This is another in the list of series that unearthed some truths and realities that had been portrayed quite differently to the public, although this in comparison to the real-life narratives pushed about the events of ‘Manhunt: Unabomber’ and ‘WACO’ is on the lighter side of things. Within this series is the exploration of the mindsets and procedures in place within the FBI in the 70s. * What was happening and shifting in the world of crime, and how impressively unprepared and unwilling to adapt Law Enforcement actually were.
The series had initially arrived on my radar a few months before it was available on Netflix, and the trailer alone had me severely intrigued. With the subject matter at hand being the minds of serial killers and psychopaths, and, crucially, where the two intersect. An examination of psychology as an academic field, and how it was (with difficulty) integrated into the FBI, the cultivation and creation of Forensic Psychology as a practice. But also, the criminals that the two main protagonists are interviewing over the course of the season (eight episodes) are all based on the real men themselves, the actors portraying them look impressively similar, but lines are also taken verbatim out of the real interviews.
The first scene introduces us to precisely the exact tone and content of the series. Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) is called down to a tense hostage situation and quickly realizes that this is a man who isn’t inherently violent, he’s having a psychotic break. We’re shown Ford’s incredibly different approach to dealing with the man – breaking with tradition of standard protocol procedure, carving a new path towards more informed practices, with a little dark humor knitted in. And as with all other series that have lengthy introductions, this is a series of impeccable quality. [Others include The Wire, Westworld, Peaky Blinders, The Punisher, The Sopranos, Firefly… to name a few] The cast hails some familiar faces, although the suspension of disbelief is never challenged – a feat a lot of television series fail at, but not this one. As with other intellectual series, this isn’t one to sit down to with the intention of only half-watching it, put away your phones and kick those who tend to talk through half of the episodes out of the room. There are many, many minute details that expand the depth of the series, in tone, mis-en-scene, cinematography – along with other stimulating cinematic techniques.
In a conversation with his superior ‘Unit Chief Shephard’ we’re shown the beginning premise that Ford wants to carve a path for. After lamenting the loss of the man who took the hostages Holden (Ford) is told “You followed procedure. You did your job. You did everything by the book.” To which he responds [and here’s a heap load of foreshadowing…] “If I did everything by the book, it begs the question…” His superior’s response is the most telling of all, the mindset it betrays is one of the most dangerous to have in any facet of society, especially law enforcement. Shepard goes on to tell him that the FBI is the benchmark for excellence in law enforcement. Having done my fair share of research after watching the series and again before beginning this series of reviews – this is in fact how the FBI viewed itself, the apex of perfection with no room, or need, to improve. Which leads the episode to the most pressing point. In an age of serial killers (when no one had even coined the term or understood the concept of them, though Charles Manson was already in jail) the FBI and subsequent law enforcement agencies were only training their recruits and agents to tackle cases of logical criminals/ killers. (ie. Criminals who did things for personal gain, revenge)
“Forty years ago, your FBI was founded hunting down John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson, Machine Gun Kelly. Criminals who thumbed their noses at society but were basically in it for personal gain. Now? We have extreme violence between strangers. Where do we go, when motive becomes elusive?”
This direction leads Holden to meet our other main protagonist – Bill Tench – head of the Behavioral Science Unit in the FBI. Who he joins up with to head out on “Road School” where he goes out on the road and give classes in various police departments – there’s a million cops out there who want to know what we know. He goes to them, gives them a distillation of what we teach here, and they tell him what they’ve been doing. Upon Holden’s first outing they meet with the police department of Iowa, they come across a case that jolts Holden into a further harsh reality = they actually can’t help them. They don’t know enough about what they’re talking about here. Which leads us into the beginning of the plot for the entire season, which, if you’ve seen the trailer, you’ve guessed at what exactly that is..
We also meet a beguiling young sociology student Debbie Mitford – who schools Holden pretty phenomenally, in more ways than one. With witt as sharp as a blade and is not afraid to call out stereotypes being perpetuated by those she’s in the company of. Though this is a dark enough series content wise – there are a few dark chuckles strewn about no doubt so stay tuned for next weeks episode!