This first season of Mindhunter is absolutely superb. The pace and the context might not sound gripping at first but it most definitely is. Sometimes a topic or series will just work, and for me this definitely worked. Created and written by Joe Penhall (who wrote the screenplays for The Road and Enduring Love), based on a true crime book Mind Hunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit written by John E. Douglas and Mark Olshaker, and produced by David Fincher and Charlize Theron there is undeniable class involved in making this series. Fincher himself directs four of the ten episodes in this first season with his usual clinical, compelling style alongside Asif Kapadia (Amy, Senna), Andrew Douglas and Tobias Lindholm.
Set in the heady days of 1977 we find ourselves located within the FBI at Virginia, specifically following a young agent, Holden Ford, as he tries to advance his understanding of criminal behaviour and in doing so, hopefully solve more cases. His path isn’t an easy one but he is persistent and with the inclusion of a more seasoned agent (and behavioural scientist), Bill Tench, they start the ball rolling by positing the idea to interview notorious murderers to asses their traits, find the things that set them off and by learning this, applying it to current cases and suspects.
Seeing the early days of criminal profiling, psychological evaluation of a serious criminal is so absorbing and absolutely fascinating. Watching as Holden Ford and Bill Tench work their way from the basement of the FBI to gaining massive funding grants to improve and expand their work is thrilling stuff, even though they are still located in the basement.
What makes it all the more real are the performances from Bill (Holt McCallany) and Holden (Jonathan Groff), and latterly Dr. Wendy Carr (Anna Torv). All are interesting characters, all with their issues and problems but they are all committed to this, and certainly none more so than Holden as he sticks his neck out time and time again to keep things moving forward.
Holden is a preppy, fresh-faced agent, lacking experience but undeniably a driven individual. He has great ideas but also the blinkered desire to follow them whatever the stakes (which often gets him into trouble). Bill is the weary, worldly wise agent, a bit of a journeyman but smart and committed. A great foil for Holden’s enthusiasm, keeping him grounded and checked for the most part. Wendy is an external psychologist from the world of academia but proves to be vital to making the research proper and useable in the future. Diane, Holden’s girlfriend, is almost the total opposite of Holden: clearly more worldly wise, more relaxed, more open to ideas and less rigid. Their interactions are great, and Holden does get a lot from his discussions with her in opening his eyes to further options that he hadn’t otherwise considered or knew about.
The characters of the multiple murderers (the phrase serial killer is coined about half way through the season) that they interview are also really impressive and amazingly varied, showing you first hand the scope of this operation that they are trying to do. It is no mean feat to categorise and quantify a bunch of totally different men, each with their different breaking points, issues they had growing up, fantasies, etc. But that is the task they have taken on in the hope that they can use this knowledge going forward.
Interlinking the research with current or difficult cases as they travel around to different states, they manage to lend a hand, offer insights, try to help solve cases with the information that they have gleaned so far. At times it almost reverts to serial killer of the week format, but never quite gets that formulaic, breaking out with surrounding issues, ongoing cases, personal problems and hints at a larger story arc that will no doubt become more prevalent in the next season (which has already been commissioned. Yey!).
Holden develops so much across the season it is fantastic to see that happen from episode to episode. Bill is pretty sturdy, as he is supposed to be it seems. Wendy is drawn into this world, changes her life for this in the hope that this work will become something as important as she sees that it could be. Some of the interactions with the serial killers is superbly compelling viewing. Ed Kemper is articulate without ever seeming threatening, Jerry Brudos seems like a compulsive liar and quite reticent to open up. And Richard Speck is twisted and set up on a hair trigger, ready to go off at any moment. But for each and every murderer Holden gets into his stride to get them to open up, starts to know which buttons to press to release what is locked up inside, be it information on their past or a confession from an intended target. But this isn’t always seen as a good thing as sensibilities in this day and age are high on the priority of the FBI, that they are seen as whiter than white, unblemished, is a high priority. Holden is pushing these boundaries and sometimes crossing them to get his work done, to get his agenda pushed forward.
The soundtrack to this is really great. Fitting in superbly with the 1970 feel, there are some great tracks such as: Fly like an Eagle, Psycho Killer (so fitting!), Albatross, I Don’t Like Mondays to name but a few. You won’t miss them but do keep an ear out!
Highly, highly recommend this series to anyone, but particularly if you are drawn to dark themes (like me!). Thoroughly interesting story and great, realistic performances throughout from everyone keeps you invested in what is unfolding on the screen.
Overall Rating: ★★★★★