Many of these documentary shows follow the same format. Pick a serial killer and have an expert or journalist talk over some poorly-made reconstruction of said killer looking all sinister in a slow-motion close-up. The genre had become very predictable and dull. Then came Netflix's Mindhunter.
The show (produced by Charlize Theron) is based on the 1995 non-fiction book 'Mindhunter: Inside The FBI's Secret Behavioural Science Unit' by criminal psychology pioneer John E. Douglas. It follows the creation and development of a new field of criminal psychology. One intended to combat what at the time was a new phenomenon - the serial killer. The highly inventive first season of the show hit Netflix in October 2017. Audiences and critics alike praised it's vision, style and plot.
Now the show is back for a second season. But, has it managed to maintain the magic?
Season two picks up where season one ended, as our protagonists, FBI agents Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) and Bill Tench (Holt McCallany) continue their work on the cutting-edge of criminology. Things seem to be going well at first. Their new overseer at Quantico, Ted Gunn (Michael Cerveris), is wholly on-board with their radical plans and their long-suffering resident psychologist Wendy Carr (Anna Torv) is making progress establishing her typology.
However, tragic events at home, and an ever increasing number of missing children in Atlanta, Georgia, throw the future of team in doubt.
Mindhunter features real-life crimes with real-life consequences. As such, the treatment and representation of the killers involved has to tread a fine line between portraying them as the fascinating mental specimens they are while not feeding into the serial killer mythos.
The standout moments in the show this season are those involving Tench, his wife Nancy and their troubled adopted-son Brian.
What Mindhunter does so well is focus on the impact of the murders - on mothers in particular - and on efforts to prevent them continuing. Given the many re-constructed interviews featured on the show with the likes of Ed Kemper and Charles Manson, it would have been easy to portray them as cartoonishly-evil and sinister. However, by focusing on how they came to be how they are, the legend they often create for themselves fades away and we see them for who they really are.
The shows best moments in the first season revolved around Holden Ford and his interactions with the killers he interviews. In this season, he gets to put what he learned to the test in the field. His attempts to catch a killer using what he has developed and the opposition he meets continues this narrative brilliantly. However, the standout moments in the show this season are those involving Tench, his wife Nancy and their troubled adopted-son Brian. It is rare for a show to have such a strong sub-plot and this is testament to its brilliant writing.
The season was by no means perfect. Each episode begins with a glimpse into the life of a certain Dennis Rader AKA The 'BTK' Killer. However, this fails to tie-in with the main story arc and leaves the audience confused as to it's relevance. The sub-plot focusing on the romantic life of Dr. Carr also fails to live up to the drama and tension of the first season and felt un-necessary. If the show returns for a third season, I hope the writers employ Dr. Carr in a better way.
There are many reasons why Mindhunter season two is so compelling, but, as a film nerd, I have to give a lot of the credit to the show's executive producer and occasional director David Fincher. One of the finest directors of all time, Fincher has experience bringing the murky world of serial killers to life. Whether it is Kevin Spacey's now unfortunate role as John Doe in Seven (1995) or, more importantly, his examination of the mind of a monster in 2007's Zodiac.
Fincher and his unique, colour-drained yet beautiful and immersive style of shooting is perfect for the genre and although his focus is always on the procedural, he never fails to hold the audience in the palm of his hand.
Mindhunter season two leaves us wanted more straight away. And that is the sign of a great show.