David Fincher’s Netflix adaptation is based on John Douglas and Mark Olshaker’s seminal true-crime book Mindhunter: Inside FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit which provided a never-before-seen insight into the creation of FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit (BSU) in the 70s. This was a time when psychological profiling of criminals was unheard of and the concept of “serial killers” was practically non-existent. Despite having years of on-field experience, criminal investigators had no structure or code with which they could approach violent crimes that seemed to have no known motivation. This is until a young FBI agent named Holden Ford is assigned to work under Bill Tench, the head of the newly created BSU. While Tench travels around the country trying to educate local law enforcement on cutting-edge FBI investigative methods, Ford is driven to design a framework that could be used as a standard for profiling criminals. And to do this, he has to get into their minds even when their entire project is frowned upon by their own peers including the Assistant FBI Director Robert Shepard.
Fincher’s knack of crafting an ominous undertone is reminiscent of his work on Se7en (1995) and Zodiac (2007) making him the perfect choice for directing the series, the credit for which would have to be given to Executive Producer Charlize Theron who pitched Penhall’s book to Fincher for a TV adaptation.
The greatest appeal of the series comes from the captivating criminal interviews that Ford and Tench conduct with infamous murderers, trying to create a delicate rapport with them to be able to glean data about their methods and motivations, especially when the interviewee has no obligations to provide any answers. Fincher’s knack of crafting an ominous undertone is reminiscent of his work on Se7en (1995) and Zodiac (2007) making him the perfect choice for directing the series, the credit for which would have to be given to Executive Producer Charlize Theron who pitched the book to Fincher for a TV adaptation. The series painstakingly recreates the interviews taken by John Douglas (real-life inspiration for Ford) and Robert Ressler (real-life inspiration for Tench) as they find themselves sitting across the table from “criminal celebrities” like Ed Kemper, the Coed killer. Cameron Britton’s portrayal of a towering, highly articulate Kemper can be seen in this side-by-side comparison video which goes to show just how accurate the series tries to be. Britton was nominated for a Primetime Emmy in the category of Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama series.
Season 2 opens with Shepard retiring, to be replaced by Ted Gunn who is surprisingly receptive of Ford and Tench’s work and promises his full support in exchange for complete transparency. At the same time, a plague of child-murders rocks the city of Atlanta. Being a “mixed” race city and a stronghold of the active Ku Klux Klan, the death of the children (all from the black community) instigates racial tension across the state of Georgia as the local police remain clueless about any possible suspects. Meanwhile Ford and Tench continue with their interviews, this time with killers like David Berkowitz aka Son of Sam and Charles Manson, besides Kemper, to capture perspectives using which they can come up with a suspect profile that would help narrow down the search for what would come to be known as the Atlanta Murders. Some of the most chilling scenes from the season come from the interviews with Berkowitz and Manson, with both characters being the spitting image of their real-life counterparts. Oliver Cooper as Berkowitz and Damon Herriman as Manson brilliantly embody their characters and are entirely believable. Manson’s self-righteous diatribe is one of the best interviews you’d see in the series yet.
Jonathan Groff as Ford and Holt McCallany continue with their quirky partnership in Season 2, while coping with some uncomfortable situations. While Ford is seeking treatment for panic attacks after his episodes with Kemper in Season 1, Tench finds himself embroiled in a criminal investigation involving his reclusive boy Brian. Their personal struggles stretch them to breaking point, especially Tench, as the numbers keep piling up in Atlanta without any trace of the perpetrator. Anna Torv as Wendy Carr, the psychology professor as a part of the BSU, does not get a lot of screen space this season and yet shows a never-before-seen glimpse of a hidden personality. Adding a menacing layer to the narrative is the haunting background score that cuts through the skin as if replicating the plight of the characters.
Listen to the soundtrack here: Mindhunter Season 2 Soundtrack on Spotify
Season 2 checks every box that the series promises and then goes even further. The writing is top-notch and the despair of the characters on-screen is palpable long after you have watched it. The scale is larger than before and the central characters are far more flawed and vulnerable for their own good, and that makes you root for them all the more. It is interesting that in a single week, we come across two productions that reference Manson in their respective narratives, as if complementing each other – one with the events as they happened, and the other with a revisionist, alternate history account of the same. Even though we love Tarantino’s work, there is a certain mood in Fincher’s work that just cannot be replicated, and Mindhunter gives you that. We cannot wait for the next season.