"Mindhunter" (2017) Season One Review
So this is kind of new for me.
I don't really watch TV shows that often. It's not that I don't like them or anything, it's that they're best as a communal experience. The times I've watched and enjoyed TV shows were when they were not only on, but while being watched with friends. There's nothing more exciting than the figurative "water-cooler" moments created by TV episodes where you stand around and wonder out loud about what you just saw and what it meant.
Since I like to sit down with other people and watch TV shows and that requires actually gathering people together for long stretches of time, I don't get around to watching too many, especially when they first debut. So it should probably say something that I watched all ten hours of the first season of Mindhunter in a single day. To be fair, I also watched all ten hours of the Netflix produced Ultimate Beastmaster in a single day, an obstacle course competition partially hosted by Terry Crews. But Mindhunter is really special, an expertly crafted piece of work that dives deep into the uncomfortable history of American serial killers and the people who worked to catch them.
To give you an idea of the timeframe that Mindhunter takes place in, the term "serial killer" doesn't exist at the beginning of the series. In fact, it takes over halfway through the season for the term to be coined, and its coined by the main character, Holden Ford. It's worth saying right off the bat that Holden Ford is a fictional stand-in for the very real John Douglas, the man who wrote the book "Mindhunter." Douglas was an elite profiler for the FBI that led the charge for seriously categorizing violent criminals, gaining the trust and insights from some of the most infamous murderers of all time.
If the names Edmund Kemper, Jerry Brudos, and Richard Speck mean anything to you, you don't need to read another sentence in this review, just watch the whole show and enjoy.
For the rest of the world? I don't know how Mindhunter will fare, but I personally loved it. The first episode is admittedly shaky in parts, but once the second episode starts the show immediately finds its footing, turning into a meticulous character study of murderers and the people who study them. Agent Ford leads the charge into profiling these killers, but at the cost of his human relationships to just about everyone around him. Actor Jonathan Groff plays Ford decently at first, but the deeper into the series you get, the better he becomes. His facade as a good man breaks down in some truly loathsome ways.
The supporting cast is pretty damn great too, with the standouts being Holt McCallany as Agent Bill Tench (Ford's partner), Hannah Gross as Debbie Mitford (Agent Ford's girlfriend), and Anna Torv as Wendy Carr (an academic who assists with the profiling and an old friend of Tench). They're all great in their respective parts, but the best performance of the whole series comes from Cameron Britton as real life serial killer Edmund Kemper. Britton utterly dominates every scene he's in, but more impressive is how much he actually sounds and looks like the real Edmund Kemper. It's some of the best casting I've ever seen.
With all this talk about brutal serial killers, it might sound like Mindhunter would be exceedingly violent. And you'd be kind of wrong. In terms of active violence (as in you see a violent event happen), there are literally three moments of active violence in the show, and one doesn't have blood. There are several gruesome photographs of crime scenes, but we're never shown the actual murders themselves. That doesn't mean the show is family friendly, but the restraint makes the show easier to cope with at times.
Despite loving the overall show, it's not without problems. The aforementioned first episode being shaky is definitely the biggest, but the other issue I have is with the arc for Debbie. She gets a lot of screen time and is well developed, but she feels like she only exists in the narrative as a character for Ford to vent to. In all fairness, Debbie seems to know this and gradually grows tired of Ford's antics, but their final scene leaves a bit to be desired.
There's one last critique, but it's an odd one. There's a subplot throughout the entire show that is almost always played at the very beginning or the very end of episodes that seemingly doesn't have anything to do with the show. The reason I use the word "seemingly" is because the subplot will be immediately clear to people familiar with American serial killers. Again, I'm trying to avoid spoilers, but the sub-plot concerns an ADT Serviceman in Kansas. If you don't know what that means, feel free to Google it afterwards. Or maybe even beforehand. In any case, it's not well explained inside of the show, but it makes sense if you know who the person is.
I don't want to call Mindhunter one of the best shows of the last several years because I don't feel qualified enough to make that call. I've seen hundreds of movies over the years, but my grasp on TV shows is a lot looser. But I can say that as a fan of true crime stories and character studies that Mindhunter is damn good show that's worth your time.