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COURTESY OF NETFLIX

December 12, 2017

Mindhunter Drove Me Crazy

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If, like me, you spent your Thanksgiving break binging a show about serial killers instead of spending time with friends and family, Charles Manson’s recent death probably struck you as a “crazy” coincidence.

See I’ve spent the last couple days watching one of Netflix’s newest original series, Mindhunter, which follows two late ’70s FBI Behavioral Science Unit agents as they attempt to delve into the psyches of the nation’s most heinous criminals. Produced by David Fincher and starring Jonathan Groff, whose voice who might recognize from Hamilton (King George) and Frozen (Kristoff), and Holt McCallany, who you’ll recognize from something or other, the series’ first season explores the depths of human depravity and the ripples it creates in the lives of those around the edge of the pit.

The material this show covers is pretty inherently interesting. The team’s interviews with the killers are wonderfully chilling but it was seeing our “good guys” slowly start to change as a result of those interviews that was the icing on the cake for me.

I can’t really sit here and tell you Mindhunter is necessarily a “fun” show, but man is it fascinating. As the provisionally accepted psychology minor that I am, I was sold on watching this one the minute I heard the premise. And as a fan of Seven, Fight Club and House of Cards (though perhaps not in light of recent events) I was sold the minute I heard Fincher’s name was attached to the project. I came in with high expectations and, for the most part, Mindhunter met them.

For me, this show is almost entirely about Agent Holden Ford (Groff) and his descent into the mental realms of monsters. Fellow FBI Agent Bill Tench (McCallany), Wendy Carr (Anna Torv), a psychology professor brought on by the team, and Ford’s girlfriend Debbie Mitford (Hannah Gross), as well as all the other tertiary characters are just window dressing, albeit well acted and important window dressing. While they all serve to further the plot in their own ways, they do so in direct service of Ford’s character arc.

And what a fascinating arc it is! As you might expect, his proximity the the nation’s most prominent violent killers affects him drastically, but first manifests itself as a type of sick fascination, an all-consuming hunger to understand why they did what they did. As the show progresses, Ford develops a strange sympathy for the devils he’s speaking with and a penchant for bending the rules of conventional interrogation, even developing an uneasy “friendship” with Ed Kemper, one of the show’s recurring killers.

This sounds great right? It’s well written and acted and it’s intellectually streaming, what’s not to like? Two words: the ending.

I think it might be more accurate to view Netflix’s full season releases as extended films than actual TV shows. By shifting the blame of time commitment to the eager and committed audience, showrunners can essentially release ten hour movies without any of the backlash I’m sure such a project would accrue. I, as one of Netflix’s loyal binge-watching minions, have no problem with this approach as it allows for level of character development that just aren’t possible on the silver screen.

Given the cinematic-universe-or-bust nature of recent blockbusters, I’ve become accustomed to movies ending in an open-ended fashion. I’m not saying I like it, but lately it’s been the only thing on the menu. What I won’t stomach, however, is a ten hour series ending in a cliffhanger.

I mean what the hell? As soon as episode ten came to a close, the bottom of the screen flashed “Season Two now available.” Eager to see what happened next and positive that wouldn’t actually be where the show left things, I hastily clicked the button and found myself watching an episode of Stranger Things. It was an advertisement for another show! At this point I was feeling about as incredibly incredulous and upon some angry Googling I found that season two won’t even begin filming until next year.

This is such a shame because Sonny Valicenti’s ADT Serviceman character was shaping up to be a truly compelling “adversary” for Holden and company just as the season concluded. The heavy-handedness with which the showrunners decided to set up a second season instead of offering the audience any real closure really disappointed me, if only because of how invested in the plot I had become by the final episode.

I still think Mindhunter is a worthwhile watch for it’s multidimensional characters and gripping psychology, but I’ll remember it with bitterness because of its end. I’m not saying I won’t eat up season two when it lands but for now I’ve got some serious serial killer blue balls. If anything, it’s probably fair to chalk up this up to recent trends in film but just because something’s trendy doesn’t mean it’s excusable.

 

Nick Smith is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at nsmith@cornellsun.com.