Despite its many flaws, it’s a gripping crime drama you can’t look away from.
Netflix’ Mindhunter, based on the book Mindhunter: Inside the F.B.I.’s Elite Serial Crime Unit by John Douglas and Mark Olshaker, has some flaws. Quite a few of them, in fact. For one, stab-your-eyes-out title cards that seem designed to induce seizures.
For another, the fact that Holden Ford’s (played by Jonathan Groff) fellow law-enforcement officer doesn’t understand why “these sad hippies” are still distrustful of the FBI in 1977 also rang pretty false. The FBI had been waging a war on the civil rights of anti-war and Black Power activists for years. Less than 10 years had passed since the assassinations of MLK, Bobby Kennedy, and Fred Hampton. It was only six years since COINTELPRO had been exposed. The Pine Ridge shootout happened only two years earlier. Many people were, and still are, rightfully distrustful of the FBI. For the writers not to have known this smacks of either ignorance or historical revisionism.
But most of all, for a series based on the science of learning about what goes on in people’s heads, it’s got the worst character development. I can never tell where their boss, Unit Chief Shepard (played by Cotter Smith) is coming from. One second, he’s chewing them out. The next, he’s congratulating them. It makes no sense. He makes no sense.
And Holden’s girlfriend, Debbie Mitford (played by Hannah Gross): she starts out smart and challenging, her knowledge about sociology and flirting surprising and useful assets to him. But by the end of the first season, she’s somehow become distant and bitchy, with no explanation as to why. While I like that their sex scenes included him going down on her, I’m not sure why there needed to be any sex scenes in the first place.
Finally, the character of Holden Ford: ugh. Just, ugh. He has no discernible personality whatsoever, “a collection of quirks in search of a character” as the AV Club’s Sean Collins writes. No matter where he goes, he always wears a suit, even when it marks him as a narc in his psychology class. He delivers his lines with the same feeling as someone under a thick coating of Xanax. He claims he worked undercover, which would clearly be impossible. He can’t even blend in in a college classroom. The only place he could have “infiltrated” would be a white-collar criminal enterprise composed of entirely clueless conspirators. Which might actually make me respect the character more.
But, for all that…I couldn’t look away. The tantalizing scenes with the ADT tech in Park City, Kansas (yes, I know who it is, but don’t want to spoil it), the faded neutral color palette of the 1970s, the pitch-pefect soundtrack … it hooked me and reeled me in.
Watching Cameron Britton nail Edmund Kemper was absolutely thrilling. The scene in episode 3 where he slowly, calmly grabs Holden’s throat while explaining how difficult it is to commit necrophilia with a decapitated corpse … I was biting my nails. Of course, that was nothing compared with his last scene of the season, which I also won’t spoil. But it does make you think, “Could I really sit across the table from a serial killer?”
And, if your truest answer is anything but yes, then Mindhunter is the next best thing.