David Fincher’s latest venture is Mindhunter, a 10-part crime drama streaming on Netflix. Set in the late ‘70s, the series follows two FBI special agents and a psychologist who attempt to study the behaviour of violent criminals by interviewing them.
The visuals are cinematic, and fans of David Fincher will recognise aspects of Se7en in the relationship between the two agents Holden and Bill; the late nights working, meeting each other’s wives/girlfriends for the first time, and the rookie/grizzled detective relationship. There is also a recognisable attention to colour, with the series maintaining an understated colour scheme throughout.
The series explores the extremes of misogyny and the toxic masculinity that leached into every aspect of the ‘70s. The serial killers’ intense hatred of women manifests into rape, mutilation, and murder, and shows the dangerous effects of a sexist society. The two male FBI agents are also affected, unable to process the emotional side-effects of their work, whilst Dr Carr must similarly repress her feelings in order to fit in with her male colleagues. She is also unable to openly discuss her sexuality, due to the stigma of the ‘70s, which adds an interesting perspective to the series.
The main cast’s performances as meticulous investigators are impressive, but it’s the serial killers who steal the show. Cameron Britton is outstanding as Edmund Kemper, the bespectacled serial killer who raped and ate his victims, as well as engaged in necrophilia. Britton masters the psyche of the killer, who is imposing yet uneasily welcoming towards the investigators.
The phallocentric cast is accentuated by the flippant discussion of sexual violence and misogyny. This makes for extremely uncomfortable watching, which could be interpreted as shock factor. Instead of challenging these abhorrent views, the characters are fascinated, and engage with their views to push them into revealing more information. The technique is brutal, but the agents seem unfazed by the misogynistic language they use in order to acquire confessions. Many have criticised the series for glorifying murder and violence against women, which is a fair judgement- the minimal female characters aren’t three-dimensional enough to challenge the misogynistic themes. Hannah, Holden’s girlfriend, is a student, and represents the youth of the era. She is, however, bland, and offers little to the plot, which is disappointing. Dr Carr, the psychiatrist, is much more interesting and well-written, but deserves more screen time than she receives.
While the series is very watchable, it risks becoming another throwaway Netflix series. The premise isn’t anything new- it feels unambitious. The series fulfils the current obsession with true crime and criminal psychology, but it has the potential for more. Unlike ground-breaking crime dramas like The Killing and Twin Peaks, Mindhunter’s attempts to explore its cast falls flat – compare it to Fincher’s Se7en, in which after two hours the audience is left with a much deeper understanding of the two main characters.
By any stretch of the imagination, Mindhunter is not bad – it just isn’t as innovative as it could – or should – be. True-crime enthusiasts will undoubtedly be appeased by the series, and it is a must-watch for fans of David Fincher. It makes for entertaining viewing, but don’t expect much else.