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Review: Mindhunter Series 1

Mindhunter is the latest Netflix series produced by David Fincher, the mastermind behind the cinematic classics Se7en, Gone Girl and The Social Network. His first foray into TV was the Netflix Original series House of Cards, which reinvented the way in which we consume TV by releasing every episode at once, with movie stars and big budgets. Now, with Mindhunter, Fincher and showrunner Joe Penhall are heading back into true crime territory which Fincher mined successfully in his 2007 film Zodiac.

The series follows two FBI Agents in the Behavioural Science division who begin to devise a new method for categorising criminals by interviewing real life psychopaths. These agents, Holden Ford and Bill Tench, are brilliantly portrayed by Jonathan Groff and Holt McCallany who give a new, darker edge to the classic “chalk and cheese” buddy cop pairing. 

Ford is the young, well-groomed rookie with a brilliant deductive mind but little discipline. His compelling mix of arrogance, naivety and darkness makes him one of the most engaging and complex central characters in a series for some time. His journey is unpredictable and the viewer’s estimation of him fluctuates brilliantly. Tench, on the other hand, is the more reserved family man. He has had a long career in the FBI and is used to the dismissive attitudes that others have towards the Behavioural Science unit. However, Tench’s complex family life and wariness of letting the psychopaths get to him makes him as interesting a character as Ford, if not more so. Early on, someone describes the pair as Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson, which is a fair comparison. In the modern TV market, however, Ford and Tench feel more real and interesting than the leads in Sherlock ever did. 

The series is measured and well paced, never rushing to reach a dramatic moment. This may be too slow for some viewers but if you are willing to immerse yourself in the atmosphere and characters, then this is one of the TV highlights of the year. The analytical way in which Penhall and Fincher write and shoot the interviews with the “sequence killers” (as Ford calls them in the first half of the series) is chillingly calm but also genuinely interesting to the audience. We, at the same time as Ford and Tench, learn the various elements and outside influences which help the investigators track down such killers, giving the series an immersive quality that many other detective series lack.

The real draw of this series is the interview scenes with the murderers. The series doesn’t tend to have the characters investigate crimes for most of the run, but instead focuses on their interactions and relationships with the killers. The three criminals, Edmund Kemper, Jerry Brudos and Richard Speck, are utterly fascinating and the actors who play them (Cameron Britton, Happy Anderson and Jack Erdie) give some of the performances of the year. These men are distinctly original presences compared to the usual psychopaths we see on screen making the interview sequences tense, gut wrenching and mesmerising. Everything they say is plausible and they haven’t been sanitised for mainstream audiences. Their regressive attitudes, particularly towards women, are unflinchingly portrayed and the fascinating element is how their views sneak into the heads of Ford and Tench.

Overall, Mindhunter Season 1 might be the best Netflix Original to date. With incredible performances by Groff and McCallany, impeccable direction by David Fincher in episodes 1, 2, 9 and 10 and some of the best writing on TV, Mindhunter is the most startlingly original detective series in a long time.

Mindhunter is available on Netflix now. Image source: VanityFair.com