Mindhunter Season 1 TV Show Review

If you’ve been with us for a while, you know that I typically stick to movies, but sometimes there are television shows that I can’t help but talk about. What yanked me in with Mindhunter was the executive producer and director of four of the episodes, David Fincher. David Fincher is my favorite working director. You can call me crazy, but if Spielberg, Scorsese, Tarantino, and Fincher all had a movie opening on the same weekend, I’d be in line to see Fincher’s. It’s just a taste thing, but every single movie he has made (after Alien 3) contributes to the reason why I love stories and movies. He’s also in his wheelhouse with a show about serial killers and human psychology, and I was sold on the idea of Mindhunter being about FBI agents working to catch the world’s smartest criminals. Turns out it’s about something completely different. Anyways, let’s talk about the show!

Mindhunter is a Netflix original series based on a book called Mind Hunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit written by John Douglas and Mark Olshaker and stars Jonathan Groff, Holt McCallany, Hannah Gross, and Anna Torv. Beginning in 1977, two FBI agents who typically teach FBI practices to local police units become the behavioral sciences department of the bureau through interviewing some of the world’s most dangerous inmates. Interviewing the murderers and studying their patterns, they hope to be able to apply what they find to future cases, both to prevent and manage similar scenarios.

It’s tough to review television shows without spoilers, so if I slip into any specifics, I’ll do my best to keep them mostly vague. If I had to pick one word to describe this show, it would be “fascinating.” This combines multiple things that I absolutely love to see covered in film like psychology, criminals, criminal justice, pubic reception, greying of moral codes, and so much more. When I tell people to watch Mindhunter, I’ll probably tell them that it’s nowhere near the show I thought I was going to get, but it’s the show that I didn’t know I needed. It’s also the show that’s going to launch the view count of YouTube interviews with all of these serial killers because, if you’re like me, you can’t get enough. As our main characters went around interviewing different killers, I was sucked in. I was along for the ride for every single word they had to say, and crazily enough, a lot of it makes sense. You start to understand these people and their psychology. You start to get to the bottom of why they did what they did. You start to understand their way of think, and you begin to apply it to their lives. Then there’s the other side of this show where you don’t. Sometimes you don’t get to the bottom of why they did horrible things to people, and that’s what this show is trying to bring to life, and though it’s set forty years ago, it’s more relevant now than it ever was. Now, when crimes are committed, every single person who hears the news story tries to get to the bottom of someone would do awful things to others. Maybe there’s no straightforward answer. Maybe there’s no answer at all. Then again, maybe there’s a completely black and white answer that will give the public exactly what it’s looking for. Mindhunter is about those two extremes as well as everything in between that muddles motive and reasoning, and it’s beyond enthralling.

The show also does an excellent job of building its characters and fleshing out the relationships between them. Every character experiences this arc after going through these life-altering experiences, and why wouldn’t they? Our main character is Holden Ford, played brilliantly by Jonathan Groff. In the first episode, Holden is this gentle, naive, education-driven guy who can’t seem to find exactly where he wants to be in the world. By the end, we have a desensitized FBI agent who is willing to go to any distance to exploit this knowledge that he comes across with his project. His world-view completely shifts, and he’s a less of a “typical nice guy” by the end of the season, evidenced by the things he says and the things that he does, but I understand why he changes. I get why he has become this way. He might be less likable or approachable, but he becomes far more compelling and testing. Though he makes a huge transition, I never felt as though the show skipped a beat and he instantly became something else. He became the cool, calculated killer-catcher through experimentation and using his experiences. He’s also the reason that the moral battles occur. Are Holden’s action’s justified? Is he always in the right? Should he go to certain lengths in an effort to expose killers? Each piece of dialogue and facial expression perfectly leads us through his change, and I loved it. I also thought that Holt McCallany was great as Bill, Holden’s partner. The show takes us through a role reversal between the two, and seeing how Bill starts as the more outspoken vet and settles into the role of the partner who sits back and watches Holden work kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time. They have amazing chemistry, and there are multiple interrogation sequences that drove the duo home. The group gets even better when Anna Torv’s character named Wendy comes in and is able to drive the project, again, only making the show more interesting. I also need a special piece of this review dedicated to Cameron Britton for playing Ed Kemper. If the 2018 Emmys roll around and he isn’t nominated, I will lead a riot. His mannerisms and his vocal patterns perfectly match Kemper’s in real life, and every word that came out of his mouth made my jaw drop. I don’t think I blinked or took a breath the entire time Britton was on-screen.

The storytelling is also incredible. I love the commitment to Fincher’s storytelling style, even when he isn’t directing. It’s pretty obvious that the directors who took the reigns for episodes three through eight were committed to driving the story the exact way Fincher would. Right down to the camera movements, the editing patterns, the production design, the refusal to move the camera, the guts to let a shot fester in our brains, and using the camera in the least cinematic way possible, the show is prime Fincher, and I love that. He has such a distinct storytelling style and way of building tension and atmosphere both over the course of a scene and over the course of a project as a whole that any sort of dialogue can keep you captivated. In fact, dialogue is where Fincher excels. He doesn’t get the credit he deserves when it comes to directing a scene where two people sit across a table from each other and lay everything on the line. You can see the meticulousness and the dedication to detail, and he gets me to jump at dialogue the way a director of a horror movie would get you to jump at a smash cut to someone jumping out of a bush. With the interrogations, the interviews, and a single conversation in a hallway right outside an elevator, my heart stopped because of perfectly executed dialogue and scene development. I’m always surprised, and I never get what I expect. I have to give the same credit to other directors of the show for their commitment to that style because it really brings out the best in the series.

There are a couple of things that I didn’t like about the show, and most of it boils down to Holden’s girlfriend. I don’t even think that Hannah Gross gave a bad performance, but I wasn’t invested in the relationship between she and Holden. Interestingly enough, I was completely on-board with everything about Holden, and I loved his personal life, his business life, and his character arc, but there was no fire in his love-life and nothing that compelled me to hope that it went on. Every time the show went back to it, I was only invested because certain things would come out about Holden. Certain character details or certain desires would come out that I would be locked into, but as far as the relationship itself goes, it was just a taxi I was taking on my way to finding out more about Holden. Also, I think that the opening episode is a bit flat. I understand that it was necessary to the story and the characters, but even looking back on it, I don’t feel like it was as connected to the rest of the series as the following nine episodes were. Maybe most of the reason that it fell flat for me was because it was the episode that gives the most attention to Holden and his girlfriend, but it did set up what I think was one of the best episodes, or maybe the best episode, with episode two, so I can’t complain too much.

Overall, if you’re looking for the next show to watch all in one night while you eat an entire bag of chips, Mindhunter might just be that show. You don’t even have to feel bad about it. The hours will fly by because of just how fascinating this is. The character development is amazing, and I loved that I could start to get into each character’s head so that I could predict how they would react to certain scenarios. The pacing is brilliant, and I never felt like we skipped a beat in the character arcs, and I always wanted to find out more. Jonathan Groff, Holt McCallany, and Cameron Britton all turned in absolutely incredible performances, and when any of the three were on-screen I couldn’t help but lock into whatever was happening. Mindhunter is the kind of show where you might forget to breathe because every single thought, voluntary and involuntary, is consumed by what you’re seeing unfolding on-screen. Fincher brings everything that’s awesome about his storytelling style into this show, whether it be his technical choices, his artistic choices, his attention to detail, or his dedication to story over everything. Even the other directors of the show seemed to translate his style into their own work, and it made for some of the best character development in television I’ve ever seen. I wasn’t exactly tied to Holden’s relationship with his girlfriend, and I think that the first episode feels a bit detached from the other nine, but Mindhunter was one of the easiest shows to binge all year, and I can’t wait for season two. I’m going to give the first season of Mindhunter a 9.2/10.

Have you been watching Mindhunter? Comment down in the comment section and let me know! Also, if you’d like more television reviews, let me know what you’d like to see! I definitely see a review for the second season of Stranger Things coming in the next week or so, so be sure to stay tuned for that! As always, thank you, and keep listening to 88.7 The Pulse!

About Justin Lyons

Hey, it’s Justin Lyons! I am the Chief Film Critic for The Pulse. Have any questions for me? Please feel free to email me at [email protected]