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The Advent of the Study of the Criminal’s Mind in ‘Mindhunter’
October 13, 2017  | By David Hinckley  | 1 comment

Through no design of the producers, Netflix’s new Mindhunter series takes on a renewed and disturbing urgency from the recent murders in Las Vegas.

Mindhunter, which debuts Friday on the streaming service (and has already been renewed for Season 2), dramatizes the Mark Olshaker/John E. Douglas book on the FBI’s earliest forays into criminal psychology.

It’s set in 1979, and to oversimplify a bit, a few young whippersnappers in the Bureau were trying to sell the idea that understanding how criminals think might help law enforcement solve more of their crimes.

These new jacks include Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff, top), who really is a young kid, and Bill Tench (Holt McCallany left), who’s a little older and more skeptical, but willing to consider the possibility.

The old-timers in the bureau, meanwhile, almost all think this is a bunch of academic balderdash, and that what matters is catching the perp, not understanding why he or she did it.

Because this conversation began 35 or 40 years ago, Mindhunter can trace its evolution with the relatively clear eye of history.

Less clear, but unavoidable in many minds right at this moment, is how the discussion applies to the immediate and visceral case of the Las Vegas shootings.

A measurable part of our response has raised that same question again: Does it matter why he did it? Would there be something in that understanding that could help us intercept similar psycho-killers in the future? Or, realistically, should we focus on ways to minimize the damage a lone lunatic can do?

Those precise questions permeate Mindhunter, with Ford arguing that understanding a criminal mind can, in fact, help the good guys get ahead of crime rather than simply reacting to it.

The show is smartly framed, sending Ford and Tench on road trips around the country to speak with local police departments about the potential of this new concept.

Response is mixed, but at many stops, someone takes them aside to lay out a particular case, often a cold case, that has been stumping everyone. Any chance, they ask, that you guys can help?

Logically enough for the dramatic purposes of Mindhunter, these cases tend to be egregious, dramatic, and emotional. Not unlike the Las Vegas murders.

More graphic are some of Ford’s side trips to speak with convicted perps, including one who brags about his skill at unspeakably vile acts. Here and occasionally elsewhere, Mindhunter is definitely not family entertainment.

Those scenes give the show a quasi-documentary aspect, however, and they’re one more reason Mindhunter doesn’t play like a cop show, certainly not a procedural. Tench and Ford don’t routinely dive into specific cases.

Groff’s performance, in addition, often feels stylized. Not in a bad way, but in a way that’s vaguely reminiscent of Jack Webb’s Sgt. Joe Friday on the old Dragnet. He’s a regimented guy, and that’s reflected in his manner.

McCallany’s Tench, conversely, may entertain some new ideas, but he’s the classic old-line lawman in almost every other way, right down to the cigarette seemingly glued to his lips.  

As the series moves on, those portrayals might evolve, a possibility foreshadowed by Ford’s girlfriend Debbie (Hannah Gross).

She’s a psychology student fascinated by this ultra-straight arrow who seems to have been teleported to 1979 from the 1950s.

She loosens him up, in a sense doing to him what he’s trying to do to the Bureau: drag it, or him, into the present.

Anna Torv also plays a central role as Wendy, a psychologist who brings her own perspective to the larger discussion.

Mindhunter explores a lot of questions and areas that could be considered more academic than entertaining. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.

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Pat Kemper
Thanks for being sensitive in your Mindhunter review. But you may not realize that although the show explores 50-year-old killings, none of them is truly in the past for the families.

In a trailer, a character joked about Ed Kemper’s method of killing his victims and using their severed heads for sex. A JOKE. Did you know the young women he beheaded were buried so shallowly that animals scattered their bones? Imagine your daughter or sister being one of Kemper's victims and hearing a joke on TV about it.

Ed Kemper comes up for parole every 5-7 years. What do you think those parole hearings do to the victims’ families, as we sit in the hearing room and listen to him brag about what he’s done? He will be delighted to get the attention in Mindhunter.

Joking about murders for entertainment is beyond painful for families. For us, there is no getting past the horror. At the very least, the show should display a trigger warning.

Thanks for listening,
Pat Kemper
Oct 14, 2017   |  Reply
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