Mindhunter season 2 review: David Fincher’s Netflix series is sadistic but sensational
Mindhunter Season 2
Cast - Jonathan Groff, Holt McCallany, Anna Torv
Rating - 4/5
“People will say there are a million ways to shoot a scene, but I don’t think so,” director David Fincher once pontificated. “I think there’re two, maybe. And the other one is wrong.”
Arguably the great filmmaker’s most popular quote, it’s almost something you’d expect special agent Holden Ford to say during one of his many confrontations with authority figures in the second season of Netflix’s Mindhunter. Of course, Holden wouldn’t be talking about filmmaking, but the manner in which he conducts his investigations (and himself) has shades of Fincher’s famous meticulousness, and also some of that arrogance.
Watch the Mindhunter Season 2 trailer here
There are many occasions in season two of Mindhunter in which Holden’s methods are called into question. Often, his alienating tactics prove to be an obstacle in solving cases. Holden, you see, relies more heavily on his instincts than his FBI colleagues, who insist that the correct way of solving crimes is to do the groundwork; to talk to witnesses and gather hard evidence.
Holden isn’t as cocksure as Fincher - he is clinical, yet passionate - but I’d imagine by the time season five rolls around, and some of his maverick ideas are more widely accepted, he’d have evolved into a close facsimile of the man who is largely responsible for giving him a personality on screen.
In one scene, Holden arrives at a hotel and checks in at the reception. The young lady behind the counter politely asks him for identification. Holden hands over his FBI ID, promptly sending a shiver down the receptionist’s spine. She insists on accompanying him to his room personally. Holden hesitates, the awkward young man that he is, but agrees. On the elevator up, the receptionist summons the courage to ask more questions. “What exactly is it that you do at the FBI, special agent Ford?” she prods. He studies men convicted of mass murder. “What do you mean?” the receptionist asks. “Serial killers,” he says. She lets out an audible gasp; her knees go weak; and not five minutes later, having chaperoned Holden to his room, she is telling him when she gets off work.
The second season of Mindhunter, which has taken an unbearably long time to complete, continues Fincher’s incredibly nerdy exploration of mass murderers. As much as I was reminded of him every time Holden opened his mouth, it’s the receptionist’s lusty reaction to hearing the words ‘serial killer’ that I most associated with Fincher.
For most of his illustrious career, psychopaths, in one form or another, have been his primary obsession; when they aren’t plotting murder, they’re creating websites that will one day take over the world. “People are perverts,” he once said. “That’s pretty much been the basis of my career.”
In season two, Fincher assembles a murderers’ row of deviants - forgive the pun - for Holden and his partner, Bill Tench, to interview. These scenes, as always, are the foundation upon which Mindhunter is built. Fincher, who directed the first three episodes of the second season, almost seems to be taking a perverse pleasure in shooting these conversations; as if he’s realising some long-held fantasy.
After a couple of cracking sequences in which Holden and Bill interview the likes of the Son of Sam killer, and a handful of others, the show peaks with a stunning verbal confrontation with none other than Charles Manson - ironically, the only person Holden and Bill interview who hasn’t taken a life.
As tremendous as each of the performers playing the killers are, Australian actor Damon Herriman is positively electric as the charismatic cult leader. And in a curious coincidence, Mindhunter arrived just a day after Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, which is set against the backdrop of the Tate-LaBianca murders, conducted by the Manson Family. And guess who played Manson - albeit too briefly - in that film? Why, none other than Herriman.
In Mindhunter, his introduction is similar to that of Javier Bardem’s Silva, in the James Bond film Skyfall. He is shown approaching Holden and Tench from a distance, framed in a unobtrusive wide shot. He walks with a swagger that more than compensates for his tiny built, and perches himself atop a chair, a couple of feet above the agents, thereby establishing himself as the dominant force in the conversation to follow. This is a Manson who has clearly settled into his celebrity; he enjoys the attention.
It’s a terrifically directed scene, simmering with pent-up energy on both sides of the table, helmed not by Fincher, but by the great Aussie filmmaker Andrew Dominik, the man behind two of the finest Brad Pitt movies of recent years - The Assassination of Jessie James by the Coward Robert Ford, and Killing Them Softly. The conversation touches upon several topics, such as Manson’s philosophy, and his involvement in the murders. He believes that he is innocent; that he shouldn’t be blamed for the sins of his followers, whom he likes to think of as his children. “You threw them out like trash, I took them in and showed them love,” he rambles; his face now framed in a close-up; the swastika on his forehead as prominent as a bride’s bindi.
More than anything else, the purpose of this scene is to provide Bill Tench with some crucial character development. In season two, while Holden remains as bafflingly thinly drawn as season one, it is Bill who is given a more compelling arc. I won’t spoil the personal turmoil that he goes through here, but suffice to say that Holt McCallany is truly terrific in the role. Forever typecast as a tough cop, he is now finally breaking out, and not a moment too soon.
And while the procedural elements of the show are as compelling as ever - this season focusses on the Atlanta mass murders of 1979-81 - adding a personal layer to the narrative is something that Mindhunter shouldn’t have waited this long to do. If only the same attention had been paid to poor Dr Wendy Carr, who is oddly discarded towards the latter half of the season, as if her storyline was written by the chauvinistic new FBI director himself.
Mindhunter, in its nine new episodes, isn’t without its problems - the pacing might be too deliberate for some, and the motivations too ambiguous for others - but for its audience, it remains one of the finest shows around.