Follow TV Tropes

Following

Series / Mindhunter

Go To

https://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/mindhunter.png

"How do we get ahead of crazy if we don't know how crazy thinks?"
Bill Tench
Advertisement:

Mindhunter is a Netflix original series created by Joe Penhall (The Road) and produced by Charlize Theron. Notorious Serial Killer-obsessed creator David Fincher directed the first two and last two episodes in the first season.

Inspired by the True Crime book of the same title by John E. Douglas, the series fictionalizes the origin and development of criminal profiling by the FBI's then-new Behavioral Science Unit in the late 1970s. It stars Jonathan Groff (Glee, Frozen) as Holden Ford, a young and somewhat naïve hostage negotiator loosely based on Douglas himself. Holt McCallany (Gangster Squad, Lights Out) plays Bill Tench, Ford's partner and immediate superior, based on Douglas's own profiler colleague Robert Ressler. Along the way, they interview several notorious real life serial killers and mass murderers like Edmund Kemper, Jerry Brudos and Richard Speck, and help local law enforcement agencies solve bizarre sexual crimes before their perpetrators can add their names to the former. Anna Torv (Fringe) and Hannah Gross complete the cast as psychologist Dr. Wendy Carr and Holden's girlfriend Debbie Mitford, respectively.

Advertisement:

All ten episodes of the first season were released online at once on October 13, 2017. A second season was greenlit almost immediately, and is slated for release on 16 August 2019.


This series provides examples of:

  • 0% Approval Rating: The agents receive little outright abuse over it, but this series is set during the nadir of the FBI's public image—as Debbie puts it, "They'll never forgive you for putting a tail on John and Yoko." This presents some obstacles near the beginning of the series as Holden tries to pull liberal academics to help the Behavioral Science Unit.
  • Abusive Parents: The worst killers invariably have the worst childhoods.
  • Affably Evil: Edmund Kemper is a polite and articulate guy who considers Ford his friend. He nonchalantly gives him sexual advice that is, naturally, only based on his own experience as a horrific rapist, mutilator and murderer. This is all Truth in Television, with the real Kemper even also becoming a prolific narrator of audiobooks for the blind after his imprisonment.
  • Affectionate Nickname: Brudos is called "Jerr" by his (ex) wife.
  • Alone with the Psycho: Holden gets cocky and decides to meet Kemper and Brudos without Bill. He eventually learns that this is a really bad idea.
  • Ambiguous Disorder:
      Advertisement:
    • While the theme and tone of the show might lead the audience to suspect a less innocent explanation, many of Bill's adopted son's behaviors are reminiscent of autism, which wouldn't have yet been well-understood at the time. Alternatively, given that he spent a period in an institution at an early age, it's possible he has reactive attachment disorder instead, which is caused by early neglect.
    • The way Holden single-mindedly engrosses himself in his work, his inability to pick up sarcasm, and his occasional need to ask about obvious social behaviors may point to him being on the spectrum as well.
  • Bad People Abuse Animals: Serial killers start as serial animal torturers/killers.
  • Batman Gambit: See Wounded Gazelle Gambit below.
  • Been There, Shaped History: Holden, Bill and Dr. Carr single-handedly come up with criminal profiling and its usual jargon, such as "Sequential Killer" and the distinction between organized and disorganized killers.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Holden and Debbie's first meeting. Evolves into a Belligerent Sexual Relationship when they become a couple.
  • Boom, Headshot!: In the series prologue, a mentally ill hostage taker commits suicide with his own shotgun.
  • Brainy Brunette: Dr. Carr.
  • Bullying a Dragon: Assuming Kemper is always telling the truth, his mother continued to bully him after she knew he was a killer and he had grown into a giant. No guesses what happened to her.
  • Cargo Ship: In-universe, Jerry Brudos with women's shoes.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: Almost every line of Richard Speck's contains some kind of expletive. It doesn't even make sense at times—when he's first thrown into a room with Holden and Tench, he calls his guard a cracker (Speck is also white, by the way).
  • Comically Missing the Point: Holden often fails to get the suave sarcasm of his girlfriend or colleagues and takes their comments at face value.
  • Consulting a Convicted Killer: This trope makes half the series.
  • Consummate Liar: Jerry Brudos, at least until the agents figure him out. He will deny making a photograph where his own reflection appears.
  • Conviction by Contradiction: Holden and Bill deciding that Mrs. Gonzalez's attacker must be "White Trash" because black and Hispanic people don't treat old ladies like that.
  • Country Matters: Holden describing Speck's victims as "eight ripe cunts" during his interview is so blatantly off-script that it leads to a minor coverup by the BSU.
  • Cowboy Cop: Holden. Unusually, he is neither Hot-Blooded nor a Rabid Cop.
  • Da Chief: Unit Chief Shepard.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance:
    • Racism, sexism, homophobia and gun culture all casually pop up as Holden tries to introduce profiling to the Quantico of 1977.
    • While many liberals today are at least slightly suspicious of the various three-letter agencies, the way the counterculture-dominated academic community refuses to even give the time of day to FBI agents may look strange to modern eyes.
    • Mrs. Gonzalez, an old Catholic woman, is so dismayed by her daughter's divorce that she actually crosses herself when she mentions it.
    • Bill and Holden almost die in a car crash in Episode 4. They don't wear safety belts, their car doesn't seem to actually have any, and they don't discuss the concept at all. Also, several characters, including law enforcement officers, drive drunk.
    • Dr. Carr is stuck between a rock and a hard place. She must hide her identity as a lesbian due to the conservative lean of the FBI, but she must also hide her project with the FBI from her academic colleagues due to their disdain for that same conservatism.
    • The team interviews an agent who's highly qualified and capable, but ultimately decides against bringing him onto their project because he's black. Not out of their own racism, but because they are mainly interviewing white serial killers. Carr argues that many of them will likely be racist along with their general antisocial tendencies; the presence of a black man may change the killers' behavior in some way and corrupt the team's data. However, the fact that they interviewed a black agent at all and nearly hired him is a huge departure from the FBI of previous decades—it's Tench, outwardly the most traditional of the team, who expresses concern that this makes them look prejudiced.
    • Principal Wade's tickling of his young students and paying them in nickels is seen as at least peculiar by most, but also not inherently inappropriate. Wade also refuses to heed complaints from parents to stop touching their children, which earns the rather weak line "I guess [the parents] should have a say" from Smith. In fact, most of the parents seemed to be more upset about the nickels, since the children could secretly buy candy with them. Even today, what Wade did may not be illegal (for instance, corporal punishment in school is still legal in many states), but the idea of a school officially unnecessarily making physical contact with a child is severely frowned upon, and simply ignoring a parent's complaints would likely cause an uproar.
  • Deep South: Georgia and its different attitude to the death penalty have a prominent role in the Season 1 finale.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?:
    • In Episode 4, Dr. Carr claims that Richard Nixon is a sociopath. When Holden asks how a sociopath could become President of the United States, she sarcastically asks back how a non-sociopath could.
    • Jonathan Groff described Kemper and Ford's last scene together in Episode 10 as if Kemper is Holden's scorned lover. Shored up by the layers of menace in Cameron Britton's voice when Kemper asks if the two of them are friends.
  • The Dreaded: Manson, Kemper and Speck.
  • Dudley Do-Right Stops to Help: Holden crosses the line when he goes after Principal Wade.
  • Everybody Did It: The Beverly Jean murder case. Frank and Benji raped and murdered her, and Rose helped destroy the evidence.
  • Evil Is Bigger:
    • Edmund Kemper is 6 foot 9 (2 meters tall) and weighs between 250 and 300 pounds (120 to 130 kilos). He targeted petite women.
    • Jerry Brudos may not be so big, but he is still a big guy.
  • Evil Orphan: Bill's adopted son Brian shows signs of being this.
  • Evil Redhead: Jerry Brudos.
  • Explain, Explain... Oh, Crap!: A downplayed example in the last episode of season 1, when Debbie challenges Holden to explain her behavior after he gets back from another late night at work. He reads the scene, analyzes her actions, and as he describes the situation he realizes that she's breaking up with him.
  • Fan Disservice:
    • There is nothing sexy about graphic sex crime scenes, that's for sure.
    • Holden's first case is a mentally ill hostage taker who believes himself invisible. So he strips naked in his attempt to fool law enforcement. Unfortunately, he is not.
    • Holden and Debbie's own sex scenes are far from a joy to watch, because of their overly belligerent attitude.
  • Fat Bastard: Jerry Brudos.
  • The Film of the Book: The series of the book, that is. The book is Mindhunter: Inside the FBI's Elite Serial Crime Unit by John E. Douglas, which is completely non-fiction.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • In Episode 1, Bill Tench is standing beside the light switch in the lecture Holden overhears by Professor Rathman on David Berkowitz/Son of Sam
    • Kemper touching Holden's neck the first time they meet alone. By the last episode, Holden comes much closer to an up-close-and-personal demonstration of what Kemper does to his victims' necks.
    • While trying to expand the unit, Bill and Wendy interview a black Atlanta candidate that looks almost like Wayne Williams and the conversation immediately jumps to race.
    • Debbie drives a light-colored beetle very similar to Ted Bundy's.
    • Holden's shuddering collapse at the end of the first season, as medical professionals rush to help him, suggests the real John Douglas' near-death brush with viral encephalitis.
  • Freudian Excuse:
    • The police's refusal to admit that there is such a thing, lest they come across as sympathizing with criminals, is a big early obstacle on Holden's project.
    • Charles Manson was born to a teenager who didn't want to become a mother and was abused by his stepfather.
    • Edmund Kemper was abused by his mother, who blamed him for everything wrong in her life and believed that he was a rapist before he even hit puberty.
    • Montie Rissell was neglected by his mother and abused by his stepfather.
  • Freudian Trio: Bill is the Id, Holden is the Ego and Wendy is the Superego.
  • Gilligan Cut: In the second episode, Bill tells Holden there's no way he's going with him to interview Ed Kemper. Cut to the two of them sitting opposite Kemper.
  • Granola Girl: Downplayed by Debbie.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: Richard Speck.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: The project takes its toll on Bill and Holden in different ways. Bill becomes exhausted, irritable, and jaded, while Holden's success causes him to become disturbingly self-assured.
  • Hellhole Prison: None of the prisons Holden and Bill visit are especially nice, but the Joliet Correctional Center where Richard Speck is held really stands out. The whole place seems like it's on the verge of a riot, with inmates screaming, trash being thrown everywhere and the guards doing little to stop the mayhem.
  • Heroic BSoD: Holden when he realizes that he is Alone with the Psycho in the Season 1 finale.
  • Historical-Domain Character: Real serial killers Edmund Kemper, Dennis Rader, Montie Rissell and Jerry Brudos appear as characters in the first season. Spree killer Richard Speck appears in Episode 9. Obscure child rapist and killer Darrell Gene Devier has a prominent role in the Season 1 finale.
  • Hollywood History: In-universe, Speck gets annoyed by the claim that he raped eight women before murdering them. He only raped one.
  • I Have You Now, My Pretty: Kemper to Holden in the hospital.
  • Incompatible Orientation: Holden has a mild infatuation with Dr. Carr, who, unbeknownst to him, is a lesbian.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Shepard. He's an unabashed old-school type who doesn't hide his dislike for the young and forward-thinking Holden, letting it be known through sarcastic, abrasive comments, and doesn't even acknowledge the good things he's done alongside Bill and Dr. Carr. But you can't deny he has the best interests of the FBI and its new Behavioral Sciences Unit in mind, even bordering on Only Sane Man territory when Holden oversteps his bounds in the Roger Wade case and goes overboard in his interview with Richard Speck.
  • Kick the Dog: Richard Speck killing his pet bird in a sudden rage.
  • Kindhearted Cat Lover: Dr. Carr feeds a street cat after she moves to a new apartment.
  • Lipstick Lesbian: Both Dr. Carr and her girlfriend.
  • Lying to the Perp: Holden takes this way off limits and is reprimanded by his superiors for it.
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Debbie. She's an unusually abrasive specimen, but she's still the sexually liberated, pot-smoking free spirit to Holden's strait-laced overachiever.
  • The Millstone: Gregg Smith, the new guy in the unit.
  • The Mole: Gregg Smith is introduced to the team as a hiring candidate with strong personal connections to Chief Shepard, causing Holden to immediately suspect him as Shepard's spy. Tench and Carr don't dismiss the idea, but decide they have nothing to hide anyway and he ends up hired. He's decidedly not Shepard's spy, just dangerously honest. He ends up going around Shepard to send the Speck tape to an internal investigation after everyone, including Shepard, agrees to cover up Holden's misconduct during Speck's interview.
  • Mommy Issues: Very common among serial, often lust-motivated killers.
  • Monster Fangirl: Speck has multiple female fans, many of whom mail him pornographic photos of themselves. Principal Wade is worshipped by the youngest female teachers in his school.
  • Monster of the Week: The fictionalized cases like Mrs. Gonzalez's, Beverly Jean's and Principal Wade, although these are stretched over two or more episodes.
  • Morality Pet:
    • Debbie for Holden.
    • Bill's family.
    • The cat for Dr. Carr.
    • Played straight, then subverted with Speck's pet bird. As he puts it, he found it in the yard with a broken wing and nursed it back to health with meatloaf and an eyedropper. However, he angrily ends his interview by throwing it into a fan.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Dr. Carr after she realizes that a perp who confessed to Bill and Holden is now facing the death penalty. Defied by Holden, who refuses repeatedly to feel guilty about what his intervention meant for Principal Wade or Devier.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: The Lawrence Bittaker and Ray Norris tape.
  • Only Sane Man: Downplayed. Holden and Carr are both competent and intelligent in their own ways, but Bill tends to be the most frank and practical of the three.
  • Pædo Hunt: The Principal Wade arc. The show doesn't confirm or deny that Wade is a pedophile, but the stereotypical glasses, refusal to stop tickling children even when directly requested by their parents and the superintendent, and his strategy to deflect criticism—accusing the complainers of having the indecent thoughts, not him—sure don't help.
  • Perp Sweating: Almost Once per Episode. Called mindfucking by Speck.
  • The Profiler: The origin of the trope.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Bill is red to Holden's blue.
  • Scary Black Man: One of Holden's (white) students in hostage negotiation in the pilot pretends to be an angry black man.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: The long-time babysitter for the Tenches resigns as soon as she finds a murder photo hidden in Brian's bed. Bill has to convince her to take the day's pay.
  • Self-Made Orphan: Kemper killed his mother and grandparents.
  • Sequel Hook: Dennis Rader, still yet to make his debut in the story proper, appears one last time in the season 1 finale as he destroys all his "keepsakes".
  • Serial Killer: The main draw of the show, obviously, though in a case of Shown Their Work they are still known as "sequential" or mass killers at first. "Serial killer" is introduced in Episode 9.
  • Serious Business: Kemper reading in the press that Holden considers him his friend.
  • The '70s: The series begins in 1977, with the obvious implications for fashion and music.
  • Sherlock Scan: Unsure of her own emotions in the moment, Debbie asks Holden to try one on her in the first season finale. He realizes she wants to break up with him.
  • Shout-Out: Bill Tench's line to Holden Ford about his son, Brian, "I wish I knew what went on inside that head of his", is an almost verbatim quote of "Doctor" Westphall's line in the last episode of St. Elsewhere about his autistic son, Tommy Westphall.
  • Sir Swears-a-Lot: Richard Speck, shown to great effect in his first scene. Not that other characters are notably gentle in speech.
  • Small Reference Pools: Averted. Famous real-life offenders (Kemper, Brudos, Speck) and very obscure ones (Rissell, Devier) are featured along Season 1. Manson gets several mentions, but the season ends without his presence.
  • Spiritual Sequel:
    • There are lots of stylistic similarities to Fincher's previous film Zodiac, which takes place earlier than this work and shows the challenge of catching a Serial Killer before there is a procedure or even a concept of what a Serial Killer is.
    • Owing to the theme and shared origins, the show can also be interpreted as a more cerebral prequel to Criminal Minds, if not a deconstruction of it.
  • Start of Darkness: The unit comes with the moniker "stressor" to label these.
  • Tears of Fear: Holden in the last episode of Season One in anticipation of getting violated and murdered, not necessarily in that order, by Edmund Kemper. Culminating in a debilitating panic attack once he's fled the room.
  • Teaser-Only Character: An unusual example is Dennis Rader (BTK), who appears solely in the cold opens of each episode of the first season beginning in the second one.
  • Technology Marches On: In-universe example when Brudos, who has been in jail since 1969, is surprised to find that the FBI's tape recorder has a built-in microphone resembling a tiny silver panel. Bill tells him that there are also photo cameras outside that fit in a pocket.
  • Teens Are Monsters: Psychopathy takes up a notch with puberty, and so did most interviewed killers.
  • Third-Person Person: Brudos is a pathological liar who won't accept his guilt, but he is also a psychopath dying to talk about his crimes to relive them, so he ends becoming this. All while insisting that "the killer" is not himself.
  • Thoughtcrime: Holden becomes excited about the potential to look for early markers of psychopathy. However, when he applies these ideas to Principle Wade, who is unquestionably creepy but doesn't seem to have actually broken any laws, Shepard outright accuses him of being the Thought Police.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Audiences will be forgiven for screaming at their televisions due to the complete lack of common sense Holden exercises in his interviews with Edmund Kemper, including having Kemper's handcuffs removed, eating food that he's made, and even letting Kemper put his hands on his throat. Holden only survives when Kemper has him at his complete and total mercy because Kemper seemingly likes him enough not to kill him.
  • Too Smart for Strangers: Holden has the hardest time trying to talk an elementary school class about the Macdonald triad, because of the strict censorship of "bad words" by the school principal.
  • Troubling Unchildlike Behavior:
    • The Macdonald triad is showcased on Episode 8.
    • Kemper decapitated his sister's dolls.
    • Brudos brought a pair of high heels from a landfill when he was 5 and wore them until his mother burned them. He later stole his teacher's shoes.
    • Bill's son is emotionally detached, has a morbid curiosity about his father's job, and bites other kids at school.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story:
    • Bill and Holden are fictional, but based on Robert Ressler and John E. Douglas, the real developers of modern criminal profiling. Douglas's book serves as the basis for the show and he is credited as an advisor.
    • Principal Wade is inspired by a school principal Douglas was asked about, although the principal had already been fired.
    • Kemper's scene with Holden in the finale is inspired by an incident that happened between Kemper and Ressler in prison, not a hospital. Kemper really attempted suicide with a pen case, but he did it years earlier in 1974 and it wasn't an attempt to lure someone to him.
    • Speck killed his pet bird as shown, but he didn't do it during his FBI interview.
    • The Beverly Jean case is based on a real murder, but instead of involving the victim's fiance and future siblings-in-law, it was her fiance and his (blood) brother and sister.
  • Wham Shot: The final shot of the first season with Dennis burning his sketches, the first look at his crimes.
  • Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?: A lot of FBI agents and police officers have this opinion, to Holden's exasperation.
  • Women Are Wiser: Debbie is more grounded than Holden, and Dr. Carr is the most intelligent of the three main characters. The show has only pitched the team against male offenders.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: Crossing over with Batman Gambit, Kemper attempts to kill himself with a pen to make Holden meet with him again... in a hospital room with very little security compared to the prison kitchen.

Top

Example of:

/
/

Feedback