The new Netflix original series “Mindhunter,” by creator Joe Penhall, follows FBI Special Agent Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) and Special Agent Bill Tench (Holt McCallany) as they plunge deep into the minds of serial killers. Holden and Bill interview multiple serial killers throughout the series in an attempt to better understand why they committed their gruesome crimes, and how to identify potentially violent criminals. These interviews provide disturbing details about the nature of each killer’s shocking offenses, and what makes “Mindhunter” even more unsettling is that each of the crimes portrayed are based on real murderers.
The series begins somewhat slowly as viewers are introduced to Holden Ford, who teaches hostage negotiation for the FBI training program. After speaking with a fellow instructor, Holden begins to wonder about the criminal psyche and their motivation for violent crimes. He and Bill Tench, of the behavioral science unit, begin teaching a road school to local law enforcement about triggers for anonymous murder.
Not until the second episode are viewers introduced to Edmund Kemper (Cameron Britton), when Holden disregards the hesitation of his partner and contacts Ed for an interview. This first encounter with Ed proves both unexpected and eerie. Ed being nearly seven feet tall and about 300 pounds, his size alone is enough to intimidate Holden. Ed, however, immediately takes Holden off-guard by behaving kindly toward the prison guards and offering Holden a sandwich, before giving insights about his knowledge gained while watching cop shows. Then as Holden begins to question Ed about his past, Ed speaks shockingly eloquently about the brutal murder of five college students and his mother, seeming to show no remorse. During the entirety of the interview, viewers are given the impression that despite his calm and calculated demeanor, Ed could suddenly snap at any time, inducing the chilling sense that Holden may speak one wrong word and become Ed Kemper’s latest victim.
Bill’s previously unknown family life is glimpsed after an unforeseen car accident with Holden. Bill describes he and his wife’s struggles to have children before adopting a young boy. Bill expresses concern for his six-year old son, who has yet to speak a word, and worries that he is an unfit father. As Holden delves deeper into his research and interviews of Ed Kemper, he begins to apply the behavioral archetypes and insights he learns to assist in solving local murder cases. The successful execution of these insights encourages Holden and Bill to continue their examination of serial killers, launching their formal study into behavior and criminology with new partner Dr. Wendy Carr (Anna Torv).
Holden and Bill next interview Monte Ralph Rissell (Sam Strike), who is convicted of raping and murdering five women. Although Monte is much less imposing in stature than Ed Kemper, his cold and manipulative personality is deeply unsettling on its own. Monte immediately reveals his drive for control when he enters the room and asks Holden and Bill for a soda, and further demonstrates his urge to physically express anger when he crushes the can in his hand. He then narrates in startling detail how he evolved from improvising rape to planning organized murder. Rather than remorse for his crimes, Monte feels resentment toward everyone he believes is to blame for his behavior.
At this point, the unknown ADT worker in the opening sequence is becoming threatening. His reserved demeanor induces chills, and he is clearly planning something sinister. Although his brief storyline does not yet cross paths with agents Holden and Bill, he seems to exhibit similar inclinations to the serial killers they are interviewing.
The majority of the fourth and fifth episodes follows the case of Beverly Jean Shaw, who was murdered and mutilated days after her body was left in a dump. Holden and Bill work with a local detective while attempting to apprehend her killer, who the detective is convinced must be an outsider and not someone from the community. Holden and Bill, however, decide to question Beverly Jean’s supposed fiancé Benjamin. Benjamin proves an awkward and anti-social individual who is seemingly unable to control his heartbreak after the murder of Beverly Jean, but Holden finds Benjamin’s act artificial and practiced. Agents Holden and Bill continue interviewing everyone close to Beverly Jean, and discover that Benjamin’s brother-in-law Frank has a history of domestic abuse. After finally questioning Frank’s wife Rose, Holden and Bill begin to piece together a horrifying three-way murder puzzle.
Until episode six, little is known about Dr. Wendy Carr’s background and private life. Viewers are now briefly thrust into Wendy’s life away from Quantico as a university instructor working alongside her girlfriend Annalise. Their relationship appears to be under strain because of Wendy’s work in Quantico, and Annalise asks Wendy to focus on teaching. After an uncomfortable dinner with Annalise and some colleagues, Wendy leaves and accepts a full-time position for the FBI.
When agents Holden and Bill interview Jerome Brudos (Happy Anderson), who is called the Shoe Fetish Slayer, Holden seems to begin to unravel. Jerry seems brash and severe, as he demands pizza and cigarettes immediately upon meeting the detectives. Jerry outright denies each murder he has been convicted of, giving feeble excuses about his involvement with each victim. To attempt to gather more open responses from Jerry, Holden brings him a pair of black heels with which Jerry masturbates in front of the detectives shamelessly. Holden is later thrown when his girlfriend Debbie proceeds to seduce him wearing the same shoes. Holden also readily confesses that his mother had accidentally walked in on him while masturbating. This is the first glimpse that Holden may be becoming too invested in these killers, and allowing them too deep inside his personal psyche.
Bill decides that interviewing these serial killers who have describe their horrific crimes so openly is taxing on his mental well-being, and temporarily postpones meeting with any others. Bill’s marriage and family life also shows signs of struggle when his wife suggests music therapy for their mute son, but Bill expresses distrust of the music teacher. Their babysitter then quits after finding a gruesome crime scene photo under their son’s bed, cementing the idea that Bill’s work is damaging to his family.
When Holden visits a local school to give a presentation, he discovers the inappropriate habits of the principal, Roger Wade (Marc Kudisch). According to some of the students and teachers, Roger likes to tickle the feet of students who find themselves in his office. He argues that it establishes a friendly and encouraging relationship with these students, while parents are horrified at the thought of possible escalation of this impulse. Holden attempts to prove that Roger’s actions are wrong and potentially a precursor to more violent behavior, but his fellow researchers Wendy and Bill discourage his involvement. Holden decides to disregard their warnings and when contacted by the school board, he is informed of Roger’s termination.
Wendy and Bill then begin to interview potential candidates for a new assistant when Chief Shepard introduces Gregg Smith, who seems to be Shepard’s new informant. After a potentially offending interview with Richard Speck (Jack Erdie), Holden intentionally alters the interview records to protect himself from reprimand. He asks Gregg to omit the statement on the interview transcript and discard the tape, but when the entire unit comes under review because of complaints Gregg cracks under the pressure. The final episode details the murder of Lisa Dawn, a 12-year old majorette. Holden and Bill question her suspected murderer and Holden once again shows signs of inappropriate and disturbing behavior as he speaks to the murder suspect on a personal level. He openly discusses the frustration of young girls appearing much older, and the possibility of mistakenly being attracted to them. He then unveils the murder weapon, which only the killer would recognize, a large rock. Much to the dismay of his partners, his tactic succeeds in pushing the suspect to confess.
When Holden receives an unexpected call from the hospital explaining that Ed Kemper has attempted suicide, Holden reveals that Ed has been trying to contact him since their last meeting. Holden then decides to visit Ed, and their conversation seems to begin benignly. Holden soon realizes that he has been manipulated when Ed suddenly threatens him after the hospital staff leave them alone. Fearful and in shock, Holden suffers a violent panic attack in the chilling final scene of the series.
Viewers are left with the unknown ADT worker burning graphic drawings of tortured and murdered women.
Netflix has renewed “Mindhunter” for a second season, and is rumored to be focused on the murders of children in Atlanta. The estimated release date is Fall 2018.