I recently finished watching the ten episodes that comprise the compelling first season of the Netflix show “Mindhunter.” The series begins in the late 1970s, and is based on the book “Mind Hunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit,” written by John Douglas and Mark Olshaker, which was published by Scribner on October 31, 1995. Douglas, a former United States Air Force veteran, joined the FBI in 1970, where he began his career as a SWAT team member before becoming a hostage negotiator. In 1977, he joined the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit, and began teaching criminal psychology and hostage negotiation strategy at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia. During that time, he felt that more needed to be done to try to understand what compelled people to become killers. He created the FBI’s first criminal profiling unit, and began interviewing incarcerated criminals. Some of the most notorious killers he studied during the course of his twenty-five year career were: Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, Edmund Kemper, Charles Manson, and Richard Speck. Based on his interviews, he co-wrote the book “Sexual Homicide: Patterns and Motives,“ with Ann W. Burgess, a professor of psychiatric nursing; she works at the William F. Connell School of Nursing, at Boston College; and former FBI agent, Robert K. Ressler, who in addition to being one of the first people to profile violent offenders, is credited with coining the term ‘serial killer.’ Douglas’ co-author on the “Mind Hunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit” book, Mark Olshaker is a best-selling author, and an Emmy winner for his work on “David Macaulay: Roman City.”
The series centers on three main characters, FBI Agent, Holden Ford, (Jonathan Groff) – FBI Agent, Bill Tench, (Holt McCallany) and psychologist, Dr. Wendy Carr. Dr. Carr is portrayed by Anna Torv who won the Saturn Award for Best Actress, four out of the five times she was nominated for her portrayal of the character, Olivia Dunham, on the television show “Fringe.” Taking the characters in order, Holden Ford is an idealistic, young agent, based on the aforementioned, John Douglas. He feels the FBI is applying outdated methods when dealing with the psychology of violent offenders. Holden is also a bit straight laced; the only time he lets loose is when he’s in the company of his girlfriend, Hannah, (Debbie Mitford) a quick witted, sociology grad student. Bill Tench is the hardened veteran who has seen it all, but unlike most of his closed-minded superiors, even though he is reluctant at first, he is willing to give Holden’s methods a chance to prove that they work. As he states to his and Holden’s superior, Unit Chief Shepard, (Cotter Smith) “How do we get ahead of crazy if we don’t know how crazy thinks?” The third member of the team at first serves as a consultant, before leaving her job as a professor at Boston College to join the FBI full time, is Dr. Carr. She is interested in utilizing the information that Holden and Bill get from the serial killers during their interview sessions, to construct profiles that she hopes will establish, for example, if there are similar patterns in the killers’ backgrounds. She’s also a person who fights for what she thinks is right, no matter who she might alienate. An additional benefit of the work the three agents are doing, is that as the series progresses, their profiling begins to help police departments across America, with cases that might otherwise remain unsolved, if not for the team’s groundbreaking work.
What sets “Mindhunter” apart from other shows of its kind, is that most television series, or even films, for that matter, focus on the capture and incarceration of a killer. In “Mindhunter,” the killers that are being dealt with have already been imprisoned. There are no flashbacks to the murders committed by the killers the agents talk with. Instead, the acts of violence are spoken about in graphic ways by the killers, and agents show their interview subject the occasional grim crime scene photo, in order to try and illicit a response. The focus during each episode isn’t on what took place during the commission of the heinous acts the killers inflicted on their victims, but instead deals with the following: What motivates a killer to engage in such reprehensible behavior? Can predictors be used in an attempt to recognize a person’s capacity to commit such a crime, thereby preventing the killings from taking place?
Portrayed during the series are real life serials killers, the one who gets the most screen time is Edmund Kemper, (Cameron Britton). The 6’9″ Kemper, who has a genius level IQ of 145, is known as the Co-ed Killer. He began killing in 1964, as a teenager, when after a volatile argument with his grandmother, he killed her, and later on, during the same day, killed his grandfather. After the horrific incident, Kemper was sent to the Atascadero State Hospital for the criminally insane, but in 1969, he was released. From the time of his release until 1973, when he turned himself into police, he murdered 10 women, including his mother; a person whom he claimed had verbally abused and berated him his entire life, and made him sleep on a mattress in a darkened basement as a child. The same evening he murdered his mother, he also killed her best friend. Kemper asked for the death penalty during the sentencing phase of his trial, but instead received life imprisonment at the California Medical Facility in Vacaville, Solano County, California. Britton completely embodies the role of Kemper, and his conversations with the agents are equal parts captivating and repulsive.
“Mindhunter” was created by BAFTA nominee, Joe Penhall, (The Long Firm). The series was released worldwide by Netflix on October 13, 2017. Golden Globe winner, director David Fincher, (The Social Network) directed four of the ten episodes, and also serves as one of the shows executive producers; as does Oscar winner, Charlize Theron (Monster). Additional episodes of the series were directed by: BAFTA and Oscar winner, Asif Kapadia, (Amy); Andrew Douglas (uwantme2killhim?); and Tobias Lindholm, (The Hunt). The series as a whole is engrossing, and the ensemble cast are excellent in their respective roles. The first season ended on an ominous note, and left viewers with more questions than answers, but the good news for fans of the series is that Netflix has renewed it for a second season.