It’s another homerun for Netflix with the arrival of this intense crime drama set in America’s late seventies. Mindhunter is highly polished, full of great acting, and provides a unique twist on the crime genre. When you binge-watch the whole ten episode series, you could easily mistake it for a HBO production with its slick and serious drama, like a cleaner cut of True Detective.
It’s 1977 and Charles Manson has been in prison for six years prior: a new sort of criminality is cropping up across the States, with both local law enforcement and the FBI in a quandary over how to deal with it. The presupposition that bad people are born bad is being overturned, and Agents Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) and Bill Tench (Holt McCallany) are on a new frontier of criminal profiling. The detective duo are allowed a little free rein from their boss to interview convicted killers who have killed on multiple occasions, seemingly without any motive. This was a time before the term ‘serial killer’ was coined – a change we see as a result of the pair’s research. But with most of the bad guys behind bars, as is the premise of the show, surely it gets a little boring?
Absolutuely not! Series producer David Fincher (director of Se7en, Fight Club and Gone Girl) would never let that happen. The flawless cinematography, the impeccable build-up of tension throughout, and the small cases that crop up along the way allow the agents an opportunity to employ some of their research – all of which makes for compelling viewing. The show’s characters are well-rounded, both the ambitious and idealistic Holden and world-weary Bill have their own flaws and personal problems that haunt them throughout the show. But it’s the interviews that steal the show, particularly those with Ed Kemper (nicknamed “the co-ed killer” and perfectly portrayed by Cameron Britton), whose polite demeanour and eloquence are starkly at odds with the heinous crimes he has committed.
In fact, despite the show’s engrossing nature, it may well be a Netflix original that you should take your time with rather than binge-watch, due to its unnerving scenes and unsettling tone. Mindhunter is made all the more terrifying when you learn that it’s actually based on the memoirs of John E. Douglas and Mark Olshaker, with the former being the real-life inspiration for Jack Crawford (Clarice Starling’s mentor in the Silence of the Lambs). To know that the crimes and conversations are based on real-life really won’t help you sleep any easier at night.
For all of its intense interviews and gruesome murders, Mindhunter really boils down to questions of ethics and morality. This alone puts it ahead of all other police procedural dramas. Even our heroes start to blur the line between good and evil, a line that becomes more ambiguous as the show progresses. It’s a show that wakes us up to the frightening truth that good and evil are rarely so binary, reminding us that good people sometimes have to do bad things to keep one step ahead of evil.
Perhaps Mindhunter is not for the faint-hearted, not merely because of the elements of gore, but also because of the sickening and unnatural ways that good and evil can reconcile themselves. However, the show truly is another jewel in Netflix’s crown, and with season two commissioned before season one even aired, Mindhunter really isn’t to be missed.