Mindhunter is one of my absolute favorite TV shows, right up there with Fleabag, Legion, Mr. Robot and The Crown. In a nutshell, the show begins in 1977 with two FBI agents setting up a behavioral science unit. They are starting to realize that ‘process killers’ (soon to become known as ‘serial killers’) are a thing and they spend a lot of time interviewing these killers in prison, trying to figure out what makes them tick and how to profile them. Along the way, the two agents, Holden Ford and Bill Tench, are asked to help local community police with cases they can’t get a handle on.
The show’s producers are David Fincher and Charlize Theron, and if you’ve seen Fincher’s movie Zodiac you will understand how Mindhunter works. There’s not a lot of gore or violence, mostly talk and theorizing about unspeakable crimes. Like in Zodiac, this show thrives on tension and stress, and it is masterfully done.
The acting is absolutely first rate, as the show’s leads, Holden Ford (played with innocence and naivete by Jonathan Groff, and Bill Tench (Holt McCallany, playing against type as a good guy and mentor to young Holden) are characters you can really dig into. Luckily, the show has strong (and sometimes much smarter) female characters, Hannah Gross playing Debbie Mitford, Holden’s psychology student girlfriend, and the wonderful Anna Torv as Wendy Carr, the real brains and leadership of the operation, as a psychology expert from Boston University who joins the FBI team.
In season one, Holden meets with Edmund Kemper (played to a tee by Cameron Britton) the ‘Co-Ed Killer,’ in prison, and finds him highly intelligent and self-aware and on a second visit with Tench they start to put their profiling plan in place. Later they meet with killer Monte Rissel, and realize both killers have serious mommy issues. The FBI duo work on a frustrating case in Pennsylvania that had three people killing a young woman, but the DA on the case only charges one for the murder. They also meet with Jerry Brudos, a killer with a nasty shoe fetish. I won’t give this one away, but there are issues with the case that present themselves in Holden and Debbie’s bedroom.
The acting, pacing, writing on this show are much like a real movie, I’m imagining that has something to do with Theron and Fincher. Also, the seventies sets and cars are a real gas to look at. It really gives you a visual spectacle along with a psychological workout.
I liked this series so much that I read the book it was based on, Mindhunter: Inside the FBI's Elite Serial Crime Unit by John E. Douglas and his co-author Mark Olshaker. The Mindhunter character of Holden Ford is based squarely on Douglas and Bill Tench on FBI agent Robert K. Ressler. Many of the stories in the book are reproduced in season one of the TV series, and reading this book, you can see why Douglas was called the ‘serial killer whisperer.’ He is able to break down potential criminals with almost psychic strength, and explains his methodology in the book.
After two years, Mindhunter is coming back for a second season. Supposedly we’ll be seeing Charles Manson, Son Of Sam, and a good deal about the Atlanta Child Murders. You’ve got time to binge season one.