The MINDHUNTER Journals (Episodes 4 - 6)

Jacob continues his dive into David Fincher's serial killer chronicle by analyzing its middle hours.

(Catch up on the last round of Journals here.)

The central hours of a Netflix show - especially during its initial season - are often where the most sag is felt, pace-wise. With David Fincher and Joe Penhall's Mindhunter, there was some worry (at least on this writer's part) as to whether or not the leisurely pace it'd already established would be amplified by this traceable trend. However, the observational approach actually amplified Mindhunter's strongest elements, allowing the viewer to really settle in and soak up the brilliant little details that set it apart from the rest of the streaming giant's overly plot-driven output. Fincher and Penhall aren't interested in rushing us in and out of each hour, letting scenes breathe and flex; conversations doubling as action beats any time one of its vectors is interrogated by the series' budding FBI profilers. It's a miracle of patience, and easily the show's strongest virtue. 

Now, here are notes from Episodes 4 - 6. 

Episode 4 (d. Asif Kapadia, w. Joe Penhall & Dominic Orlando) 

"All shit has meaning, man."

The analysis of "sequence murderers" to date has exposed one aligning fact: they all have issues with women, stemming from their respective mothers. Ed Kemper (Cameron Britton) even made the woman who bore him his penultimate victim, severing her head and committing lewd acts with her corpse. Monte Rissel (Sam Strike) - who's locked up in a Virginia penitentiary for the rape and murder of five women - wonders aloud during his interview with Agents Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) and Bill Tench (Holt McCallany) whether or not his life would've turned out any better had he been raised by his father. Perhaps he could've been a lawyer on this hypothetical timeline. That's the dream, anyway. In the psychopath's mind, they're the victims of cruelty, and since both of those probed by Ford and Tench have thus far been white men (of varying privilege), the misogynistic trend emerging is quite unnerving, especially when Tench reduces their crimes to lashing out against the fact that they "just can't hack it in life." Do all men blame their inability to function on a day-to-day as a result of their poor relationships and inability to communicate with the opposite sex? Holden would like to think there's something more complex at play, but that's at least part of it. 

It's interesting that Mindhunter's second act of onscreen violence (following Holden's failed hostage negotiation that results in a suicide) doesn't involve any of these killers - their heinous acts are merely described during various dialogues with the agents. Instead, a car t-bones the investigators' car when Tench fails to keep a proper lookout while entering an intersection, thus leaving them stranded and waiting on Debbie (Hannah Gross) to come pick them up once she's done with classes. Ford's frustrated because she won't "drop everything" to come retrieve them (in Tench's words), or perhaps "doesn't want to" (his own pontification). Meanwhile, Tench comes clean that his own relationship is ailing, as the son he and his wife adopted refuses to speak at six, and he doesn't know how to handle it. What we're presented with here is a contrast to Kemper and Rissel in two men who are, by all accounts (not to mention the text of this fiction), upstanding citizens. Yet their main frustrations (again as straight, white men) stem from difficulties communicating these aggravations with women. 

Ironically enough, it's a woman who swoops in and saves these suits from treading water, as Dr. Wendy Carr (Anna Torv) begins to filter their findings into actual classifications. Based on Anne Wolbert Burgess - a pioneer in the treatment of abuse victims and rape - Carr is presented as an academic who helps Ford and Tench legitimize their research with her sociological and science-backed knowledge (much how Debbie first inspires Holden with her own studies). In real life, Burgess worked closely with Agent John E. Douglas (the basis for Ford), and the two even authored several books together - such as Sexual Homicide: Patterns and Motives and 1992's Crime Classification Manual. So, while Mindhunter continues to illustrate that these men are, at their core, troubled by their better halves, its ultimately Carr's influence who keeps these studies on the road, not willing to stand for the boys club bureaucracy, and even forcing funding through word-of-mouth amongst her own colleagues. It's a brave new era, and the FBI (an organization that only began letting women into its ranks as of '72 - five years before these events) can no longer act as J. Edgar Hoover's suppressive institution. 

Episode 5 (d. Tobias Lindholm, w. Jennifer Haley)

"In Altoona, she's a solid eight."

David Fincher has a defined visual style - from his love of symmetrical framing, to the washed out palette of greens, browns, and light oranges, to the strategically placed edits that streamline each scene into a flow of hypnotic deliberation. It's not an aesthetic that'd be easy to replicate for any director, so the attention to uniformity within Mindhunter is rather astounding. Though the variations in framing and cutting will instantly alert the viewer as to when Fincher exited the director's seat in order to let others take over the reigns following the first two episodes, there's still an alien eye that's applied to these American landscapes, delivering a constant eeriness to the often overcast settings. Perhaps this is why the subsequent directors chosen to fill his shoes are of European descent, as Asif Kapadia (a UK filmmaker best known for his documentaries on Brazilian Formula-1 racing and pop stars), Tobias Lindholm (the Danish director responsible for The Hunt ['12] and A Hijacking ['12]), and Andrew Douglas (a British photographer)  all bring an outsider's eye to these United States Hellscapes. 

The locations scouted for all of the Altoona, Pennsylvania scenes contain a bombed out feel, as if America itself survived some kind of culture war, and this is one of the forgotten places at its center. A stones' throw away from Pittsburgh - which was once the great Steel City, and became a rotting shell of itself by the time the late '70s and early '80s rolled around - the industrial base that expanded in both the area's steel and electronics industries collapsed during national industrial restructuring. There were massive layoffs from mills and widespread plant closures, putting many in both the 'Burgh and surrounding towns (such as Altoona) out of work. These desolate municipalities became perfect hunting grounds for the sort of monsters Ford and Tench are currently profiling. 

But this is what's defining Mindhunter in the same way the meticulous attention to the 60s (right down to the way televisions turned off) made Mad Men such a monument in the medium's history. Fincher and Penhall are fascinated by the way Vietnam and free love gave way to a darker period of economic strife in American history, only instead of dumping truckloads of exposition on our heads about these facts, they instead evoke it through visual styling. Some may view these decisions as simply an extension of Fincher's dispassionate cinematic grimness, while its really some of the better thematic buttress building that's ever occured within his filmography. There's a reason he's one of the best American creatives in history, because every little cue serves a purpose, just as every single line shared by these killers can provide insight into how their fractured psyches operate. 

Episode 6 (d. Tobias Lindholm, w. Joe Penhall & Tobias Lindholm)

"See? It's possible to talk about things together."

There's a passive aggressive way to how couples communicate that you only really pick up on after having been in a long-term relationship of your own. The quick jabs and inside jokes; the playful tête-à-tête that usually spills out from behind closed doors in front of dinner company (as it does on both sides of the table when Holden and Debbie attend a meal at Bill and Nancy Tench's [introducing Stacy Roca's silent partner into the fold]). There are frustrations present - such as Holden still being bothered by Debbie's sexual past after an ill-advised questioning of her partner count in Episode 5. Bill is also a bottled fountain of rage, his annoyances popping out when we least expect them.  

These micro-aggressions emphasize how much healthier Wendy is than either of these men; able to confront the FBI attempting to "utilize" her expertise swiftly in public, but then bringing her concerns and curiosities to her own partner (Lena Olin), who appears to talk openly behind closed doors, but warns that joining up with the government investigators may only lead to further suppression of her sexuality (which, Wendy reminds her, is already an issue in their regular social lives). Like the killers behind bars, everybody here is talking, but never saying what they really mean. It's only through short breakthroughs and break downs that we ever get to the actual truth of the problem at hand. 

Meanwhile, the Altoona D.A. isn't interested in seeing the right men be prosecuted in the small town murder Ford and Tench have recently assisted in solving, offering plea bargains and letting the wrong man walk free. "What difference does any of this make if we can't communicate it to the people who matter?" While relishing in the development of the process (just as they indulge in the pleasantries of their relationships), the agents have forgotten that expressing their findings (or their feelings) is the key to distinguishing themselves within both their private lives and their professions.