Squarely halfway into the first season of Mindhunter (first, given its already been commissioned for a second), we finally get an episode which is predominantly about Agents Ford (Jonathan Groff) & Tench (Holt McCallany) exploring a case, and beginning to utilise the skills and techniques they’re developing through this new behavioural science.
The show previously has been as concerned with the philosophising and pondering about the mind of killers as it has been working like a conventional investigation series, but here those lines become a touch blurred as Holden & Bill return to the small town of Altoona, Pennsylvania, to follow up on a rather brutal slaying brought to their attention in the previous episode by a local cop, one which starts to help them combine the majority of their concepts together.
The episode presents us with an interesting conundrum, as it does the agents themselves: was the beautiful Beverly Jean killed by the loving future spouse who on the outside appears to be utterly broken and devastated at her demise? Ford is more inclined to believe young Benjamin Barnwright (Joseph Cross) is indeed the softly-spoken, quite weedy, harmless guy he appears to be on the face of it, but Tench isn’t quite as convinced; he’s aware that true psychopaths have a calculated ability to fake outward emotion, which they don’t feel toward others, and the issue clouds the entire episode. Ultimately, despite a multitude of twists, turns and complications, the agents by the conclusion are as certain as the final words in the script: “I don’t know.”
This isn’t just a confusion when it comes to narrative, but also theme. It’s less important whether the victim was killed by quiet, somewhat socially awkward fantasist Benjamin or his far more blokey, seemingly well-adjusted but perhaps slightly skeevy brother-in-law Frank (Jesse C. Boyd), Jennifer Haley’s script is far more fascinated by the psychology which underpins the reasons Beverly Jean was killed.
Was it misplaced love for a woman who everyone considered the girl next door but in truth was much less virtuous? Or was it the result of a secret tryst between said girl and the man married to her fiancee’s sister? Both have motive. Both have the underpinning psychology of sex, which Ford & Tench have come to understand as crucial to these kind of murders. Both are unclear.
You can see why Mindhunter might propose an episode such as this right in the middle of the run. It feels like a natural evolution for the work Holden & Bill have been doing, putting them to some degree on the opposite side of the fence while also deep within grey areas. Even with Dr. Wendy Carr (Anna Torv) on hand to provide some important, breakwater context, both men can’t truly figure out which psychopathology might be behind the woman’s death, and the natural next step as their work deepens, via cases like this, will be to reach a level of equilibrium and understanding. Perhaps they need to fail with this case in order to become the men they will be and establishing the unit destined to exist. It could be a pivotal episode in the long run to the architecture of the show.
Once again, as a solitary piece of work, this fifth episode doesn’t leap out as its own thing, despite another skilled director lensing the piece in Tobias Lindholm, a Danish talent who wrote and directed the haunting Mads Mikklesen-picture The Hunt. Mindhunter remains consistent in how the mosaic fits together but increasingly looks to be a tapestry which will bear better fruit once it can be viewed as a complete piece of work.
Mindhunter is now streaming on Netflix. Let us know what you think of the season.