Plot: The landscape of crime seems to be shifting, as crimes seem to be getting more brutal, random, and hard to explain. Even in cases that are solved, the reason behind the assaults, rapes, and murders is often impossible to deduce. A young FBI agent named Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) is hitting a wall in this area, as he is sure there has to be a better way to understand these new breeds of criminals and in the process, perhaps prevent future tragedies. Soon Holden joins veteran agent Bill Tench (Holt McCallany) on road school trips, where he at least makes an effort to educate police officers about the changes in criminal motives. But he needs to be able to explain things in ways people can understand and at this point, even he doesn’t understand much about it. So he makes a plan to interview criminals who have patterns of intense violence, to learn about them and cultivating a system to better understand. But as he looks inside the minds of these killers, can he uncover valuable information to shed light on the criminal process and will the process change him in ways he never expected?
Entertainment Value: This Netflix series shares the name with John Douglas’ novel about criminal profiling, but don’t expect a faithful take on the topic or how the process was developed. Instead, Mindhunter delivers a pop tv spin on serial killers, with a slight bit of psychology mixed in with ample soap opera drama. The actual true crime side of the show isn’t the focus, instead we follow Holden and even when we’re taken into prisons to interview serial killers, the process is often more about Holden than the killers or the profiling process. Which brings me to my main complaint with Mindhunter, as Holden is the most prominent part of the show, but he is such a dull, uninteresting character that it dampens the experience. The show tries to bolster him with a quirky girlfriend and late in the season, a sudden shift in attitude, but it does little to make him any less bland. But aside from Holden, the cast is loaded with interesting characters and it is a shame they end up marginalized in order to push Holden’s presence. Holt McCallany is great as a weathered agent trying to keep his horrific work from bleeding into his personal life, while Hannah Gross and Anna Torv provide strong, memorable supporting roles. The rare instances where we see the serial killers are memorable as well, save for the Richard Speck segment, which is lessened because of Holden’s odd and out of place conduct. But this leans on the sudden, unnecessary shift in Holden as a character, likely an attempt to spice up a lifeless role.
As I said, this is pop television and there’s nothing wrong with that, but I think the criminal profiling elements are still the strongest here. The show takes massive liberties with the historical aspect of profiling, to the point where any connections to real events are beyond minor. So if you’re interested in the true crime side of Mindhunter, expect to wade through immense soap opera drama, but even so, the show is brisk and doesn’t demand much thought. I think it is worth enduring Holden’s run of the mill drama to soak in the show’s atmosphere and the other characters, but when a lead is the weakest link, that’s not a good sign. I do wish there was more about the behavioral analysis and profiling, but I also understand most viewers just want cliffhangers and melodrama, so that’s what Mindhunter delivers. So don’t expect depth, but true crime fans can find a lot to like and those more interested in shallow, pop style television should be pleased with the thin plots and brisk pace. While the show isn’t the dark, in depth look at the criminal mind I hoped, it is a fun, harmless watch.