If something like ‘Natural Born Killers’, a hyper-stylised scope into the murderous rampage of two celebrity status serial killers, could normalize and glamourize violence to an audience of easily impressionable imitators, then ‘Mindhunter’ stands to skirt this possibility entirely by dedicating all but one scene to highlighting the great efforts of academics and their thoughtful reflections on the abhorrent, grotesque world of psychopathic killers. Despite NBK’s director (Oliver Stone) thinking he was holding a mirror that reflected American society by exposing the audience’s gross idolization of extreme violence and exaggerating it to be as noisome as possible, he unfortunately had them thinking it was awesome, going so far to breed a few copycats; and on the other hand, Fincher is sure to inspire audiences to gaze in wonder at the rewards of some hands-on academia.
We’re introduced to ‘Mindhunter’ via FBI agent Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) negotiating a hostage situation. An agitated, deranged man opposite Holden has a shotgun which he keeps permanently pointed at his hostages. Holden negotiates with calm and control in the hopes that he might disarm the man’s rage, to prevent him from exploding and causing any more harm in the resolution. This introduction might garner a fair bit of eye-rolling since a hostage negotiation scene is well worn staple of the genre, but the patient viewer will see how it guides us to the path that Holden Ford will take.
Holden understands the concept of saving as many lives as possible as to also include the abductor himself, despite fact that the FBI do not care about much else besides keeping the civilians safe. That was, of course, until Holden’s curiosity begins a deeper, darker, disturbing line of thought on criminal investigation, one that takes the criminal’s mind into account. It’s key to note how Holden doesn’t just negotiate by offering and requesting actions but instead he pulls the man from irrationality into rationality by having him release his anger through talking, and hopefully not through a shotgun. You can see immediately where ‘Mindhunter’ is destined to journey.
The opening scene finishes with the man putting the shotgun in his mouth, pulling the trigger and his head blasting into a splash of flesh and brain. It’s a bold move to open so graphic. It runs the risk of seeming gratuitous; though in reality, it’s the catalyst of Holden’s questioning – to offer a few: “What motivates these crimes?”, “how do we tackle such a highly psychological problem?” and “can this knowledge about their psychology help solve or even prevent future crimes”. The brutal violence works as a deterrent, we are to think more in the vein of “lest we forget” rather than “now we’re really seeing something!”.
Throughout ten episodes ‘Mindhunter’ dissects “motivation” from every angle. As each episode folds over from the last it becomes a delicate mixture of ideas that begin in the criminal realm but extend far beyond. In fairness, we’ve come to expect this kind of conjunction from a show like this. Sure, the personal life conflicts are a simile for the research that they do, but the show is smart enough to make some narratives more tangential to the subjects, and not just have a string of 1:1 metaphors between the stories.
The “how” is layered through many episodes, and it comes at a great, personal cost to character, research, validity of the research and utility. And the “future” question is better directed at us, the ones watching today, 40 years after the study; the “future” filled with flashy serial killers crime shows that were cut from the broken roots of the Behavioural Science Unit’s research. ‘Mindhunter’ has an underlying theme that works in tandem with our experience of TV’s criminals. We’re motivated to evaluate the meaning of finding entertainment in their actions.
Furthermore, I can’t wait to count the impending influx of articles cracking Holden as a psychopath/serial killer, despite that I do think this is what Fincher is egging us to do, to some degree, I just can’t fault how predictable this type of response has become. Regardless, ‘Mindhunter’ exists to push us to engage beyond presentation and to use their methodology and deconstruction against them. When we can do this, we can go one step further and begin to make an informed critique of other shows and their killers. This is how academia works; research leads to new information then we extrapolate and interpret the data, and finally we transpose the idea elsewhere – and repeat. Fincher has made us into peer-reviewers of the show and genre – or, he has at least made it easy to be more conscious of our role when engaging with this kind of content.
‘Mindhunter’ will deglamourize the titillation of ‘Dexter’ and ‘Hannibal’ and the like. Instead, it entertains with positivity – when the study progresses and they get what they need to pursue deeper – it’s a glorification of edification and the joy of academic investigation, despite the subject being frequently harrowing and repellent, they know this will eventually become an extraordinarily valuable resource. So, rather than make idols out of murderers, and rather than make a caricature of detective work, like the aforementioned shows, ‘Mindhunter’ is transparent about the reality of serial killers. It’s offers proof and fact through a detailed, legitimate investigation. We never need to see the crimes discussed, the horse’s mouth can tell you all that you need to know.
Written by Joseph McFarlane
Rating – 9.5/10
Question: What is your favourite TV show or movie about serial killers?
(Leave your answers in the comments section below!)
Thanks for reading this review and please let us know what you thought about the series! Leave a comment below or drop us a tweet over at @HCMovieReviews.