**Minor spoilers ahead**When you start Mindhunter and you see the grim opening sequence beside the name David Fincher, you might think that this is going to be similar to his other work. It’s possible, you wonder, that this draws influence from movies like Se7en and Zodiac. Mindhunter starts off like it might be dark tale about the discovery of the psychology behind serial killers and how the definition came to be.
Mindhunter is nothing like this. After an interesting opening scene, it dives head first into the minutia of the FBI. How they work, why they work, and why they’re such stubborn assholes when it comes to learning new things. If nothing else, you’ll come to understand why our government works at a snail’s pace.
In case you’re unaware of Mindhunter and what it’s about it. It takes place in the 1970’s as a pair of FBI agents and a professor in psychology work together in order to identify and classify why serial killers do what they do. Essentially, it’s the beginnings of behavioral psychology and profiling in the FBI. It is in many ways, based on true stories from FBI agent John E. Douglas.
The main character, Holden Ford (played by Jonathan Groff), is nothing short of a wet fart. He wears a suit everywhere he goes, always looks confused, and is desperate to be special. It’s kind of sad to watch at first, but the show never tries very hard to make you root for him. I couldn’t stand Holden at the beginning of the show, and over the course of the show I liked him even less. What was once a meek little man became a little man with a whole load of arrogance. His arc is nothing more than frustrating. There are ways to make the audience love and hate your main character – it’s why people love antiheroes. Holden isn’t an antihero though, he’s just an asshole.
The other main characters fair a little bit better than Holden does. Holt McCallaney plays Holden’s partner, Bill Tench, a more hardened agent who really just wants to play a lot of golf. His gruff attitude is a nice anchor to Holden’s bewilderment at everything he sees. Most of the time I couldn’t help but feel like Tench was supposed to be the audience in a sense, chiding Holden whenever possible because he’s so insufferable.
Anna Torv plays their psychologist consultant, Wendy Carr. At first Wendy is a breath of fresh air, someone who provides a nice balance of professionalism to the FBI agents. Unfortunately as the show goes on, she’s given less and less to do except sit in her office and scowl at Holden’s mistakes.
Also – for whatever reason – each of the characters are given subplots about their lives outside of the FBI. Holden’s involves a girlfriend (Hannah Gross), Tench’s is about his family, and Wendy’s is about… a cat?
It doesn’t help that Hannah Gross can’t seem to emote more than a general scowl and her tone never breaks from bored indifference. This subplot runs all ten episodes and peaks in about episode seven in a scene involving a shoe. Despite that, it continues for three more episodes, dragging the audience along for slowest ride of them all.
Wendy’s story starts out rather strong. We discover that she’s gay, dating a coworker, and is forced to hide her true self from everyone around her. But then the series moves her to the FBI headquarters, and gives us scenes where she tries to feed a cat with a can of tuna. If you’re wondering what any of this has to do with the rest of the series, you’re not alone.
Bill Tench is the only main character with a worthwhile story. He and his wife just adopted a son, and Bill is struggling to balance his work and home life. This is made worse by the fact that their son refuses to talk to them and they simply cannot figure out why. Bill is really the only sympathetic character in the entire show and I appreciate the lengths they went to humanize his struggles.
Like most crime shows nowadays, Mindhunter falls into the trap of having its killers be the most interesting part about it. Perhaps its unavoidable, in a way. But I found that shows like Hannibal were able to balance both their killers and their cops in a way that made them both interesting to watch.
Mindhunter on the other hand, revels in its killers. From Ed Kemper to Richard Speck, Mindhunter’s best scenes are when it lets its killers talk. Each of the four killers the FBI interviews steal their scenes, making them the highlight of the show. In fact, I’d say that the scene with Richard Speck is the best scene in the entire show.
If you were going into Mindhunter expecting another great David Fincher story about serial killers, you won’t find one here. Mindhunter revels in its slog and threatens to bore you to tears before you manage to get to anything interesting. But when it does present something interesting, its around just long enough to convince you that this show could be something. Then it’s several hours more of watching these characters that don’t matter. In terms of Netflix originals, there are better ways you could be spending your time. In terms of David Fincher projects, just go back and watch Se7en or something.