will recognise this character as Dennis Rader, who was active as a serial killer in the 1970s. They’re obviously going to pick him up again in series two, because there was no big reveal about him this series, but I’m slightly confused as to how he’s going to fit into the timeline because he wasn’t caught by police until 2005.
My favourite two things about Mindhunter are the excellent soundtrack, which I need to download immediately, and Cameron Britton, the actor who played Edmund Kemper. I might be biased, because Edmund Kemper is the serial killer I am most fascinated by, so I was really excited to see him portrayed on screen, but I really think Cameron Britton stole the show. He managed to portray Ed Kemper as creepy, smart and terrifying, while also making you feel empathy for this rather sad and lonely outcast. I really hope Kemper will return in series two, because I just couldn’t get enough of his scenes.
The only question that remains about Mindhunter now is how many times I’m going to re-watch it before series two premieres.