Ben Watches Television : Mindhunter, Season One (2017)
Serial killer narratives were all the rage in the eighties and nineties. Partly because it was a thing. Men prowled the street for strangers to rape, torture and kill for kicks back then. There is also the Hannibal Lecter factor. Author Thomas Harris created perhaps the most iconic fictional serial killer, which spawned countless spinoffs more exotic and spectacular than one another and run the genre into the ground. That and mass killing becoming the new boogeyman after Columbine.
But serial killers have making a comeback in recent years, thanks to Bryan Fuller's clever and gutsy reimagining of the Hannibal Lecter lore that focused on psychological accuracy and character realism....in it's own original way. And that's how serial killer narratives have been fighting their way back in collective consciousness. By focusing on the complexity of cases and the difficulty of how difficult to read psychopaths can be in real-life circumstances.
That sure is the driving force behind the David Fincher and Charlize Theron-produced Mindhunter, which came out last Friday on Netflix and I've watched it all, so we can discuss it together.
What Mindhunter did right
What made serial killer narratives obsolete in popular culture is their approach to violence, something Hannibal Lecter is most to blame for. Because of the good doctor's flair for theatricality and unquenchable thirst for blood, his hundreds of knockoffs all have been depicted as more vile and depraved than one another. There's nothing they wouldn't do. Bathe in their victims' entrails? Check. Eat their flesh for various reasons? Check. You get the gist. Mindhunter is not like that at all.
Mindhunter is the closest thing you'll get to working a serial killer case in real life. There are countless corridor discussions between people dressed in suits, a bureaucracy terrified of new ideas and criminals that are dirty, messy and hostile. Graphic violence often comes in the form of gory and tasteless photographs. It's ugly, adversarial, brutal and unspectacular. Mindhunter successfully deglamorizes violence without making the show preachy or boring. It's like a low-key, realistic Criminal Minds.
Realism and Real-Life Events
So, Mindhunter is based on a book titled Mindhunter: Inside the FBI's Serial Crime Unit, by John. E Doulgas and Mark Olshaker, who are respectively Holden and Bill in the show. It's technically a show about the birth of psychological profiling more than it is about serial killers. What is the interest of watching that and why is it freakier than watching Hannibal Lecter wearing Mason Verger's face on his face? Glad you asked.
The terrifying aspect of Mindhunter spawns from Douglas and Olshaker's trip inside the deviant human mind. Mostly because the deviants they interview in order to from a baseline to their profiling methods all existed: Ed Kemper, Jerry Brudos, Richard Speck, Dennis Rader, were all real and some of them are still alive today. That's the fascinating, fucked up thing. The horrible things you hear them say in the show is not the creation of some writer's mind. It's been said and it unfortunately happened to people. That is way more fucked up than any over-the-top weirdo that bathes in entrails.
The Fincher Touch
David Fincher is credited as a producer of Mindhunter, but he was a lot more involved than that. He directed four episodes and assisted showrunner Joe Penhall on pretty much every aspect of visual storytelling. There are a lot of stylistic choices that are typical of David Fincher in Mindhunter, but I want to draw your attention two of them: the first being the typical slasher scene where Dr. Wendy Carr keeps going in her apartment building's creepy basement to feed a cat she never sees. The audience keeps expecting something terrible to happen in there, yet is never fed a straight answer. These scenes just keep feeding your paranoia, not unlike in Fincher's Zodiac.
Perhaps the most Fincheresque piece of storytelling in Mindhunter, though is this insistence of showing Holden and Bill walking through prison corridors on their way to interview sentenced serial killers. These seemingly useless and innocent mood-setting shots are later reflected in shots of Holden walking alone through Quantico, surrounded only by locked doors and cement walls. Holden becomes prisoner of his work and his own arrogance and Quantico's basement becomes a psychological prison for him. Super smart and, most important, super Fincher-y.
What Mindhunter did wrong
I don't believe Mindhunter did anything overtly wrong, per se. Some people are bound to find it slow and boring, though. See, there are two types of audiences: those who enjoy action and those who enjoy tension. Mindhunter is solely addressing the second type and even diversifies its sources of tension: there's a lot coming from Holden and Bill's work for sure, but there is tension stemming from crumbling relationships and the pressures of breaking new ground in a society that's not ready to accept your ideas. Mindhunter is slow and cerebral and it understands what it's trying to be. It's not going to be a hit with every audience because of that.
But you know what? Mindhunter was renewed for a second season SIX MONTHS BEFORE it came out. That's how confident Netflix is in the show. Did you watch it? Did you like it? Leave me a comment either here or on Facebook and tell me how you liked Mindhunter.