Important note: The following article contains spoilers regarding the second season of the television show ‘Mindhunter.’ If you haven’t seen the show yet, and do not wish to be spoiled, press the ‘back’ button on your browser now.
Normally, when you’re starting a review of the second season of a television show, you use a phrase along the lines of ‘it picks up where season one left off.’ We’re unable to do that when we’re talking about ‘Mindhunter.’ The first season was a televisual triumph, earned rave reviews, and ended upon something of a cliffhanger regarding the mental health of its central character and star: FBI agent Holden Ford. Picking up from where that left off would have been a fantastic idea. Instead, we pick up a long way down the line in terms of time, and in a different universe in terms of common sense.
As we pick up the tale, Holden Ford is making his way back to work after suffering a minor breakdown because of his constant exposure to Ed Kemper (which is understandable). When he’s back on the job, he shows no obvious signs that his incredible powers of deduction have diminished, but nobody wants to give him any credence regardless. Holt McCallany’s character of Bill Tench was the only one who truly believed in Agent Ford throughout the first season, but in season two the friendliness between the characters has inexplicably disappeared. Tench acts as if Ford were nothing more than an irritation, and undermines his theories at every turn.
That’s despite the fact that Tench and Ford’s entire department was built to pursue Ford’s ideas about criminal profiling. Their father-and-son-like relationship is nowhere to be seen, and as a result, the season lacks warmth.
You may note that we haven’t mentioned Wendy Carr, as played by Anna Torv. That’s because the writers scarcely found time to mention her either. She spends the first half of the season performing disinterested analysis of Tench and Ford’s interviews, and then in the second half, her sole purpose is to have a largely dysfunctional lesbian relationship which is entirely extraneous to the plot. ‘Mindhunter’ is supposed to be a show about real-life criminals, and real-life criminal cases. Character development is welcome, but soap-like romance subplots which go nowhere are neither warranted nor required. She feels surplus to requirements, and by the time we arrive at the final three episodes, she barely appears at all.
Stretching The Point
Much as we’ve praised Ford’s powers of deduction, they’re not as sharp as they were in season one. We know and understand that he’s attached to his theories, and likes to pursue them above all other possibilities. In the first season, however, he wasn’t myopic. In this season, he is. He doesn’t want to pursue possible DNA evidence because a suspect doesn’t fit his profile.
He doesn’t want to investigate white suspects, because they don’t fit his profile. His paper-thin profile (black male, big car, aged between 20 and 30) is laughably weak, and yet he clings to it like it’s an absolute identity.
Watching him hold so firmly to the profile, while rejecting any other possibilities even when other characters are screaming them at him (someone phones into the team with the location of a body, but Ford considers it irrelevant) made us think of someone playing mobile slots. In slots casino, there are only certain combinations which can win you money. You have to repeat the same action over and over again, waiting for that combination to line up, at which point the mobile slots game will pay out. In fact, there’s a mobile slots game based on Sherlock Holmes, which this season’s version of Ford would fit into seamlessly. A mobile slots player has no choice but to wait for the facts to line up and match their perfect lineup. A detective can and should consider other possibilities. Ford’s two-dimensional profiling turns him into a two-dimensional character.
If all of this weren’t enough, Tench is lumbered by his own adopted son witnessing (and, to an extent, participating in) a murder. He then spends the rest of the season wondering if he’s raising a serial killer. Again, the idea of someone who is investigating a serial killer having a son who may grow up to be a serial killer is a fine idea for a purely fictional, soap-esque drama. In ‘Mindhunter,’ which is supposed to be rooted in reality, it takes you out of the show
completely. It’s like inserting Batman into ‘Making a Murderer’ – it makes a mockery of both the fact and the fiction, and cheapens both in the process.
Perhaps the worst offense of the second season of ‘Mindhunter’ is the conclusion it draws about the spate of child murders that occurred in Atlanta during the 1980s. According to ‘Mindhunter,’ Wayne Williams is unquestionably guilty of the majority of them (if not all of them), and it’s only inept policing and political issues that prevent further charges against the killer being raised. Wayne Williams is a convicted murderer, and certainly guilty of murdering the adults he’s currently serving a prison term for killing. Whether he was truly guilty of killing any of the children at all is far from clear. Shortly before the series was released, it was announced that some of the child murder cases are being re-investigated, and new suspects are being sought. The fictional Holden Ford might be sure that Wayne Williams is the man responsible for the bulk of them, but the police and the justice system are far from as assured in the real world.
As we know from interviews with the writers in the past, ‘Mindhunter’ is scheduled to run for at least another three seasons. We’re still no closer to investigating the BTK Killer than we were in season one (even though we keep seeing him in cutscenes). If the show is going to continue, it would be beneficial to everybody if it made a decision on whether it wanted to tell truths or stories. Right now, the direction is deeply confused.