“We are now talking about… psychology.”
Oh, my dudes, television is just killing it right now. It’s delving into the themes, stories, and techniques that cinema seems completely oblivious too. Case in point: Mindhunters. The Netflix original series released on Friday the 13th (ohhhhhhhhh) seeks to shed light on the blackest of black. The darkest of dark. The most evil of evil. And, if the first episode is anything to go by, I’m gladly strapping myself in for the ride down into the sickest part of the human psyche.
In the premiere episode, we meet Holden Ford (ahahah, two car name), a late twenties FBI agent that, by the omission of his colleagues, is “smart, idealistic, and a little more than sensitive.” Car Car, unlike the rest of the FBI and law enforcement institutions, isn’t afraid to ask the bigger questions. Was Charles Manson simply born evil, or can his years of abuse and incarceration be at least partially responsible for his state of mind? Do the specific weapons used in crimes play symbolic roles that can ultimately lead the law to the perpetrator? Why? Why do people commit such hideous, violent, and amoral crimes? What is the worth of asking these questions? What can be achieved? I guess we’re all gonna have to binge watch the fuck out of this show to find out.
Joe Penhall (other disturbing af works by him include The Road  and Enduring Love ) created the television adaption of Mindhunters, working with source material by Mark Olshaker and John E. Douglas. He is also the primary writer for the show. The first episode is a little choppy in terms of presenting a cohesive overall narrative, but I’m going to be an optimist and assume that it will become clear with future episodes. Netflix shows tend to not be consumed on an episode-per-week basis, so really, I don’t expect each episode to necessarily be as self-contained as what would air on ‘regular’ television. What I am saying is that old mate Joe knows we all binge on these series while wearing the same track pants we’ve been in all week, and he writes accordingly.
David Fincher, who produces alongside Charlize Theron, takes the reigns and directs episode one. I don’t have a lot to say about that, because, well, it’s very him. It has that signature starkness to it. Aesthetically it’s not remarkable, but it doesn’t need to be. However, the opening credits are wonderfully engaging. I still wonder why Netflix originals bother with such beautiful but long credits though, especially with the inclusion of the ‘skip intro’ feature. Whatever. They’re cool and I’ll probably watch them a couple more times.
The show is laced with intertextuality, referencing cinema such as Dog Day Afternoon (1975), and the works of great minds in the fields of sociology, philosophy, and psychology. I really need people to stop citing Freud so much though. He isn’t the only psychoanalyst that had an opinion on this stuff, you know? That being said, he did have a good insight into the mind of sexual deviancy and criminality, being a perpetrator of sexual assault himself. Fuck you, Freud.
Mindhunters is well acted, it makes it very (VERY) clear where each scene is located (IT’S LIKE I AM BEING VISUALLY SCREAMED AT), and the dialogue is snappy and insightful. There are a million quotes I was jotting down in my phone, just because. “All forms of deviancy are simply a challenge to the normalised repressiveness of the state.” Cool, right?
That’s the best part of the show, really. It does make you think. It takes the formula of a cop show and steps it up. It’s beyond the typical ‘who done it?’ and is asking ‘why did they do it?’ The characters sit and ponder, and we as the audience do too. And it’s only the first episode!
It’s a strong opener for the show. So much so that I only have two criticisms. Firstly, despite the racist and homophobic slurs used being commonplace in the 70s, it is still incredibly jarring to hear them. While it is probably a matter of opinion or preference, I think you can establish characters as bigoted, etc., without needing to rely on discriminatory slurs. Secondly, Holden is only almost likeable. For someone like me, someone that shares his opinion that we need to boldly ask these questions if we are to turn monsters back into men, someone that doesn’t necessarily trust in the government systems in place, I should really Feel him, you know? I don’t. He’s a little whiney, self-righteous and I just don’t love the way he speaks to Debbie – a girl he meets in a bar and starts a little something-something with. In fact, can’t Debbie be the lead? She’s wayyyy more fun and interesting. I know I don’t have to love Holden to appreciate him as the lead, but hopefully he settles into himself as he goes on this journey.
A third criticism I would have spoken about is the lack of women characters. A girlfriend that is there to bounce ideas off and provide context for a man’s growth. Clerical and receptionist staff. Murder victims. That’s all we get to be in episode one. Maybe that changes. Again, I get it, it’s the 70s, but still… Throw me a fucking bone (not literally, although I suspect it will literally happen at some point).
Mindhunters offers all the fun of cop shows, but with the parts modern audiences really like – the forensic psychology. It’s smarter than Criminal Minds. It’s cooler than Law and Order (sorry Meredith). It’s got a lot of potential. But, with all that potential, the expectations are right up there, and that means there is great room to fall onto my ever-growing list of ‘eh’ shows and films. When motive becomes elusive, all we can do is sit back and listen, engage, and think. At the very least, Mindhunters offers audiences a chance to do that.