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SERIES REVIEW: Mindhunter

SERIES REVIEW: Mindhunter

Available on: Netflix
Release Date: 13th of October, 2017
Number of Episodes: 10

 

As long as serial killers have been known to exist, there has been a certain level of fascination with them in the public eye. There’s a kind of terror, a kind of disgust, as well as the curiosity about what makes them tick. But have you ever stopped to think about the time when serial killers were not known to exist? When serial killers were referred to as “murderers with multiple victims”? One of Netflix’s newest offerings, Mindhunter, taps into the human fascination with serial killers and pairs it with the tried and true formula of exploring the challenging of the status quo of the past. 

We join Holden Ford as he’s informed of his reluctant “promotion” from FBI agent and hostage negotiator to instructor at Quantico. He sees it as being put out to pasture and, when we join him in his classrom, it seems his assumptions might have been correct.

He meets and becomes involved with a pretty sociology major who challenges his thinking when it comes to criminality, and he tries to challenge his students to think outside the box in turn. For the most part, his students seem uninterested in challenging the norm, but Holden keeps trying, leading to his recruitment as an on-the-road trainer for police across America. Not far into the second episode, Holden finds himself in the vicinity of the incarcerated Charles Manson, and in seeking information about getting into talk to him, Holden learns of Ed Kemper, the Co-Ed Killer, who is much easier to get in contact with.

The show follows Holden’s journey, along with initially reluctant partner Bill Tench, as they fight to be allowed to interview these killers, and to coin the term “sequence killer”, and team up with a psychology professor who helps them look into the mentality of what these men do.

 

There are some lighter moments in this show that help to stop the tension from getting too much, but for the majority this is the kind of show you can’t look away from, and watching episode after episode until it’s 4am is a very real danger.

Throughout the story we’re with Ford as he goes from straight-laced by the book agent to someone who challenges the rules and becomes more obsessed with these discussions he’s having with these killers, and in one discussion with now girlfriend Debbie, he makes note of what’s going on:

HOLDEN: I can’t let these guys rub off on me. The way they view sex…
DEBBIE: And women.

And this is telling of the series, in which there are only two female characters seen frequently, and one of these is engaged in sex with Holden in around half of her scenes. There is no way this show would pass the Bechdel test, but not because the women are always talking about the men, the women are so infrequently in a scene together, and when they are the men are present and the discussion turns to their work and what they do or do not tell their significant others.

The majority of the killers looked at in season one have difficult upbringings with difficult mothers, and after a while it seems that it’s always linked back to the mother. But when one remembers that these killers are based on real people and their real circumstances, and everything that was going on in the 1970s it becomes a little easier to swallow.

Cameron Britton is amazing and mesmerising and terrifying in his portrayal of Ed Kemper, and it’s a shame he only appears in three episodes, because his performance is fantastic and his dialogue chilling.

KEMPER: People who hunt other people for a vocation, all we want to talk about is what it’s like. The shit that went down. The entire fucked-upness of it.
FORD: Right, sure.
KEMPER: It’s not easy. Butchering people is hard work. Physically and mentally. I don’t think people realize. You need to vent.
What are you writing down?
FORD: Oh, I just think it’s an interesting choice of words, ‘vocation.’
KEMPER: Well, what would you call it? A hobby? I’d say it’s more than that. Look at the consequences. The stakes are very high.

But at times he seems almost normal, as Holden remarks when Kemper asks why he keeps looking at him like he’s a specimen. 

KEMPER: So what are you not telling me? Why do you keep looking at me like that?
FORD: Like what?
KEMPER: Funny. You keep looking at me like I’m a specimen.
FORD: Well, to be honest… It’s just you seem like a nice, ordinary… It’s difficult for me to square you with what you’re in prison for.
KEMPER: Oh. Well, sure. I was a regular guy most of my life, with a nice home, nice suburb. I had pets, I went to a good school. I was a thoughtful, educated, well brought up young person. There’s no question about it. But… at the same time… I was living a vile, depraved, entirely parallel other life filled with debased violence and mayhem, and fear, and death.

And the way he views himself can be a little jarring, given that the thinking towards killers like this is so often along the lines of their not feeling guilt for what they’ve done.

FORD: Do you believe that prison can help you?
KEMPER: Are you kidding?
FORD: You think you shouldn’t be in prison?
KEMPER: I think it’s shutting the barn door after the horse has bolted, somewhat.
FORD: What do you think the state should do with you instead?
KEMPER: Well, Holden, a lobotomy’s not out of the question.
FORD: You don’t think you could benefit from psychiatry?”
KEMPER: I already did all that in the institution. It didn’t take. For me, I think surgery might give me the best chance.
FORD: And if surgery doesn’t… take, in this modern society, what do we do with the Ed Kempers of the world?
KEMPER: Well isn’t that your department?
FORD: From your perspective.
KEMPER: Death by torture?

When Kemper speaks, you’ll find yourself watching with baited breath. While the other actors are all convincing in their roles, and there are chilling discussions with other killers, it’s Britton whose performance really… grabs the viewer by the throat, as it were.

All in all this is a highly watchable, interesting new take on the investigative genre of shows we’ve  all been so fascinated by, but with a focus on serial killers and psychological profiling that are bound to bring it back for season after season. Hopefully it won’t be a whole year before we get access to more!

SERIES REVIEW: Mindhunter

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