Mindhunter is a period piece that explores the first attempts by the FBI to understand why serial killers kill. Set in 1977, it stars Jonathan Groff as Holden Ford and Holt McCallny as Bill Tench. Joining them is Hanna Gross as Holden’s girlfriend, Anna Torv, Wendy Carr as a psychology professor who works with Ford and Tench, and a cast of oddballs who make up the serial killers they interview.
The show has a number of strengths. The two biggest are the cast of serial killers and McCallny’s performance as Bill Tench. When Ford and Tench interrogate the killers, the actors do a good job in humanizing psychopaths. A great example would be when Edmund Kemper goes from the rather mundane topic of his love of crime dramas to a psychopath who calmly describes how he killed a woman.
As Tench, McCallny evolves in the show from a skeptic of studying serial killers to a strong supporter of the project. Further, the writers do a good job of demonstrating how the gruesome things that Tench sees at work affects his personal life and his relationship with his family.
Another more minor strength is the attention to detail that the creators used in recreating a late 1970s atmosphere. Throughout the show, there were no obvious mistakes that made me remember this was filmed in the 21st century. The show took great care in selecting cars, clothing, electronics and interior deigns that immersed me in the era. Finally, the soundtrack weaves in the perfect mix of the bigger hits of the era with some more obscure tracks that fit well with the show. One of the best examples is the song “Psycho Killer” by Talking Heads playing over the credits of a particularly important episode.
There is one major weakness in the show – that Holden Ford is a one-dimensional character. While Hanna’s role as being a representative of the counterculture of the era brings out a few flashes of potential for Ford, he never evolves past the typecast model of an FBI agent. This is a missed opportunity for the writers because while they hint at some interesting elements of a personal life away from him being an FBI agent they never bring them out to the audience. Thus, the lead character is ultra-committed FBI agent who does not really evolve much beyond him becoming more zealous to the cause.
A warning is that the show is quite violent and gory. However, the gore isn’t for shock purposes, unlike some other TV shows about serial killers.
Overall, Netflix gives us another strong showing with Mindhunter. While the show has some teething pains, the problems are not terminal and it’s obvious that the creators did their research into designing a show that represents the era it’s set in. Perhaps in season two it will do a better job in developing Holden Ford as a lead character.
My grade is 3.5 stars out of 5 – it’s basically Criminal Minds if it didn’t suck.