Created by: Joe Penhall & Jennifer Haley
Featuring: Jonathan Groff, Holt McCallany, Anna Torv and Hannah Gross
John Douglas: “[Talking about Monte Rissell] …and like Ed Kemper he was able to convince the psychiatrist he was making excellent progress while he was actually killing human beings. This is kind of a sick version of the old joke about how many psychiatrists it takes to change a light bulb. The answer being, just one, but only if the light bulb wants to change.”
It has been three years since David Fincher directed the Academy Award nominated “Gone Girl” (2014), an adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s well regarded novel about a possible murder, as well as an unhinged relationship between a man and a woman – called marriage. Now comes something of a return with the new Netflix television show “Mindhunter” (2017), again an adaptation, but this time of a non-fiction book by infamous FBI profiler John Bradley. Bradley as well as his work has been the inspiration for a number of fictional characters and work, including the now legendary book and film, ‘The Silence of the Lambs’. Bradley is famous for catching the legendary ‘BTK’ serial killer so he knows his subject, here in this show his name is changed, but this is definitely part of his story.
This new show takes many of the real life serial killers as well as situations that Bradley found himself in, that he wrote of and fictionalizes certain aspects, which means there is more of a license with names and places. However in saying that many of the real serial killers are portyated, as well as the interviews that took place over the years that “Mindhnter” is the subject of. This is not the first foray into television for Fincher, previously he helped bring the US version of Lynda La Plante’s “Prime Suspect” (1991 – 2006) from the UK to the small screen – this only lasted one season as well as having a protracted journey, so it was one and done. This new series is a very different beast with it seeming more personal as well as Fincher having more freedom given by Netflix to make something special that will be of a much higher quality.
Set in 1977 — in the early days of criminal psychology and criminal profiling at the Federal Bureau of Investigation — Mindhunter revolves around FBI agents Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) and Bill Tench (Holt McCallany), who interview imprisoned serial killers in order to understand how such criminals think and apply this knowledge to solving ongoing cases.
Fincher is such a gifted director that I wish he was more prolific, so it is when he does bring something to the screen it should be treated with much deserved respect. Here he is bringing a third part to an unofficial trilogy of serial killer projects. The first, his now classic film, “Seven” (1995), the second, his procedural “Zodiac” (2007) and now this, the longer form “Mindhunter”. What is interesting is that the further we move through these three very different but similar projects they move closer and closer to some kind of truth as well as being more about the hunters of the killers than the actual killers themselves which shows a more consistent talent in telling stories. It is means that Fincher is more interested in exploring themes that run through all of these incredibly scary as well as poignant stories.
Whilst one person, Joe Penhall, writes the series there are four credited directors. Fincher has the bulk of the work with four; Tobias Lindholme, Asif Kapadia and Andrew Douglas each have two. This is an interesting mix of talent with a nice four way split with the experienced as well as highly recognizable Fincher, the up and coming documentarian Kapadia, with the inexperienced but genre experienced Douglas and Lindholme. The balance of talent is tipped to the directors as the two cinematographers, Christopher Probst and Erik Messerschmidt, are both inexperienced in terms of cinema as well as television so it is up to the directors, and I belive the key comes from Fincher as to the look, feel as well as sound of this show. Each episode links up perfectly with its partners in terms of look, which is important as the narrative grows.
Speaking of narrative, which leads to plot, this is a very plot driven show, it deals not only deal with some extremely grizzly details, but it also looks at bureaucracy within the FBI, sexual relationships between same as well as the opposite sex, politics of the day and deep psychological details. Even though the narrative is within ten episodes each episode is dense with information as well as being linked with a very definite ‘B’ story that will come to light – but not this season. In relation to themes as well as storylines you will recognize some of these as well as tropes, what is interesting is that this is the time period where they originated so this is an origin story of sorts. What we see is the origins of serial killer profiling as well as those techniques put into practice, we also see some of the jargon you will recognize being formulated and explained to lawyers and others for the first time – it is a fascinating trip down some dark alleys that will leave you wanting more.
For a ten episode run there are a surprisingly small amount of permanent characters that we follow, which could be off putting if they were not all intensely likeable as well as fascinating. We also follow each of the arcs of those characters through the run of the show. The genius is in the casting; I imagine that there were many high profile actors interested in the main roles of Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) and Bill Tench (Holt McCallany). Even though the flashier as well as main part is Jonathan Groff’s, it is character actor Holt McCallany who is the real star of the show. McCallany, is a Fincher regular, but this is a show where he has the time to really work through an arc as well as get in the mind of his character, with all this he really shows what he is capable of, I only hope there is a second season for him to re-enter this world of serial killers. The other casting is the great Australian actress Anna Torv who plays a Doctor of Psychology who heads the team directing them in clinical ways to explain jargon as well as create it with the boys in tow. Make no mistake Torv ends up being the ‘boss’ of sorts as well as a kind of moral centre.
This show is not just concerned with the hunting of serial killers in the 1970s but is also concerned with how the current climate of serial killers is viewed by the hard work as well as bravery of early pioneers who stood on the shoulders of giants to arrive at a larger picture of why serial killers exist as well as how to catch them, then treat them. This is an antecedent of any serial killer show or movie ever made, it also makes you think about the things people do behind closed doors as well as peoples fear that can snowball to ruin real peoples lives.
This is one of the shows of the year; its talkier than you might expect as well as funnier as well – which is a relief from some of the interviews the team carry out. There is also a heavy dose of family life which helps humanize the FBI agents, as they deal with their stresses much differently as they at much different stages of their careers and lives. I can honestly say this show will surprise you as wel as entertain you and once you start you will not want to stop until the end.
“Mindhunter” is streaming now on Netflix.