With New Serial Killers, Mindhunter 2 Is Still the Slickest Show
(This review may contain spoilers)
Attempting to build on the strength of 2017’s premier season, Mindhunter Season Two introduces several new serial killers and a new mystery set in Atlanta to keep viewers enthralled. Boy, does it succeed – this is still the slickest, most entertainingly high brow show about grisly and sickening examples of dehumanisation seen on TV.
The first thing you’ll notice diving into season 2 is that creators Joe Penhall and David Fincher work towards giving Mindhunter a more focused direction this time, even though the fantastic character work that was saw earlier is still present. Last season was a melange of ‘killer of the week’ style cell hopping as the protagonists Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) and Bill Tench (Holt McCallany) floundered about laying the foundation of the first FBI unit that pioneered criminal profiling. This time, however, the show gravitates even more towards Fincher’s Zodiac format by becoming a full fledged puzzle solving manhunt while recreating historical incidents.
A spectacular new addition is the person we see the least this season – Damon Herriman as Charles Manson – whose appearance is foreshadowed in a big way in the first couple of episodes of the season but then absolutely brings the house down when he finally shows up. If you thought he was underused in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, his cameo here should satiate your curiosity because he categorically delivers on the nuttiness. His ten-minute cameo is leaps and bounds more exciting than the rest of the new killers we are introduced to – although a quick google search should confirm that the other killers featured are in fact more dangerous than Manson.
It's a credit to showrunner Penhall that the series works as well as it does despite some cliché ‘cops hunting for a murderer’ elements. Ford, Tench and Wendy (Anna Torv) are mostly split up this season, and although that seems like a risky proposition given the teamwork camaraderie that worked so well earlier, it pays off well enough. When they do appear together Ford and Tench have some very funny moments, particularly when Tench takes a dig at Ford’s panic attacks and his proclivity towards being a bore at a party. For someone who grew up watching comedies and thrillers featuring mismatched cops, the friction between two such characters will never not be funny. Their brief moments of levity are also a breather in an otherwise grim and anxiety inducing show.
Directors Fincher, Andrew Dominik and Carl Franklin all manage to get great moments in their respective episodes. Wendy’s story that branches off from the main narrative, in which we get to see a more sensitive side to her character is surprisingly touching. While she isn’t dealing with people who have graphic fantasies about tearing throats on a daily basis, she struggles to compartmentalise letting anyone into her emotional space.
Wendy’s story that branches off from the main narrative, in which we get to see a more sensitive side to her character is surprisingly touching. While she isn’t dealing with people who have graphic fantasies about tearing throats on a daily basis, she struggles to compartmentalise letting anyone into her emotional space
The way this unspools in the final episode is extraordinary – Wendy’s struggle against her own demons is amplified into a combative behaviour, and it’s all understandable because she’s had all the time in the world to control her own environment, yet she’s chasing people whose instincts and actions cannot be controlled.
The overarching BTK story continues the way it did in the first season as we see the dude doing more and more messed up things, and the final cutaway in the last episode is a kind of an obvious signal as to where his story is heading. The structure is a lot like the main mythology in The X Files where the alien conspiracy angle kept popping back between the standalone episodes.
Given the BTK killer was caught in the 2000’s (in the stupidest possible way, as his Wikipedia explains), one would expect season 3 of Mindhunter to jump forward a few decades in time, unless of course they’ve planned six or seven seasons for the show. It’s intriguing that the showrunners chose the BTK instead of Jeffery Dahmer as the main monster of the show given the latter’s bigger pop culture footprint, although every subsequent cutaway to BTK’s modus operandi in Kansas informs us a little more about his character. This is in stark contrast to the monster of this season – whose personality isn’t much explored even though his reveal is handled in an exceptionally low key manner.
The other big triumph of Mindhunter season 2 is the nuance it brings in racial discrimination and how it affects ongoing cases because of the perceived notions of both the assailants and the communities affected by the death of the victims. Ford essentially becomes the audience surrogate as he navigates the most complex case of his life, rendered helpless by the pressure and guilt from an oppressed community and its inability to believe that one of their own, and not their oppressor could cause harm to them. It is also nice to see Ford’s character not being reduced to the white saviour archetype that Hollywood tends to gravitate towards.
Without getting into spoilers, it’s safe to claim that this season offers quite a match to last year’s Ed Kemper; the actor playing this mysterious character completely disappears into the role, and once again the physical and aural similarities to his real life counterpart is just chilling. Tench’s journey this season doesn't really start to get interesting until the introduction of a murder in his neighbourhood that creates a friction in his domestic life; how much of this is based in reality remains moot because it does seem like a dramatic plant to give his character some gravitas. But even if it is fictionalised it’s well positioned because it’s engrossing to see Tench’s strongman character pulled apart at the seams.
I hope Netflix doesn’t abide by its cancellation of a show after two seasons rule because guilty pleasure has never been this classy, and with a smorgasbord of real life ghastly material at his disposal Fincher should ideally be able to make Mindhunter forever.
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