By Joseph Coffey-Slattery
Netflix’s new crime drama “Mindhunter,” yet another entry into their growing catalog of original television programming, proves to be quite possibly one of their most engrossing efforts yet. The plot follows two special agents working for the FBI in the Behavioral Science Unit, an inaugural section of the bureau dedicated to studying the psychology behind violent criminals. The agents in question are Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) and Bill Tench (Holt McCallany), the former of whom takes responsibility for jumpstarting their unit.
The project comes about after Holden interviews Edmund Kemper, the nonfictional serial killer responsible for killing 10 victims in the 1970s and earning the nickname The Co-Ed Killer. Walking into this show with little background knowledge, I quickly realized that this production was not a work of fiction; it is based on a book crafted by the very individual after whom Holden Ford is styled.
With its events so grounded in reality, the show is catapulted into truly engaging territory. The viewer becomes aware that everything being shown has, more or less, taken place in our nation’s history. This in turn sets up an environment where the truth is at times difficult to process.
The desires and actions of the criminals described to the viewer are not mere fabrications fashioned by a writing team. Rather they are based on real events, and therefore all the more terrifying. One description from the character of Edmund Kemper (Cameron Britton) was so graphic and disturbing that it almost brought my viewing to an end.
While nothing violent is shown on screen, the dialogue and crime scene photos create very accurate representations of events, and therefore should be reserved for mature audiences. One topic the two agents muse about often in the show is having the so-called “stomach” for what they are investigating. Each seems to have something of a moral crisis throughout the show’s season-long run, and the viewer is right there with them.
To break up such mature content, the show has provided ample character development and a series of dynamic interrogation scenes. The interrogations in particular present a scenario all but beaten to death in television history and somehow the creative team makes the trope seem fresh again.
Our main protagonist, Holden Ford, is something of a dewy-eyed Sherlock Holmes, a designation made early on in the show. “That makes you his Watson,” one police officer remarks to his associate, Agent Tench. Yet instead of being a bumbling portly gentleman in a bowler hat, Tench himself is our source of humanity: a former military man who feels genuinely perturbed by the sheer evil they continue to encounter.
They stay grounded in their methods with assistance from doctorate academic Wendy Carr (Anna Torv), a refreshingly feminist character who doesn’t alienate her male counterparts but brings them into the fold with thoughtful dialogue.
Each member of the team is essential, a feat not easily achieved in recent modern television. In ensemble casts, more often than not characters are relegated to stereotypes: the techie, the brawn, the leader, etc. Yet each of these engrossing characters retain their unique personalities while bringing a plethora of skills to the table.
The show boasts an impressive 96 percent fresh rating on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. Yet with such a crowded television scene, it will be curious to see if the show is renewed, or at any rate develops a strong following. Stirrings of a second season have permeated various media outlets, though many have only just recently discovered the show that dropped in mid-October.
As would seem the trend, shows with staying power usually take a little time to gain notoriety. With any luck, “Mindhunter” will enter the public consciousness and serve as yet another show worth waiting for.