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  • Acceptable Targets:
    • A police audience nearly riots in Episode 1 when Holden suggests that Manson and other infamous killers did what they did because of reasons in their past, rather than because they were born evil.
    • After an elderly Hispanic woman is attacked in her own home in Episode 2, the local Californian cops jump to the conclusion that the attacker must be Black or Hispanic because they are the majority in the neighborhood, while Holden and Bill insist that it must be "White Trash" because minorities are more respectful of elders. YMMV about what is the acceptable target in this story.
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    • In Episode 5, an annoyed Bill flat out tells a small town Pennsylvania cop that his conviction that the killer must be a transient outsider is purely because the cop can't fathom that someone from his community could be a murderer. This becomes Harsher in Hindsight in the second season when the team gets a lot of pushback from the Atlanta community because of the refusal to believe a black man could be killing a member of his own race when the more incendiary option of the KKK is available.
  • Award Snub: There was a big outcry when Cameron Britton lost the Emmy when nominated in the guest category.
  • Complete Monster: Wayne Williams is the "Atlanta Monster", a Serial Killer who targets young black boys. Luring the boys to him by promising to make them music stars, Williams murdered them by strangulation, killing possibly over a dozen this way. Taunting the police during their investigation of him, Williams kills a boy and dumps his body in a location the police had previously searched just to mock them, and plans to flee the country to escape with his crimes. Eventually caught and convicted for murdering two adult men in the area as well, Williams, despite smugly maintaining his innocence, is described by the BSU as a narcissistic psychopath, killing his victims just because he had failed in life, and wanted someone else to blame it on, choosing young children as his targets to satisfy his ego.
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  • Crosses the Line Twice: The interview with William Henry Hance, with his baffling Complexity Addiction that he may well have gotten away scot free without, and still has no idea why anyone would think it at all strange.
  • Ensemble Dark Horse: Cameron Britton's portrayal of Kemper has been universally lauded. Word of God is that Fincher hired him after seeing him audition for just a few minutes. Indeed, he's the only interviewee to reappear in season 2.
  • Epileptic Trees: People not familiar with the source material have come up with the wildest, off-the-wall theories, including:
    • The ADT serviceman (actually BTK) being future Holden after he becomes a serial killer.
    • The ADT serviceman being Bill's son all grown up (and also a serial killer).
    • The cat fed by Carr being not a cat at all but a local serial killer who is stalking her.
    • Debbie being BTK's daughter.
    • Debbie being a future victim of Ted Bundy or BTK.
  • Foe Yay: Holden and Kemper.
  • Genius Bonus:
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    • The guy in the cold opens is only identified once as "Dennis". He does absolutely mundane, but increasingly unnerving things in his scenes. Because of the theme of the show, he must be a serial killer. To real crime buffs, it is obvious that he is Dennis Rader, A.K.A. the BTK Killer, either from the moment his location is given as Wichita, Kansas, or his image appears on screen. This also serves as a subtle underpinning of the show's story, as Rader escaped justice during his initial killing period, but when he tried to start again a few decades later, advances in technology caused him to quickly be caught when he sent a flash drive instead of letters.
    • Debbie's beetle has to be a nod to Ted Bundy.
    • Kemper references Frances Farmer being lobotomized in the 1950s. While she was institutionalized for paranoid schizophrenia, the lobotomy was just an urban legend that sprung out of a biography called Shadowland, which her family furiously denied.
    • Brian wets the bed after crucifying a dead baby, one of three major signs of future killers which the real profilers the show is based on came up with, along with cruelty to animals and starting fires.
      • He also ticks absentee father, controlling mother, and emotional detachment from parents already.
    • When Kevin Bright worries that he might walk onto BTK at church, Bill irreflexively snips that "this guy definitely doesn't go to church". People familiar with the case know that he was president of his church council at the time of his capture.
    • Similarly, the radio at BTK's house was stolen from the Oteros. Despite being shown prominently several times, its stolen status is never explicitly stated unlike with Joseph Otero, Sr.'s watch.
  • He Panned It, Now He Sucks!: Sean T. Collins' reviews for The AV Club drew a ton of complaints for needless nitpicking (especially the rather extreme offense he takes to some of the period music choices), casually spoiling the Dennis Rader reveal in his very first appearance, his seeming decision to hate the series prior to watching it due to his hatred for David Fincher and his inability or unwillingness to read the series at any deeper level than surface. Of particular note is his assumption that Holden's "victory" over the child killer in the final two episodes of Season 1 is indeed meant to be viewed as a "victory" even though the show heavily demonstrates how arrogant Holden is with virtually every character calling him out on his unprofessional behaviour. The comments section of Collins' reviews are littered with people hoping for a different reviewer for Season 2. They got their wish.
  • Hilarious in Hindsight:
    • Holden's origin as a hostage negotiator whose main aim is to de-escalate, dissuade gun usage and understand the perp's motives to make him back down. Holden is based on John E. Douglas, whose books also inspired Criminal Minds. Half of Criminal Minds episodes these days end with the profilers deliberately escalating and shooting the suspects.
    • Mrs. Wade is played by Enid Graham, who also played Rose Van Alden, the proper, defensive wife (until she knew better) of outwardly proper, closeted freak Nelson Van Alden in Boardwalk Empire.
  • Informed Wrongness: Tanya lashes out at Holden for building a profile for the Atlanta child killer that seeks out a young black male as the likely suspect, arguing that it's lazy, racially-motivated work that bolsters racial profiling from police. While it's meant to show the lesser-acknowledged collateral social damage from the FBI work, not only is it a Foregone Conclusion that Wayne Williams is accepted to be the killer in real life, the rant is undercut by the fact that there is no evidence to suggest that Holden's profile was racially motivated, his legwork is already shown to have backed up the legitimacy of his profile, and he acknowledges that Williams may not have killed all the children, and overall gives the unintentional effect that the entire city is trying to sabotage his sincere efforts to help when the audience knows the outcome of the investigation.
  • Nausea Fuel: On top of the series' built-in Nightmare Fuel, Kemper's descriptions of the difficulty of sodomizing a severed head via the throat hole are no treat.
  • Narm: You have to wonder what was going through Mrs. Wade's head. Somehow she tracked down a federal agent's apartment, a horrible idea as Holden points out, then tells him that nobody will let her husband work with kids after his inappropriate tickling of ten-year-olds, as if Holden should be ashamed of destroying a likely pedophile's career. On top of that, Mrs. Wade never actually leaves the elevator and must punch the door-open button repeatedly during her monologue to keep the car from leaving on its own so she can appropriately time her dramatic exit. The dramatic exit itself is a Funny Moment—by this time Debbie has joined Holden in the corridor, and Mrs. Wade melodramatically demands that Debbie reconsider what kind of man she's married. Debbie stares in bewilderment for a moment before clarifying that they are not married.
    • Season two's subplot with Brian, Tench's adopted son, witnessing the murder of a toddler and showing Troubling Unchildlike Behavior, which seriously affects his marriage. Not only does it frequently pull Tench away from the far more pressing plot of the Atlanta child killings, it occasionally veers so close to melodrama that it feels like an entirely different show, and feels like the creators are determine to not let any of the main characters have a normal personal life.
  • Nightmare Fuel: Starting with literally the opening credits, which show loving closeups of 70s audio recording equipment intercut with almost subliminal blips of bound, mutilated corpses.
  • One-Scene Wonder:
    • Richard Speck appears for only one real scene, but it's a hell of a scene thanks to Jack Erdie's volatile performance, the downright medieval look of the interview room and the way he goes from gently cradling an injured bird he's been feeding to impulsively killing said bird just because he feels temporarily vulnerable. He caps it all off with a chilling one-liner cropped from the real life Speck and the entire scene has ramifications for Holden's career at the FBI.
    • Charles Manson appears in Season 2 in full Large Ham glory, with the bonus of letting Damon Herriman play the incarcerated Manson that people are naturally more familiar with, after his intriguing portrayal of a pre-prison Manson in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.
  • Retroactive Recognition: In a historical figure-specific, not actor-specific variation. Several reviewers have compared Mindhunter (as a historical workplace drama exploring misogyny) to Mad Men, which features Speck's crimes prominently (but not Speck himself) in its season 5 episode "Mystery Date".
  • Special Effects Failure: Anna Torv's facial makeup in the second season at times becomes distractingly yellow and orange in order to reflect the show's dark color palette.
  • Unintentionally Unsympathetic: While he was clearly meant to be somewhat off-putting, the show still treats Roger Wade as receiving Disproportionate Retribution for being fired over the feet tickling incidents, with Holden being shamed by Wade's wife for ruining their family dynamic and feeling remorseful when he sees a disheveled Wade at the grocery store. However, the firing was caused because Wade got insanely defensive over tickling the children's feet and refused to stop, despite knowing full well that these actions were putting his job at risk. And while Holden may have been overstepping his official capacity somewhat, the school board had plenty of other evidence from concerned parents and teachers to justify firing Wade. With all of this in mind, Wade comes off more as a selfish, arrogant man who willingly risked his job and family's well-being over a minor action he could've easily stopped doing.
    • Arguably, the root of the problem has little to do with whether Wade is guilty or deserves to be fired for his conduct (as the writing does not whitewash his behavior or give him a convincing justification), but more with the inherent implications of an FBI agent going out of his way to get directly involved in the matter, which has not yet progressed to a legal case of any kind, acting without approval from his department, the local police, or anyone outside of the school board itself.
    • Definitely a YMMV, but Camille Bell, the mother of one of the Atlanta victims, while certainly having every right to be angry about how Atlanta PD has handled the cases, is unceasingly dismissive of Holden's attempts to help and openly hostile to practically everything he does or tries to do. When he does catch Williams, she dismisses the idea of him being her child's killer and insinuates that Williams was victim of racial profiling and may be another "victim." If this were Criminal Minds, she'd be a suspect by the third act.
  • The Scrappy: Roger Wade and his wife. While the latter's shaming of Holden was seemingly meant to make them more sympathetic, fans were not convinced, as most agreed that being fired was his own fault for refusing to not touch his students' feet even in the face of fervent opposition from their parents. His arrogant refusal along with his wife's audacity to shame the man who gave him a last chance to back out made them particularly unpopular characters.
    • A lot of people disliked Debbie, regardless of whether or not they sympathized with Holden during the first season, and were glad to see her not make an appearance in the second.
  • Trapped by Mountain Lions: As the second half of season two focuses squarely on the Atlanta child murders instead of killer-of-the-week interviews, Carr is stuck at her desk with nothing to do. Though the focus on her personal life and romance is enlightening to her character, it's not quite as thrilling as her interviewing killers (with Smith, who who also fades into the background during this half).
  • Visual Effects of Awesome: The "you won't even believe there were visual effects there" kind.

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