Review: Mindhunter, Episode 1

delves into Netflix’s new serial killer drama, with one David Fincher behind the camera

Image: Netflix


Creator: Joe Penhall

Director: David Fincher

Starring: Jonathan Groff, Holt McCallany, Hannah Gross

Length: 1hr

Rating: 18

The discussion of what makes a psychopath has never been more relevant, but its eye-catching nature has stood for decades. We have long been drawn to the stories of Charles Manson, the Son Of Sam and many others (practically all of which are name-dropped in this season premiere); with their grizzly details and perverse backstories, discussion of these grim footnotes in human history often require a slight detachment from reality. We fictionalize these stories in order to make them watchable and have done previously in films like Monster and Zodiac, the director of which, David Fincher, also helms this show’s debut outing. But these stories are real, these people are real, and in this adaption of a true story, Mindhunter lays out its gamut early: We need to face the reality that these horrifying monsters are in some way just like the rest of us.

Mindhunter’s debut hour is far more valuable for what it promises rather than what it delivers.

David Fincher’s name has been attached to a Netflix original production before, in fact some would argue that along with Kevin Spacey his name launched House of Cards and, in turn, Netflix’s original programming wing as a whole. Here he directs with his usual flair for the unknowingly tense, as meetings with intellectual superiors brim with the same nervous energy as confrontations with a shotgun-wielding maniac. We see both of the aforementioned scenes through the eyes of Holden Ford, an FBI hostage negotiation agent with an unnerving determination to work out the motivations behind serial killers and other murderers who, in the 1970s when this season is set, are dismissed as nothing more than psychopaths and therefore practically a different breed of human being.

In this premiere episode, a lot happens over desks and in classrooms. After an initial hostage negotiation goes unarguably wrong, Holden is left shaken. He is taken out of active duty into a solely teaching position at the FBI. There, he meets fellow FBI agent Bill Tench and together they travel to Iowa ostensibly to teach local police officers about criminal psychology. It is here that they encounter a police officer who worked on the case of Charles Manson and he introduces them to a new murder which piques their interest. If this is the start of the narrative arc of the season, it is welcomed at the end of an hour of exposition.

We need to face the reality that these horrifying monsters are in some way just like the rest of us.

This first episode shows that Mindhunter is undoubtedly a slow burn of a show. Jonathan Groff and Holt McCallany put in committed performances in the lead roles and the intrusive, cold camerawork of Fincher is as consistently impressive as ever, but given the show’s explosive title and pre-credit sequence the pacing of what follows takes some getting used to. As we are slowly introduced first to Holden and his obsessively neat and buttoned-up way of living, then to his oppressive and wilfully misunderstanding work environment, this opening episode intentionally goes out of its way to signal that this isn’t a show keen to rush to the climax.

But nonetheless the opening episode is interesting, even if the thrills set up in the opening ring somewhat like intentional misdirection. This show seems as though it will dig deeper into its rabbit holes as we get further into the psyche of Holden and Bill, but viewing this episode as an hour on its own leaves the audience with too many questions and not enough answers. Worth watching for the performances and the chilling atmosphere it creates, but unsatisfying narratively, Mindhunter’s debut hour is far more valuable for what it promises rather than what it delivers.

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