“I wasn’t even planning on writing anything about Mindhunter, but this show pissed me off so much that I couldn’t help myself.”
Mindhunter is the new David Fincher show on Netflix; and if you believe that (like I so naively did) then you too will be disappointed. Mindhunter is based on a book that (to my knowledge) is about FBI agents speaking to serial killers. This infatuation with serial killers is something that in itself has amazed me for years, so this show seemed like something that was right up my alley. I understood that the book was based on real events, but do you know what else was based on real events? Zodiac. And guess who knocked that one out of the park? David fucking Fincher. It’s safe to say that I was stoked to watch what could be my favourite David Fincher thing ever; so let’s talk about what went wrong. I wasn’t even planning on writing anything about Mindhunter, but this show pissed me off so much that I couldn’t help myself.
The first episode of Mindhunter should have been enough to scare me away. It was absolutely nothing like anything else Fincher had created, but I still had those hopeful goggles on that distorted my view. Right out of the gate Mindhunter makes it clear that it doesn’t know what it wants to be. Where Zodiac and the rest of Fincher’s work tends to lean toward a more dark and serious tone, a lot of buddy-cop television shows that clog the networks of today follow a more ‘quirky’ and ‘fun’ route. Mindhunter couldn’t decide what it wanted to be, and ultimately it caused its downfall. I don’t care which side you pick (although obviously, a serious tone would have been better considering you’re DAVID FUCKING FINCHER), but you just have to pick a side. I don’t want to watch this show try to run back and fourth through a crowded dance floor having to appeal to two separate types of viewers, but that’s exactly what I had to endure. And it doesn’t do it gracefully either, there’s a lot of stumbling. The first episode of Mindhunter is definitely the weirdest, and it’s so weird in fact I don’t understand how I didn’t pull the ripcord early. There are signs of Fincher in there, but it’s also like the show is trying to ape the ‘quirky’ styles of directors like Wes Anderson. I’m fine with a serious show having comedy, but during Mindhunter I was never sure whether or not to laugh. It’s one thing to have two competent characters poking fun at one another, and it’s another thing to have a character who is so out of his depth that you get to laugh at him trying to make his way through certain situations; what we got was this weird middle-ground where our main character acts all weird, but his partner looks at him and there is a beat where you would expect to laugh, but the laughs never come.
This brings me wonderfully to my second point: the writing is shit. Literally every single character in Mindhunter is deplorable; some of them are intentionally so (like the various serial killers featured), and others not so much. Let’s start big and work our way down. The main character, Holden Ford, is a character so poorly written that I can never get a read on him. Sometimes he is played like a straight weirdo, much like you see in shows like The Mentalist, sometimes he is played like a genius, like you would see in shows like House, and sometimes he is played like a genius masquerading himself as a weirdo, like in literally every procedural cop drama on air. I understand that those comparisons might not be the strongest, but the point I’m getting at is that I never knew what I should be feeling toward this character. Should I be laughing at his antics, should I be worried for him, should I be happy that he got his way, should I be mad that his boss is yelling at him, etc. All of these things led to a confusing experience that never really allowed me to get attached to our main character. And to make things even worse, there were no other characters to grasp on to in place of Holden. Every character in Mindhunter was written as a blank slate; they were so fucking bland and nothing was ever added to them at any point. They all lacked texture, and so, much like Holden, I couldn’t get attached to any of them. I wouldn’t have cared if every last one of them were massacred at any point, and as a matter of fact I might welcome it (at least then something would fucking happen). The bast parts of the show were easily the interviews with the serial killers. I couldn’t root for these characters either, but at least they had some fucking grit. Instead of being spoon-fed applesauce I got a bit of toast every once in a while to remind me what real food tasted like. And it’s not even just the characters that exemplify how shitty the writing is, but even things like the episode openers. In the first episode of Mindhunter we are introduced to a case that is pretty disgusting: a mother and son have been bound and sodomized with a broom. Our two heroes brush this off and it is never spoke of again. That is until episode three (I think, but it doesn’t matter), after the Netflix opening finishes we open on a garage. A man is walking toward the camera with a clipboard as we hear some metallic rattling fade into recognition. The man rounds the corner and we meet a man who is hunched over, rummaging through various shelves. “Can I help you?” the clip boarded-man says, “I need electrical tape” our rummaging friend replies. “You need to bring me the old roll before I can give you a new one” is the response he gets. He exits the scene and the main credits start to roll. And then— nothing. These fucking bullshit segments act as though they are giving us breadcrumbs to a big reveal at the end of the season, but then there is nothing. We have to sit through a lot of bullshit, some of it is literally just a guy walking to his car, that means absolutely nothing, and they don’t even have the fucking decency to give us pay-off at the end? What the fuck kind of Mickey Mouse bullshit is this? How did Fincher of all people let his name not only be attached to this, but it be touted as a “David Fincher show”. I understand that House of Cards went to shit, but at least he got a few seasons to get his distance before that ship sank. With Mindhunter he literally directed some of the worst fucking episodes. I just don’t understand. And another thing that pissed me off was the show’s constant jerking around the term “serial killer”. I get it, you want to allege (however true it may be) that the characters in your show coined the term that literally everyone is familiar with today. Do you know how you can do that? Humbly. You don’t have to go name-dropping the fucking thing like you’re trying to make Marvel nerds cream their jeans while watching the new Thor 13 trailer. We get it, they laid the groundwork for modern criminal investigation, as well as modern crime television. I love to watch the creation of things take place, but I’m less likely to be involved if I can tell the whole time you’re fighting the urge to scream “HAHA! SEE THAT?! I DID THAT!”.
And, because I feel that I haven’t taken this show down enough, let’s talk about the performances. In case you haven’t yet guessed it, I’m not pleased with them either. Jonathan Groff plays our charismatic (or cowardly, or brilliant, or timid depending on the scene) lead, Holden Ford. This discount David Boreanaz motherfucker may not have done such a bad job, but he is the face of what is wrong with this show. This character is easily the worst part of Mindhunter, and is the catalyst that turns what would have been just a boring drama into a boring drama that is trying too hard to copy other, more successful shows. I’m not sure if all of these gripes are with the writing or his performance, but either way it was fucking bad. As for all of the other planks of woo— I mean actors, what is there to say? The lot of these guys are about as charismatic as my left foot, and let me tell you he’s not all that he’s cut out to be. These motherfuckers aren’t without blame in the tone department, because it is their constant sulking that makes you think this will be a show that takes itself seriously. I mean come on, I haven’t seen anyone hate their life this much since I looked in the mirror. And this goes double for Anna Torv who played Wendy in such a way that made me wonder if it was her character who got the broom shoved up her ass. Once again the highlights go to the criminals who all did great jobs of playing these really fucked up dudes in very convincing ways. These guys are the thread that remains of what I wanted this show to be so bad, but unfortunately they are surrounded by the rest of the awful that is Mindhunter.
If you’re looking for praise, there ain’t much. I liked the soundtrack in the show, but it did have an advantage with it being based in the 70’s and all. Also, despite Fincher’s terrible taste in projects he still hasn’t lost his knack for directing, so at least this turd looks really pretty.