Netflix has carved out a niche for itself as a proper home for the non-mainstream film and TV creatives. With a staggering budget well into billions of dollars set aside for original content for the coming year, it is clear there is nothing money can’t fix. Except for happiness. At least for this year. Just wait till next year when this is pitched as a show with an amply sized budget to boot. As a direct result of unhindered studio interference and stacks of cash to boot, it isn’t at all surprising that top talent is attracted to such a package. In his second big project (after House of Cards) with Netflix, David Fincher helms the wonderfully unsettling 10 episode Mindhunter series.
Set in the late 70s, Mindhunter follows Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff), a rookie FBI agent who together with Special Agent Bill Tench (Holt McCallany) pioneer new ways to identify and predict the motives of new age criminals by conducting face to face interviews with some of the most infamous serial killers in history. Each typical episode is split into three parts. The cold opening, before the actual opening sequence, that shows snippets of a disturbing potential killer but whom you never actually see commit any act (a recurring theme here), the more familiar villain-of-the-week and the ongoing FBI road school sessions conducted by Bill which Ford later joins in. Together they begin to lay the foundation of a systematic manual that will later be used in law enforcement to great use in solving complex murders and apprehending their equally complex perpetrators.
This form of narrative, along with the fact that all the murders alluded to are never actually shown on screen is what sets this apart from your cookie cutter cop procedural. Only through unfocussed photos in the background do you see actual visuals and even those are pretty creepy. Where the devil lies, where he/she bought a plot, built a house and moved in is in the dialogue. A feature of any good Fincher work, Mindhunter is heavy on dialogue and needs you to pay close attention to truly appreciate the nuances and references. When it truly takes it up a notch is when the duo interviews the serial killers themselves in correctional facilities. With each killer having their own distinct personality, what ties them together is their ability to brag about their despicable actions without skipping a bit. Ed Kemper, also known as the Co-Ed killer, is a particular standout character. Played to perfection by the gigantic Cameron Britton, Kemper comes off as a highly meticulous, intelligent and intensely self-aware killer with absolutely no remorse.
This is also somewhat reflected in Holt, the main character. Becoming increasingly obsessed with the idea of figuring out what makes these killers tick, he routinely begins to become more confident and brazen in his methods often erring on ethically and morally questionable areas. Bill, his partner, a gruff old-school married man, though initially impressed by the greenhorn’s innate abilities also slowly spots his partner’s reckless, egotistical behaviour slowly take root and affect his relationship with his superiors and his Master’s pursuing girlfriend, Debbie (Hannah Gross). This is, even more, puzzling for him as the stress from his work spills over to his already strained marriage and his inability to connect with his adopted son. The only other person who is seemingly not as affected is Dr Wendy Carr (Anna Torv), a brilliant, straight-shooting academic researcher who is brought on as the team expands and takes on a lot more cases. Even she also begins to feel the weight of their work and severs her relationship with her significant other and moves to Quantico.
The brilliance of the show is how it slowly simmers and doesn’t feel the need to wrap up everything quickly. This is a story that will play out over several seasons and doesn’t feel like it will run out of puff by the second season. Adapted by Joe Penhall from a real book (link) and working with Fincher, they’ve delivered one of the better TV shows this year as far as substance is concerned. This video neatly illustrates Fincher’s mastery to really get under your skin and make it crawl (Watch out for spoilers). At a reasonable ten episodes, it doesn’t stretch too far and isn’t too short either. It does sort of drag in the middle and loses sight of the goal at some points and by the time you get to the end, it will evoke a very strong feeling of wanting, nay, needing closure which again is aptly denied, which irks and fascinates in equal measure.
Mindhunter does turn the police procedural genre upon its head and provides a fresh perspective seeing as we have so many variants of it already. The image of Kemper placing his paw like finger on Holden’s throat to demonstrate how easy it was to slaughter his victims all the while Holden sits, shrunken, and is totally at the mercy of the enormous killer towering over him really does capture the essence of it – Intelligent, imposing and technical but never ceases to remind you of the depths to which man will hurt his fellow man.
Possible Easter Eggs:
- Try and decipher the opening credits sequence series of flashing images (subliminal foretelling?)
- There’s a What’s in The Box reference somewhere there.