The Pitch: Picking up right where Season One left off, the members of the Behavioral Sciences Unit (BSU) are in hot water after a damning interview tape is anonymously leaked to their superiors, triggering an investigation and the eventual “retirement” of their boss, Shephard (Cotter Smith). Politically savvy new superior Ted Gunn (Michael Cerveris) is much more supportive of their work, however.
He charges both Bill Tench (Holt McCallany) and Wendy Carr (Annar Torv) to babysit and nurture Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff). Tasks that are easier said than done as Bill faces a personal issue at home with his son Brian (Zachary Scott Ross), Wendy embarks on a new relationship with bartender Kay (Lauren Glazier), and Holden works to bottle up the stress that caused his season one panic attack.
Meanwhile, a new roster of serial killers await: some behind bars, others on the hunt.
The Dream Team: While Mindhunter gets a lot of press for its deep bench of serial killers, the central trio at the BSU remain the foundation of the series.
In Season Two, Holden takes a slight step back as both Wendy and Bill get expanded personal stories. The first episode eschews the BSU’s project in order to focus exclusively on the fallout of the leaked tape with a particular focus on Bill’s blow-up at Wendy, which has left both parties a little testy, and Holden’s brief stay in a psychiatric hospital.
The tension between team members is mostly settled, however, in an effort to present a unified front as Gunn takes over for Shepard. The new boss has a number of nakedly ambitious plans for the unit, which demands from Holden a certain kind of progress and a new responsibility for Bill and Wendy that effectively turns them into handlers.
The latter development is a savvy way for the writers to smooth over Wendy and Bill’s conflict, while simultaneously turning them into co-conspirators of sorts, which lends itself to all kinds of hallway and smoke break confessionals as the season progresses.
The Fourth Wheel: Forever on the outside is Gregg Smith (Joe Tuttle), the man responsible for the leaked tape and the team’s lone moral member. While there’s very little humor in Mindhunter, there’s some amusement to be found in the recurring gag wherein Gregg is regularly omitted from social invitations or crucial meetings. This is particularly true of Gunn, who is, for the most part, primarily enamored with Holden’s instincts and Bill’s ability to work a room.
Gregg’s hint of resentment pays off in “Episode Four” when he and Wendy (who is also often overlooked by Gunn) conduct their own interview in Holden and Bill’s absence. The result, unsurprisingly, proves that Wendy is a key asset to the team, though the experience may require her to expose more of her personal life than she was prepared to share.
Gregg, meanwhile, doesn’t fare so well. His substandard performance doesn’t go unnoticed by Holden or Bill. What’s worse, Gregg’s inadequacies are cast into further contrast when Holden winds up working with Jim Barney (Albert Jones), the other shortlisted candidate for Gregg’s job, during several episodes set in Atlanta.
Jim winds up being a huge asset to Holden, though: He salvages a pair of interviews after Holden becomes frustrated or bored with candidates he deems subpar for the project. In this role, Jim is a great supporting character. His professionalism and capacity really helps to underscore how ill-suited Gregg is for the BSU and Jones brings a wonderful wounded determination to Jim’s interactions with both Holden and Bill.
Fresh Tape: The first half of the season is loaded with high-profile serial killer interviews. Early on, the focus is primarily on the BTK Killer (Sonny Valicenti) – who is presumably the ADT man that has repeatedly opened or closed episodes over the course of the two seasons.
There are also interviews with the Son of Sam (Oliver Cooper), William Pierce, William Henry Hance, and Elmer Wayne Henley Jr, an accomplice of Dean Corll, the Candy Man. There’s also a repeat visit to Season One stand-out Ed Kemper (Cameron Britton) — unsurprising, given his Emmy-nominated turn – as well as a needlessly super-sized fifth episode that features Charles Manson (Damon Herriman).
Thankfully, most of the attention is focused on BTK and the Atlanta Child Murders, which dominate the first half of the season. All in all, there’s plenty here for fans of true crime to dig in to, though each case is carefully introduced with enough exposition that even casual viewers won’t feel lost.
Emotional Weight: Mindhunter can sometimes feel detached and unemotional, thanks in part to its blue/grey color palette and its somber, bordering on clinical, descriptions of horrifying crimes. There are, however, several stand-out scenes that are deliberately evocative. In one, the surviving sibling of the BTK Killer tells his emotional story to Bill, relaying how he was tied up and eventually shot in the head while the killer raped and murdered his sister. It’s gut-wrenching, but quietly effective, despite the fact that Kevin’s face is out of focus or even out of the frame because he doesn’t wish to be looked at.
Later, after Holden identifies himself as FBI while checking into his Atlanta hotel, the woman working the desk delivers him to a clandestine meeting with mothers of murdered or missing children. Again, the framing of the scene helps to contribute to its emotional impact: the women are all seated at a different restaurant table than Holden, emphasizing the disconnect between him, a representative of the authorities who have ignored their pleas for help, and them.
These are the human beings left in the wake of the destruction wrought by the narcissistic, lying, disaffected killers that the BSU spends all of their time interviewing. It’s a helpful reminder that even though Mindhunter is most interested in the “why” behind the violent crimes, there is always a “who” that remains of the victims.
The Verdict: For a series that has sat on the sidelines for two years, there’s an unexpected urgency and vibrancy to Mindhunter‘s second season. The series remains adept at balancing its heavy thematic interests, including debates about essentialism, assumptions in profiling, and investigative protocols, all without compromising on character development.
To that point, the acting is uniformly great across the board, particularly McCallany, whose personal story allows him to explore some rich emotional territory. Yet also Torv, who has a great arc about opening up and being vulnerable, which dovetails nicely into the sexist treatment she receives from Gunn and, in “Episode Five”, other high-level men who see her solely as a sexually attractive woman.
And, naturally, Mindhunter is well-shot by directors Fincher, Andrew Dominik, and Carl Franklin, although at times it could do with a little more visual panache to help key sequences stand out. This is a small complaint, however, for an otherwise addictive and engrossing drama.
Where’s It Playing? All episodes of Season Two are now streaming on Netflix.