Recently, David Fincher announced the Netflix psychological crime thriller, Mindhunter, is put on indefinite hiatus. In light of this devastating news, this article aims to express why Mindhunter is one of the best TV series of the last decade, and why the cancellation of this show is robbing fans of the show and TV alike of a concluding chapter to a brilliant story.
Based on a book with the same name, Mindhunter is a rare breed of show – very cerebral. It prioritises subtlety and maturity in its storytelling, providing the series with immense replay value, and in portraying the nascent development of the FBI’s understanding of serial killers the show excels in every aspect of TV.
Admittedly, it’s slow-paced. However, this minor concession is only such since the strong characters, the modulation of dialogue speed, and the directing more than compensates for it. The three main characters in Holden Ford, Bill Tench and Wendy Carr are superb in their characterisation; with Holden being the plucky, eager, and borderline autistic rising star, Tench: the seasoned veteran who’s forthright in his objectives, and Carr: the academic who cherishes procedure and the purity of psychological study. These contrasting characters enable genuine conflict to arise within their relationships, allow for three different character arcs to take shape, and prevent the depiction of their investigations from getting stale. Jonathan Groff, Holt McCallany, and Anna Torv do their roles justice, and the series is well-cast generally.
Mindhunter prioritises subtlety and maturity in its storytelling, providing the series with immense replay value
Given Mindhunter is dialogue-heavy, the writers cleverly modulate the pace of the dialogue. Faster exchanges usually occupy less important scenes, whilst it’s the opposite for more significant scenes. This simultaneously prevents the series from dragging, and encourages the viewer to pay close attention to specific story beats. Sometimes this technique conveys the chemistry between certain characters. There are instances when Tench and Ford interrogate their murder suspects with their dialogue stichomythic at points, highlighting their proficient detective abilities as well as the increasing pressure piled on their suspect. The splendid cinematography helps keep the show engaging and aesthetically pleasing too. It helps dictate a scene’s tone or the frame of an interaction between certain characters; a prime example being agent Ford’s first encounter with the coed killer Ed Kemper, with elevated angles used to emphasise Kemper’s imposing figure and Ford’s vulnerability.
The portrayal of the serial killers in Mindhunter are excellent. Each killer from David Berkowitz, to Richard Speck, to Charles Manson are well acted and even if you’re unaware of these criminals and their personalities, their distinct character is apparent through the terrific acting.
The subtle contextual references make the viewer not lose sight of the show’s premise and appreciate the world that it’s rooted in
Mindhunter brilliantly laces the social context that backdrops its story, which takes place during the late ‘70s. For example, the distrust among the academic institutions towards the FBI due to the social unrest of the late ‘60s and early 70s makes the fusion of academic study and criminal investigation difficult, and the inherent distrust the black population have towards the police results in conflict when the FBI believe a black serial killer is behind the Atlanta Child Murders. These subtle contextual references make the viewer not lose sight of the show’s premise and appreciate the world that it’s rooted in.
This series wonderfully frames certain discussions also. In examining the motivations and stressors of serial killers, the question of whether people are inherently good or evil emerges, and the morality surrounding the investigative methods on display encourages debate about whether procedure supersedes efficacy. Moreover, the novel approach agents Tench and Ford implement sheds light on the principles that guided the old police methods. The new method requires dispassion and analytical thought, whilst the old had empathy (towards crime victims) and justice as its driving force. It exposes how ultimately being in law enforcement is a vocation – an idea which is seemingly lost in normal discourse concerning police authority. These themes nicely supplement the show’s willingness to portray the cost of these investigations for the three main characters, as Tench’s family life becomes increasingly strained, Carr’s sexuality gets progressively involved in her work, and Holden’s health starts to deteriorate. The overtly flawed protagonists transcends Mindhunter from being an ordinary crime drama, as it facilitates ambiguity, tension, and dispute – no matter the circumstance or scope. This provides levels of realism that compliment the show’s aesthetic and tone greatly.
The overtly flawed protagonists transcends Mindhunter from being an ordinary crime drama, as it facilitates ambiguity, tension, and dispute – no matter the circumstance or scope
Of course, I see why Fincher would’ve been tempted to cancel the show given its underwhelming viewing figures and expenses. Nonetheless, its premature end is creatively bankrupt. There are so many loose ends: Does Tench get to reconcile with his family? How will Holden deal with the relative failure of the last case? Will Carr’s sexuality be finally exposed? Will the third season finally be the wild goose chase of the BTK killer? Mindhunter is a special series thus it fundamentally deserves a true conclusion.