Columnist discusses David Fincher’s well-crafted but meandering second season of Mindhunter.
by Sammy Bonasso, ’20
Several times throughout season two of Mindhunter, mesmerized crowds ask main character Bill Tench to describe his work interviewing serial killers. Dads at a cookout, Tench’s son’s psychiatrist and U.S. officials all flock to hear Tench’s grizzly sermons once they discover that he works for the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit—and he delivers, describing Charles Manson’s malignant persuasiveness, Ed Kemper’s decapitation of his mother, and Dave Berkowitz’s insistence that his neighbor’s devil-possessed dog forced him to kill eight people with a .44 revolver.
These recurrences are self-aware winks at the camera. Make no mistake, David Fincher knows that you—like Tench’s captivated audiences—want to know about Manson, Kemper and Berkowitz out of macabre curiosity of these actual, celebrity-like serial killers.
Most of season one depicts protagonists Holden Ford and Bill Tench, two FBI agents, interviewing one high-profile murderer after another to collect data on and observe patterns in them. Despite being extended talking sequences, these moments have provided some of the most interesting television I’ve watched without any superficial stylistic choices. Season one only required minimalist and engaging writing and tight-as-knot directing to enthrall me for 10 episodes.
But whereas the first season took full advantage of serial killer lore, season two, which released on Netflix this August, has an identity crisis as the evolution the show becomes obscure: Does it want to perfect the first season’s formula? Develop its characters? Show the application of the first season’s interviews? Ultimately, season two attempts to accomplish all of this without committing to any of it, and it’s frustratingly unfocused as a result.
The apparent main focus of the season shifts throughout. It begins familiarly, with Ford and Tench interviewing Son of Sam in the second episode, but then it transitions to a subplot of Tench investigating the BTK killer (which resolves to nothing).
And then, after about five episodes, season two’s main focus becomes the Atlanta child murders. I found the investigation especially engaging considering my unfamiliarity with the killings despite their death toll of 28 lives, but by the time I knew where to invest my attention, the last episode had arrived.
I still love Mindhunter, however, just as David Fincher loves the color gray and recording 30 takes for one scene. I only emphasize this season’s lack of direction because it sticks out among an otherwise stellar sophomore outing. Season two retains all the superb directing, writing and acting included in season one, and it devotes more time developing Tench, the show’s most complex character.
Furthermore, if you loved season one, you’ll certainly love season two despite its deviance from the established formula.
David Fincher plans for five (yes, five!) seasons of Mindhunter, something something the overlookable flaw of season two can’t stifle my excitement for. If you’ve never watched Mindhunter, perhaps you should avoid it now for fear of wasting several weekends down the line binging a new season.