When considering Mindhunter as a complete, full first season, the question may justifiably be asked: did it need to be ten episodes? This is becoming something of a recurring issue in the age now on streaming, cable television; gone is the twenty four episode season model (almost), where you’d be guaranteed filler episodes or clunkers, replaced by stripped down eight or ten or thirteen episode seasons, with all of the money visibly on screen, cinema-level production design quite often, and scripts which don’t have the luxury to dither.
Is Mindhunter dithering? Maybe. This fourth episode continues that already established level of quality, with Asif Kapadia once again directing following the previous episode, but at points there does feel a level of impetus lacking.
Our next new killer to be examined by FBI agents Holden (Jonathan Groff) and Tench (Holt McCallany) is Monte Bissell (played by Sam Strike), a young, on the face of it well-adjusted individual who, as Tench describes it, ‘threw his life away’ by raping and murdering several women roughly his own age. Whereas Ed Kemper believed himself a clinical, self-educated murderer who could very clearly self-analyse why he did what he did, Bissell holds a lack of empathy within a deep seated level of rage, and a motivation he can’t quite rationalise. Holden & Tench become interested based on Bissell’s lack of understanding as to why he raped and killed, and his curious question as to whether they might be able to ‘find a cure’.
Mindhunter hasn’t really touched centrally on the philosophical since the musings in its first episode, but those elements remain underpinning the story – not just Holden & Tench getting into the minds of these murderers, but separating the behavioural psychology from concepts of ‘good’ and ‘evil’, which many cops have considered the spectrum to be. Bissell raises an interesting idea of Holden & Tench’s work being able to look into the minds of potential killers and save them from themselves; indeed, could this be what we’ll see with the man each episode’s pre-credits sequence is showing? The suggestion is that he’s a white-collar guy who will eventually snap, the making of a murderer – will Holden & Tench save him instead of catch him?
Time will tell. Joe Penhall & Dominic Orlando’s script here does manage to continue tying threads and elements together, as our agents come to further explore and understand the work they’re doing. The power of sex and the spectre of dominant motherhood combine in Bissell, as does the added dimension of being unloved by those around him, all of which may have fuelled his murderous psychology.
The show is analysing well these constituent elements before managing to weave them into ongoing, new investigations across the country – though it was refreshing to see Holden & Tench joking, in-show, about the likelihood of a cop asking for their help on a case. The series thankfully seems aware its re-using, right now, certain narrative tropes.
Character moments continue to undulate beneath alongside the narrative itself, with Dr. Wendy Carr (Anna Torv) becoming more involved in their work to the point she meets Holden’s unusual girlfriend Debbie (Hannah Gross), who share some common psychological ground, while we also see the difficult balance Tench is maintaining with a son who needs care and a wife with whom he has something of a strained marriage. These elements are background but do round out further both of these characters, outside of the job itself. Mindhunter may be clinical, but its aware of the personal effect of this intense job on these men’s lives.
Yet there is, to a degree, a level of treading water. Mindhunter needs to introduce new elements, which the conclusion of this episode could well suggest and allow, in order to give the story and the overarching themes a little more of a push. Regardless, this remains skilled, poised, interesting TV.
Mindhunter is now streaming on Netflix. Let us know what you think of the season.