The Winonan

Netflix show in review: “Mindhunter”

Nate Nelson, Features Reporter

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David Fincher has always been one for stories about serial killers. “Zodiac,” “Se7en” and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” are all seminal works about the subject, and even Fincher’s other works like “Panic Room,” “House of Cards” and “Gone Girl” share many of the same tropes.

This week, Fincher returned to his serial killer roots with the first season of his new show with Joe Penhall on Netflix, “Mindhunter.” While it retains some of the buddy cop mentality of “Se7en” and the twisting plots of “Zodiac,” the show holds its own as a very human and contemplative look at the eponymous killer. The show has its flaws, but this first season is a pretty solid start.

“Mindhunter” is based on the book “Mind Hunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit” written by John E. Douglas, a true crime novel telling the story of a group of agents in the late 70s who interviewed and documented numerous serial killers—known as sequence killers. It follows agents Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) and Bill Tench (Holt McCallany), along with psychologist Wendy Carr (Anna Torv), as they begin to craft a full guideline for psychiatric evaluation of these sequence killers.

Unlike most crime shows, the majority of the show consists of the interviews with the killers, including infamous faces such as Edmund Kemper, Jerry Brudos and Richard Speck. The story is less involved with the crimes themselves as it is the people. That seemingly small change, inherent to the story the show is telling, is what really makes the show deviate from its contemporaries.

The season is slow and methodical, allowing viewers to really connect and even sympathize

with the killers. That’s not an easy thing to do. These are mass serial killers. But the way the show depicts them—as sociopaths with an innate ability to replicate human empathy and emotions—allows each killer to shine on their own. The real star of the first season is introduced very early on, in the form of serial killer Ed Kemper (played pristinely by Cameron Britton). It’s simple and understated, but also remarkably creepy and surprisingly charismatic. The story of “Mindhunter” hinges on its killers, and in that respect, the show soars.

Yet, not everything in “Mindhunter” is as fully realized. Oftentimes, the script veers into mediocre soap opera territory. (“I’m trying to protect everyone!” “You need to protect your SON!”) The writing in the interviews and the cases is fairly sound, but it flounders when it comes to relationships, and of course, the love interests.

The biggest disappointment comes from postgrad student, and Ford’s on and off girlfriend, Deborah ‘Debbie’ Mitford (Hannah Gross). She starts as a compelling and witty foil to Ford, but after a few episodes she just becomes a boring talkback character—underdeveloped, underutilized and a complete waste of a solid female character. Luckily, Anna Torv’s Wendy Carr, makes up for it tenfold giving one of the best performances of her career.

Visually, the show oozes 70s cool mixed with Fincher’s usual gritty hyperrealism. The directing is relatively on point, but it does vary from episode to episode. For the most part, the episodes are shot in a slow, yet super crisp manner that lends itself well to the overall abrasive vibe of the show. Every once in a while, the spectre that is the agent’s home life rears its ugly head and throws the show for a loop. Yet, the season starts and ends on a massive high note, and the final moments of Episode 10 will get your mind racing.

Overall, “Mindhunter” is on par with Fincher’s last Netflix show, “House of Cards.” It is methodical, strange and different, but also starts with a bit of a fumble. It’s always a good thing to see some new and interesting approaches to genres, which this absolutely is in terms of crime shows, and I’m excited to see how the rest of it plays out. While I may have some qualms with some of the aspects of the show thus far, like the cliché dialogue and occasionally limp directing, it does show substantial promise. It’s also a great binge watch if you need something to take up a weekend. 3.5/5

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Netflix show in review: “Mindhunter”