Mindhunter season 2 is now available on Netflix. The show, created by David Fincher, tells the story of the FBI unit tasked with profiling incarcerated serial killers. Mindhunter is not director David Fincher’s first foray into this topic. His previous show Hannibal also delved deeply into it, with more horror and suspense. Movies such as Seven, Zodiac, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Zodiac have practically defined the serial killer genre in the last 20 years.
Mindhunter takes a step away from those stories and gives the viewer a more realistic and nuanced look at serial killers. There are no cryptic messages that need to be deciphered in order to save a person in the nick of time. Instead Mindhunter shows the procedural elements of an homicide investigation. It shows how investigators canvas neighborhoods and interview suspects under realistic conditions. It also shows failure. In season 2 every episode shows a scene depicting the BTK-killer. Season 2 is set from 1979 to 1981 more than 25 years before he was caught.
Mindhunter stars Jonathan Groff as Holden Ford and Holt McNally as Bill Tench. Both are special agents of the FBI working from Quantico Virginia. They are joined by psychology professor Wendy Carr (played by Anna Torv) as an outside expert. Mindhunter is all about the development of the Behavioral Sciences team over the course of the 70s and early 80s. Were season 1 focused on its inception its successor season focuses on expansion. The study of the serial killers becomes more systematic. Flaws in earlier interview procedures and questions are laid bare, assumptions revisited and friendships tested.
From Wichita to Atlanta
Season 2 feels much like a continuation of the first but attention shifts to actually using research to capture serial killers. First the focus is BTK-killer, but that trail is cold. Before long Holden and Tench become involved in the investigation of the Atlanta child killer. This forms the core of the second half of the season, a deviation acknowledged by the characters themselves.
The investigation shows the value of profiling but also the limitations of using it in practice. As the Atlanta child killer has made only black victims and serial killers usually kill only within their own ethnic background it stands to reason, according to Holden that this serial killer is black. But the situations in Atlanta is explosive when it comes to racial tension. The local police and much of the populace blame the KKK so a theory that the killer must be black comes off as insensitive and unpolitical.
Season 2 is such a valuable addition to the series by looking at the limitations of profiling. One subplot of note is that of Wendy Carr. While some may object to her character being depicted as lesbian I think Anna Torv has done a marvelous job. Wendy is stuck with not feeling really part of the team. She is not FBI and if she were to quit a replacement will be found. During season 2 she has a tumultuous relationship with a bartender who is also closeted. Slowly Wendy discovers the difference between reading about serial killers from reports and interacting with them. Her arc reaches a crucial point when told she is no longer to conduct interviews herself.
The problems of Mindhunter season 2
However, every great series also has problems. Despite season 2 of Mindhunter being captivating it is not without its problems.
The first issue are the vanishing side plots. This season starts off pretty much were the first ended. Several important plots continue: Holden having panic attacks, the OPR investigation into behavioral sciences and interviewing serial killers. However, these side plots all fall by the wayside one by one. Holden’s mental health never becomes an issue like it with in season 1. As the season progresses the unit stops performing interviews and focuses solely on the hunt for the Atlanta child killer. This leaves several issues unfulfilled and makes the viewer wonder why the creative staff in the first place.
The Candy man and Brian Tench
The second issue is Bill Tench’s family life. In this season his own seven year old son is the witness to a gruesome child strangulation. Young Brian may have had a part in it as well. Throughout season 2 we see the Tench family forced to deal with it. I however could never get into the storyline. To me it was a nuisance plot intended to humanize Bill. With his family facing ostracizing he also has to deal with the fact he no longer trusts his own son. The whole affaire felt forced with development being too predictable. At the beginning of the season the team interviews an accomplice of the Candy Man killer and debate his responsibility. It feels like the creative staff wanted to test those theories with practice, but I was not impressed.
Then there are the myriad of small issues. The political fighting at the FBI quickly takes a backseat, which removes a vital dramatic point. The team also interviews Charles Manson and comes up with some very interesting contrasting conclusions. Having seen Once Upon A Time in Hollywood only a week ago I found this very interesting. But nothing further comes of this information. This interview could have been delayed to season 3 while the show does a deep-dive into cults.
Despite the issues with season 2 I think Mindhunter is a fantastic show. It was well worth the 2 year wait, and I hope there will be more. Mindhunter is a deadly serious show and stand in contrast with Hannibal which was little more than a spoof. Mindhunter is consistently different from other portrayals of serial killers and does a lot to dispel misconceptions found in popular culture. That said, Mindhunter season 2 did lose some of the edginess of the first season.