Netflix Series Review: Mindhunter Season One

Now that the second season of Mindhunter is finally out, I thought it appropriate to finally get my review of the first season up. Slight spoilers for season one ahead.

Mindhunter follows the development of the FBI’s theories and practices around identifying criminal psychology and profiling. In the first season agents Holden Ford and Bill Tench team up with psychologist Wendy Carr to study imprisoned serial killers and apply the knowledge they gain to ongoing and future cases.

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It has taken me a long time to digest my thoughts and feelings on this show. I honestly can’t remember when I started watching it (I want to say March? Maybe February?), or when I actually finished the first season. What I did know immediately was that I really liked the show. I’m a David Fincher fan and there is so much of his style in the first season. As an executive producer, and director of several episodes (including the pilot and the finale), it makes sense that his artistry would be a big influence.

I think his touch is most noticeable in the way tension is built throughout the series. There is a deliberately slow pace to the episodes, and scenes are often drawn out uncomfortably long. Sometimes this was a little heavy handed, and took away from its intended effect by drawing attention to how long it was taking to setup a particular story element. Most of the time though it had just the right impact, making a character or scene feel creepier just by letting things sit in the moment.

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Of course, it helps when a director has a great cast to work with, and everyone on the first season of Mindhunter is outstanding. I have been a fan of Holt McCallany ever since his CSI: Miami days, which I watched religiously for a time. He has always been a strong supporting presence and it was great to see him get a chance to shine in a larger role. He is the perfect no nonsense, straight man to Jonathan Groff’s eagerly enthusiastic Agent Ford.

Groff, of course, is a standout for his portrayal of the younger agent. He is perfectly disaffected by the things they are hearing and learning in the interviews, and it isn’t until the end of the season, as he starts to have a panic attack at the realization that he has more in common with these killers than his coworkers, that he starts to worry about this emotional disengagement.

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Now forgive me but it took me incredibly too long to figure out that Anna Torv was not Cate Blanchett. Torv looks very much like the other actress and they both are incredibly talented so you can see why the confusion would occur. Torv as Wendy Carr is the clinical cog in this serial killer study machine. She, as an FBI outsider brings the scholarly aspect to the study. She may be just as emotionally removed from things as Agent Ford but that is because she comes from a scientific background. She also doesn’t interact with the interview subjects so I’m interested to see if that changes in season two, and if so how her attitude adjusts as a result.

A show about serial killers obviously needs some of them around, and the casting directors did an amazing job filling these roles. The most memorable of them being Cameron Britton as Ed Kemper (the co-ed killer). His Emmy nomination was well deserved. He is creepy the entire time.

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As for the structure of the show, it is essentially a procedural format. The agents go to a town, give their lecture, and help the locals investigate a crime while interviewing the closest serial killer. The monotony is broken up by personal dramas and the effort to get funding and support for the project at the FBI.

Mindhunter season one is a moody investigation of criminal behavior, how it was viewed four decades ago, and the actors involved in shifting that viewpoint towards what we know today. The world was changing in the late 1970s and suddenly there were new trends appearing in crime and people didn’t know how to react. The show does a great job of immersing its viewers in the world of 1977 and reveals what a scary place and time it was to be. Great performances, excellent writing, and near perfect direction give the episodes an ominous feeling throughout, building tension all season until the audience feels like they too are having a panic attack alongside Agent Ford at the end.

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