Since engrossing and allowing audiences to see sides of crime that society wouldn’t do themselves, it’s easy to see why the television genre has become so popular. Shows like “Criminal Minds,” “The Wire,” and “Law & Order” have become plentiful enough to spawn their own genre. But while watching these shows, remembering that what we’re watching is often based on reality can be difficult.
“Mindhunter,” a new release from Netflix produced by Charlize Theron and David Fincher, is based upon a book by John Douglas, an FBI agent during the 1970s who was one of the first criminal profilers. Set out to understand why people commit the most depraved, disgusting crimes imaginable – including mutilation, serial killing and kidnapping – he anticipates what kind of person will commit these horrendous acts; earning a better understanding on prevention.
Hot-head Holden Ford, played by Jonathan Groff, and the irritable Bill Tench, played by Holt McCallany, take the place of the real life agent Douglas in the series. Both agents study criminal psychology, are tasked with teaching policemen around the country the ins-and-outs of criminal behavior, with a secret mission: interviewing some of the most infamous serial killers, in some of the most high security prisons, in American history.
The agent’s plan is to interview these serial murderers to gain information to help profile the perpetrators. Murderers like Richard Speck, Benjamin Barnwright and others all make appearances, and they will make you squirm in your seats. One in particular, Ed Kemper, masterfully played by Cameron Britton, is perhaps the most important interviewee for the FBI duo. Kemper, dubbed the Co-ed Killer during an 11-month killing spree from March 1972 and April 1973, kidnapped and killed two college students at UC Santa Cruz, a high school girl, his mother and his mother’s friend. Earlier in his life, he earned a trip to a juvenile psychiatric center for the murder of his grandparents. Kemper’s eerie politeness won over guards at the prisons and was perplexing given his atrocious crimes.
After a rough first episode of fleshing out our protagonists Bill and Holden, Mindhunter engages the viewer with a slough of truly interesting and likeable characters. The portrayals of the serial killers in the interview environment, while unsettling, is deviantly enticing to watch with the knowledge that these men actually exist.
The exploration of these monstrous activities and the men who take part in them clearly makes for good television. But with the normality of the offenses, ours and the agent’s desensitization and the effect it has on Holden and Bill, we see them become enticed by the prurient nature of such dark crimes. And with every episode, the wonder behind what makes the grisly murders and killers so enticing, only grows.