Netflix's Mindhunter season 1 episode 1 and 2 review: David Fincher-directed drama centres on the stuff you read about on Wikipedia and wish you hadn't

Like a noir meditation on Se7en, this series is destined for a weekend binge

Christopher Hooton
Wednesday 11 October 2017 16:01
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David Fincher (Fight Club, The Social Network, Gone Girl et al) so successfully got House of Cards off the ground by directing its first two episodes that Netflix asked him back to do the same on Mindhunter (fastidiously stylised MINDHUNTER for some reason), its new true crime drama about the FBI's first experiments in serial killer psychology.

Adapted from Mark Olshaker and John E. Douglas' book, Mind Hunter: Inside The FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit, and run by The Road screenwriter Joe Penhall, the series is suffused with Fincher beyond just the direction, feeling like a long-form riff/noir meditation on Zodiac and Se7en (it even has a title sequence that splices in single frames of gore, bringing to mind that infamous Fight Club scene).

Wet-behind-the-ears FBI agent Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) is our protagonist, joined by straight-talking but sage older colleague Bill Tench (Holt McCallany) who, while their boss is distracted with meeting indictment quotas, quietly pursue a side-project in America's highest security prisons. Set in 1979, it finds the FBI only concerned with putting bad guys behind bars, but our more intellectually curious duo are convinced that, by actually talking to the nation's most deranged serial killers, they can better understand them, solve more cases and maybe even prevent future murders. When I say "most deranged" here I'm really not being hyperbolic, the first (real life) killer Holden interviews being Edmund Kemper, who details to him the challenges of having sex with the trachea protruding from his mother's severed head.

The first two episodes are immaculately shot - all sweeping Steadicam and symmetrical mise en scène (vintage Fincher) - and the dialogue falls somewhere between Sorkin and Hemingway in that it's smart but terse.

The shit you read about on Wikipedia but wish you hadn't and the true crime click-holes you sometimes spiral down on there is the show's domain and what fascinates Holden, who simultaneously comes across as a good egg and a latent serial killer himself. Socially awkward and aloof, he seems driven to try and understand what makes people tick as he's not naturally very gifted at it. He's not normal, so he inherently has the capacity to comprehend other abnormality.

Feeling like True Detective if it had been chilled in the refrigerator for a few hours, Mindhunter shows a lot of promise in these first two episodes. As the season progresses (a potential Charles Manson interview is teased) we'll find out whether it merely achieves 'gripping, binge watch-able drama' status or if it shoots for something more artful and original.

All episodes launch globally on Netflix 13 October.

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