Somewhere in our desire as normal, well-meaning citizens, it is incumbent upon us to try and understand the unexplainable behavior of the most aberrant minds. What triggers that switch? What causes someone to use a severed head as a tool for sexual gratification and humiliation? Where is the demarcation line between the monsters and their prey? Mindhunter, the newest series from Netflix, tracks the early days of the two FBI agents trying to understand these minds, at that point still not called serial killers. David Fincher, no stranger to this type of material, has been tapped to establish the mood and the tone of the show created by Joe Penhall (The Road, Enduring Love). It has been a decade since Fincher’s Zodiac painstakingly recreated the obsession of the police officers and journalists consumed with finding the identity of the killer; the seeds of that film are everywhere here. Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff), based on the real John E. Douglas, lives and breathes like a character from Zodiac. His interest in understanding the mind of a killer is beginning to lead him into a spiral of obsession through two episodes. In this regard, he is our entryway to the show. The first two episodes follow Ford, the boy scout FBI instructor, as he goes from hostage negotiation, to teaching hostage negotiation, and finally a traveling instructor of criminal psychology to police officers. During his travels, he begins to establish a combative relationship with the officers because he approaches criminal psychology like a sociologist. Instead of giving them answers, he gives them questions with resolutions he doesn’t know. His partner on these travels, Bill Tench (Holt McCallany), based on Robert K. Ressler, initially brings on Ford to be a pack mule for the trips. But, like Jake Gyllenhaal’s Robert Graysmith, Ford is incapable of just being a fly on the wall. He has to engage. Early in the second episode, Ford begins to interview Edmund Kemper, also known as the Co-ed Killer, and the show finds its hook. Instead of treating Kemper with disgust, the show approaches him as a normal person, just one that murdered people and then mutilated his victims for sexual gratification. The initial meeting between Ford and Kemper is unbearably tense, but each passing time the tension begins to drain as Ford begins to understand Kemper. It is these conversations that spur Ford to delve deeper into the psychology of killers. His partner opts to play golf time and time again, until finally he decides to come along. These two men need each other. Ford is a brilliant mind, inquisitive and empathetic, but ultimately, his unapproachable demeanor and inability to just be one of the guys keeps him at arm’s length from genuine success. Tench on the other hand seems to be content for the status quo to remain as is. He plays nice with the bureau which makes him a much more likable figure in the department. The central performances from McCallany and Groff are both quiet and arresting. Penhall’s first two episodes are quiet, slowly revealing the true draw of the show, and the actors understand their place as cogs in a larger machine. From the opening scene, Fincher paints the world in his chilling palette of altered yellows and blues. The effect is at once draining of life, but amplifying the abundance of detail. No other filmmaker is able to layer their world with the amount of physical detail as Fincher, and Mindhunter continues his immersive visuals. The first two and the last two episodes are directed by Fincher, so it will be interesting to see how the other three directors handle the middle six episodes. His style isn’t easy to mimic and can come off as too much of a parody in the wrong hands. Like Zodiac, Mindhunter has a nasty and bitter sense of humor to it. You don’t end what is ostensibly the pilot, the first two episodes, with The Talking Heads “Psycho Killer” unless you want to make sure your audience is in on the joke. Dealing with serial killers is draining material. If the show never stopped for a laugh then it would be almost excruciating. Penhall’s writing is buoyant and almost playful at times. The release strategy is interesting from Netflix. An October release, just weeks before Stranger Things, shouts horror, but the show is more measured than that. Of course, there are horrific elements. That goes without saying. However, it isn’t scary in the traditional sense. Instead, it crawls under your skin, burrowing deep underneath and festering, leaving the mind to follow the rabbit holes of aberrant behavior. Mindhunter is almost manufactured to keep you up at nights looking through Wikipedia pages for the killers they discuss, just trying to make sense of it. Well-before being released, the show was already greenlit for a second season. Netflix is putting a lot of faith in the assumption that this could be another massive success for them. The striking thing about a show centering on comprehending deviant minds is that there weren’t any water cooler moments in the first two hours. Penhall drags out the narrative in ways that bring the audience closer and closer into the characters. This isn’t a weakness, but a strength. I imagine that some audience could lose patience with it, but for those that stick around, there will be much to mine. There is a line, late in the second episode that will become one of the hallmarks of the show, “How do we get ahead of crazy if we don’t know how crazy thinks?” It is a simple sentiment, but it is at the heart of the feud between the old hat FBI thinking and that of these two agents. The jury is still out on whether this show knows how crazy thinks, but for a start, it is one of the most audacious and well-realized pilots in recent memory. Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.