MINDHUNTER (Netflix) is a stellar, noirish, smart, compelling crime series. Its realism, strong and meticulous character development, excellent slow-burn and piece-by-piece pacing, grisly crimes, and historical perspective fascinated me and had me anxiously hoping for a second season.
Set in 1977, MINDHUNTER focuses on FBI agents Holden Ford and Bill Tench. Ford confidently does a hostage negotiation by the book, but it doesn’t end well, making him question the book itself. Tench is in the behavior science unit, which goes out and teaches FBI methods to local cops. They forge a partnership to shake up the FBI’s thinking about what drives the worst murders, drawing on new discoveries in psychology, interviewing serial killers, and trying to apply what they’ve learned to murders they encounter on their travels to local police departments. The show is based on the book, MIND HUNTER: INSIDE THE FBI’S ELITE SERIAL CRIME UNIT by John E. Douglas and Mark Olshaker. (Ford, Tench, and Dr. Wendy Carr are composites of real-life people.)
The setting is perfect for the series, providing great historical detail and flavor that doesn’t distract, and allowing an on-point soundtrack complete with the Talking Heads’ PSYCHO KILLER. By setting the series in 1977 around the time of the Son of Sam murders, MINDHUNTER is able to sidestep serial killer tropes by showing how they were made. Step by step, theory by theory, Ford and Tench, aided by Dr. Wendy Carr, slowly learn what a serial killer is and how he thinks, based on the understanding that without understanding their psychology, these murders are very difficult to solve, since there is otherwise no clear motive. They visit the serial killers in prison and interview them, which provides some of the best scenes in the show. These are often very long scenes filled with dialogue, and every single one is completely riveting, particularly Ed Kemper (the “co-ed killer”), who exudes charm and menace in equal portion (and is based very closely on the real killer). Ford and Tench upset the stodgy FBI and often each other and themselves. They know they’re onto something, they know it could change how the worst crimes are detected and solved, but there’s a price to be paid as they wallow in the horror, which affects both their psyche and personal lives. Not since THE WIRE have I seen such attention to character development, while MINDHUNTER captures TRUE DETECTIVE’s penchant for big ideas and the confrontation between the human mind and its darkest recesses.
So yeah, I loved it (despite the opening scene, which I felt was weak and made me think I was gonna get the usual cop show), and highly recommend it if you’re looking for a cop show that in my view is as groundbreaking in its own way as THE WIRE and TRUE DETECTIVE.