Posted in Blog Posts, Flick Central

Mindhunter, created by Joe Penhall: a Television Review


Based off of the true-crime novel Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit, this series follows FBI Special Agents Holden Ford and Bill Tench, as well as Psychologist Wendy Carr, who eventually come to build and run the Behavioral Science Unit in the Training Division of the FBI Academy. 

As the beginnings of criminal psychology begin to become known in the world of the FBI and other detectives we are drawn into a world before Criminal Minds and other shows like Disappeared or Who the Bleep did I Marry? when crime was often committed by a loved one and more often a romantic partner.  Before Charles Manson and Dennis Rader…Ted Bundy and Ed Gein… the world was simpler when it came to crime.

As the changes in the world become apparent and more prevalent (and as the agents who are deep in the thick of things) are presented with a case that has all the earmarks of a psychotic killer Ford and Tench are off to teach more and more police how to better handle their cases…while Ford attempts to delve into the minds of devious minds like Edmund Kemper, Dennis Rader, Montie Rissel, Jerry Brundos and Richard Speck… all while trying to change the teaching methods and bring up an entirely new division of the FBI.

General Information:

-Genre: Crime Drama, Psychological Thriller

-Creator: Joe Penhall

-Length: 2 seasons, 19 episodes, averaging around 55 minutes each (with some as short as 35 and some as long as 73 minutes) …. A potential third season is on the books…

-Rating: TV-MA (psychological drama, true crime stories, crime drama, discussions and views of murder, severe sex and nudity, discussions of sexual deviance, murder, discussions of rape and abuse, moderate to severe profanity and use of racial slurs and racial language from the 1970s and 1980s, interviews with serial killers)

-Where to Watch: Netflix (with subscription), DVD, Blu-Ray, or look for it at your local library

-Main Cast: Johnathan Groff, Hold McCallany, Hannah Gross, Cotter Smith, Anna Torv, Stacey Roca, Cameron Britton, Michael Cerveris, Joe Tuttle, Lauren Glazier, Albert Jones, Sierra McClain, June Carryl

-Page of Reference in RP1: 63

Review (contains spoilers):

General Overall Review:

This was a good series overall.  Everything seems to pull from what actually happened with the building of the BAU/BSU.  The characters are compelling and I will say the most interesting are those who play the killers they are interviewing.  Their performance and the lives they are portraying are absolutely beautifully done.  They were able to capture the essence of each of these distinct people.  It was really incredible and often what kept me watching the show.

Overall, it’s a fine show.  But I prefer others like Criminal Minds (fictional) or Disappeared (true crime).  There are so many other books and shows out there that are more compelling and more comprehensive if you are interested in this sort of case work and the building of the BSU/BAU.

The following review is going to be more of a stream of consciousness as I watch each season.  I’ll try to keep it in order of events as they happen but there maybe something that I didn’t think was important at the time but then became relevant later.

Season 1:

It’s a fascinating show.  Defiantly one that I know needs to be watched.  Its not like Criminal Minds in the way that I know I can walk away or do something else while watching it and catch the majority (and all the important things) that are going on during the course of an episode.

Only two episodes in I’m actually interested in the specific serial killers that they worked in.  I’ve never read the book that this is based on, but I am intrigued and will probably add it to the list of things that I will read since I love true crime.  Its kind of a big part of my life and I’m honestly surprised that I hadn’t made it more than 6 episodes into this show when it came out…and that I’ve never read the novel it pulled the inspiration from.

Ok…Edmund Kemper is extremely fascinating.  The actor is great.  He captured all of the mannerisms of the real Kemper.  He’s only been in the show for one episode so far but its absolutely wonderfully done.  And Ford’s obsession with him after one meeting is incredible.  And not something that is unrelatable. 

The set up is really interesting.  Telling the stories of killers who haven’t yet been caught interspersed with the trying to set up the Behavioral Science Unit.  After two episodes I’m waiting for everything to drop be it that Kemper isn’t telling the whole truth (I’m not as familiar with his story so I’m not sure this is true) or for Dennis Radar’s kills to finally be shown as we had a bit of him in the second and now at the beginning of the third episode.

I like how they made the whole show not only set in the 1970s (when the BSU was being developed) but also filmed everything like it would have been a film during the time.  From the way the show the locations to the slight yellowing of the recording it’s a really interesting to see how everything was directed and built to seem like we are actually following the pair of agents around.

The response Ford has when one of the investigations turns up a new murder with the same MO is actually funny…but totally understandable when you think about the fact that they are finally vindicated in the fact that their idea of who and what happened to the first victim is incredible.  I love it.  Its really interesting how well they have created the whole idea and how they are beginning to build up all of the ways that the FBI currently profiles serial (or sequence) killers.

I’ve said this before but the further we get into seeing what Kemper is like the more I love the actor who played him.  He had to have studied the actual Kemper.  His mannerisms and cadence is perfect.  Its just a little scary but just wonderfully done.

Its really interesting the other cases that they get into to help expand the work they are doing.  Single cases, the beginnings of serial murders… all of it is important to how the BSU was built up.  The majority of killers have a series of commonalities.  And this is what they are trying to show through the resources and research that they are doing in the show.

The costuming and set building is really well done from the on-site locations to the build outs that they have done.  Everything truly fits into he 1970s aesthetic and period they are building things off of.

The situations that the writers put everyone in are fascinating.  They do a really excellent job they do in creating and building the language that has become commonplace in today’s world of criminal behavior and analysis.  It doesn’t feel forced or coerced.  It happens naturally in the course of their work which is something I really enjoy when it comes to complicated subjects.

Hmmm…I’m not sure how I am feeling about the fact that they worked so much of the characters personal lives into the show.  Unlike shows like Criminal Minds where the stories about personal lives are really interlaced in the nuances of the overarching stories and the character relationships themselves.  I wish more of the personal lives were interlinked with what was going on in the greater scheme of the storyline.

Well now Ford is in trouble. Its never good to lie. However, I do understand where he is coming from in regard to talking to the killers.  I understand that there is a need of having a series of questions that are consistent but honestly you have to stray from those guidelines.  These creatures don’t understand the concept of morality and consistency in many cases.  They have their own language and morals.

Oof…that could almost be the end of the unit.  I hope the new guy doesn’t screw up everything.

I love how much they are showing that Ford is developing a lot of the tactics that police and FBI use to get a suspect to talk now.  Psychologically getting into their head.  Learning their language, cadence, and rhythm.  Creating “evidence” boxes and files that don’t really exist to make them squirm and reveal more than they intended to.

I am not sure I like Wendy now any more than I did when she entered the scene.  I get where she is coming from.  The idea that a death penalty case reflecting badly on the BSU rings pretty true.  However, the whole point of the research and guidelines they are creating is to use it in law enforcement to better catch and convict (and also prevent) these crimes from occurring.

And now they’ve been pulled out….oops.  That tape didn’t do well.  New guy is in trouble.

Oh man….I wouldn’t have made it that far down the hallway if Ed Kemper had cornered me, threatened me and then hugged me…oh god.  I’d have lost it.  Looks like Holden is going to be having a minor breakdown. Or at least an anxiety attack. 

I’m loving the little snippets they have worked in of BTK.  Just such a nice little touch as things are really getting going. 

And that was some ending for the season.

Season 2:

Bring on season 2.  I’m pretty sure that they jumped a few years.  This is more into the 1980’s but I’ll have to check. Ok so the first season took place over the course of 3 years… didn’t feel like it but that makes sense in the long run.  This season should cover the next year… so around 1980 to 1981.

I’m interested in everything that we will get to see in this season because this is when a lot of serial killers really came into their own.  The late 1970’s and early 1980’s was kind of the big era for serial killers. 

We’ve already gotten to see Kemper and heard about Manson.  Richard Speck.  We’ve seen little tidbits of BTK.

Poor Holden.  Doesn’t know what has happened.  Panic Attacks are the literal worst.  And when people didn’t know what they were things were even harder.  Holden doesn’t know what they are, so he’s had to be strapped down for his own safety.  I wonder if Bill even knows where Holden is at the moment.

And there is BTK. 

I’m super not sure about all of the characters at this point in the show.  Bill is seeming like a jerk…but I can’t decide if it is due to the fact that there is a new director or if he’s just tired of Holden’s antics.  Wendy is kind of a bitch honestly.  And again, I can’t tell if it is just her actual personality coming out or if she is just stuck in her ways of academia or if she’s just over the work.  The new guy is timid and kind of a tool.  And Holden is just losing it (nothing wrong with panic attacks…I get them…) but like…man.

This new director is an interesting guy. Not sure that I like him yet.

And the expansion of the BSU.  While it is good it just seems really sudden…though that is kind of how it happened in real life from what I know about the development of the BSU.

Yeah.  Saw that coming.  Holden is going to learn a lot about the fact that what he is doing isn’t always going to go over well and is going to have casualties if he isn’t careful. 

So that came out of left field.  Incredibly disturbing that their son, Brian, had anything to do with the local murder of that child.  I wasn’t really sure what was going on with the local murder.  It came out of no where as most murders do.  But this is going to add a whole other level to everything going on with Bill.

Atlanta is also being short sighted.  I hate that politics are often the reason that so many different cases don’t actually get solved or solved properly.  It’s terrible.

I’m warming up to the characters again.  I still don’t like Wendy.  She’s just not my cup of tea but her having to go into the interview herself I think helped the entire

Oh yay.  Charles Manson.  The guy who is playing him is actually really good.  Just like the actor for BTK, and Ed Kemper…. Son of Sam.  They have done an excellent job with the casting of all of the serial killers.  Yep.  He did a stunningly great job as the crazy Manson.  Between the mannerisms and the language…its so good. Ooh. So good.  I hope they talk to Tex.  He was also a fascinating subject.

So many excellent moments with Manson.  From the posing and cinematography of him being a “Jesus” figure.  From how he is sitting at the table.  To standing up and throwing his arms out like he is on a cross.  Just a fantastic moment.  And the glasses…. that last moment with him and the glasses was just like it was drawn out of photos of Manson himself.   Just classic.

Yes, we do get Tex Watson.  So good.  Honestly, Tex was the one from my research that I really felt knew about and was honest about what was happening inside the Charles Manson Family.  Now Tex does something that I really can’t stand.  He lapses into his religion.  That is one of my personal struggles with killers. That they can do terrible things and simply ask for forgiveness from G-d and they are absolved.

I wonder how into the Atlanta Child Murders we are going to get into.  And honestly how much of BTK we will really get in the end.  I am enjoying all of these little moments where we see how close he came to getting caught.  But this is going to be interesting.  They have finally been able to get into the Atlanta case…

There is a lot going on all at once.  Between Wendy interviewing more killers, the stuff going on with Brian, Bill going to the retreat, and getting called into Atlanta.  Its just bouncing around a lot and I’m not sure how it will all pan out.

We only have a few episodes left in this season with no season 3…are they going to catch the Atlanta Child Killer?  And seriously Bill needs to make a decision on what he needs to do…either stay in DC or work the case in Atlanta. This back and forth is super exhausting to watch.

Cool so Bill finally told Holden what was up.  And we are finally at the point where they ended up catching the Atlanta Child Killer.  Honestly that’s cutting it really close to the end of the show.  Which means we aren’t going to get to see BTK caught (which makes sense since that didn’t happen until 2005), we aren’t going to see Bundy in this series (at least for now) and we aren’t going to deal with Zodiac, or the Night Stalker, or even  …all of which are big names that

Hmmmm…. That was an interesting tie up.  I can clearly see how they need another season… but who knows if or when we will get it.  The Atlanta Child Killer is in custody (and once again the casting was PERFECT).  BTK is still at large.

There are more serial killers that would come out over the next few seasons.

I guess in the end I probably will keep watching if the next season comes out.  More just to see if they follow through with all the little ends they left like the trial.  Bill’s family leaving him.  Holden’s PTSD stuff.  Wendy’s life…kind of… maybe not that so much.


Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

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