Mindhunter Season 2 review: Netflix true crime drama shines a brighter light into a serial killer's mind
If Season 1 of Mindhunter presented a sort of preamble to the serial killer psychology, the new season expands on the mythology.
For many, serial killers are nothing but an object of macabre fascination; For David Fincher, they are a subject of a career-long study.
If Season 1 felt like part crime procedural, part character study and part buddy cop movie, Season 2 adds more elements of horror and true crime to the mix.
It's not the chase of the elusive killer that gives Mindhunter its kick; it's the way it raises the mystery behind the killer's motives.
Note: This review of the first three episodes of Mindhunter Season 2 is 100 percent spoiler-free.
In Se7en, William Somerset (Morgan Freeman) tells his fellow detective, David Mills (Brad Pitt), not to make the mistake of dismissing serial killers as "lunatics". While it is easy to imagine serial killers as deranged evil geniuses, who obsessively plan, execute, and cover up their crimes to elude the police, Mindhunter showed us there's a method and meaning to what we may dismiss as madness.
For many, serial killers are nothing but an object of macabre fascination. For David Fincher, they are a subject of a career-long study. From Se7en to Zodiac to Mindhunter, he has always been interested in the human condition, and how evil can manifest in anyone. But rather than separating these sadistic antagonists from their horrified audiences, Mindhunter seeks to bring us closer to them — and understand what drives their malignant narcissism, their grandiose sense of self-worth, and their utter contempt towards their victims.
If Season 1 of the Netflix series presented a sort of preamble to serial killer psychology, the new season expands on the mythology. If Season 1 felt like part crime procedural, part character study and part buddy cop movie, Season 2 adds more elements of horror and true crime to the mix. If Season 1 was more theory, now it's more practice.
Season 1 thus answered an important question in criminal psychology: Are serial killers born or made? It argues a case for the latter through the pioneering criminal profiling work of the Behavioral Science Unit (BSU) led by FBI agents Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) and Bill Tench (Holt McCallany), along with psychology professor Dr. Wendy Carr (Anna Torv).
The first instalment saw the two men travel across the US to interrogate the most notorious serial killers to better understand what makes them tick. Analysing the thoughts, patterns, and behaviours of the likes of Ed Kemper, Jerry Brudos and Richard Speck, the trio use these profiles to consult on live cases. But Ford becomes a little too obsessive and his methods a little too radical for his superiors at FBI, resulting in an investigation by the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR). Moreover, Ford's relationship with Kemper gets a little too close for comfort as we see him collapse in a panic attack following a surprise, spine-tingling hug from the high-functioning sociopath.
Season 2 sees the BSU get a more friendly, reformist chief in Ted Gunn (Michael Cerveris), who not only puts the kibosh on the OPR investigation but helps Ford and Tench secure interviews with the likes of David "Son of Sam" Berkowitz and Charles Manson. Ford, however, is still dealing with the aftereffects of his breakdown and asks Tench and Carr to keep him in check before he has another one. While Tench gets drawn into a homicide that leaves his new suburban community traumatised and terror-stricken, Ford goes on a trip to Atlanta to interview two killers. But seeing neighbourhoods plunged into panic over a series of murders of African-American children, Ford is persuaded to investigate further by a group of mothers seeking justice for their children. As the investigation expands, the horror of the crimes, the elusive nature of evil and the funereal pall hanging over an urban metropolis in the grip of fear, only becomes more palpable.
The Atlanta child murders is not the only focus of Mindhunter's Season 2. Through the course of the first season, we were teased to short vignettes of an unidentified man with a creepy fetish for knots and ropes. Of course, true crime aficionados recognised him instantly as Dennis Rader aka the BTK Strangler, who bound, tortured, and killed 10 people between 1974 and 1991. He managed to elude and taunt police and the media for years by sending letters and packages containing details about the killings, before finally being captured in 2005. Season 2 teases more real-life aspects as we see Rader as a family man with a wife who is increasingly perturbed by her husband's sexual perversions but remains unaware of his gruesome crimes.
Groff and McCallany are exceptional as a team and it is a ton of fun to especially see them steadily strip away Son of Sam' emotional defenses and exposing him for who he really is. Season 2 also further explores Wendy Carr's personal story arc, as she goes from closeted lesbian to getting a new love interest in the form of a cute bartender. Beyond its central performances, what makes it a promising new season is the strength of its premise combined with its first-class production.
Through the course of the first three episodes, Fincher's direction is clinical and his frames precise as ever. Add to this the typically moody cinematography and you've got yourself another season of sustained suspense. From the very first episode, you're hooked by its clever pacing and an intriguing ensemble of characters. And it seems unlikely the showrunners' grip on our attention will weaken over the course of the season.
Once again, the violence never feels gratuitous and exploitative like you would expect in a show about serial killers, as Fincher handles it with utmost sensitivity, preferring to tell than show.
With Se7en, Fincher gave us a dark portrait of humanity's absolute worst and thus prompted a boom in the genre that endures today. But it's not the chase of the elusive killer that gives Mindhunter its kick; it's the way it raises the mystery behind the killer's motives. For Fincher, there's more to the serial killer than the myth, the maniac and the monster created by the media and the public. He's neither Devil nor Satan. Like William Somerset says: "He's just a man."
Mindhunter Season 2 premieres on Netflix on 16 August.
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