“Mindhunter” thoughts, Season One, Episode Three

Kemper [is] back for another round of interviews so thick with gallows humor you can almost see the nooses. “Big Ed” had a sick sense of humor during his murders, one he can’t help but chuckle about to himself as he recounts the details to Bill and Holden—like how he shoved his mother’s severed vocal cords into the garbage disposal to shut her up permanently, or how he buried the decaptiated heads of his victims face up near her window, because “Mom always liked people to look up to her.”

These exchanges say a lot about both the killer and his questioners. Ed thinks he’s winning them over with his gruesome gags, but he’s really revealing the depths of his disregard for other people: The women he killed meant nothing more to him than becoming potential punchlines for sick jokes played at his hated mother’s expense. Bill and Holden, meanwhile, react with the reluctant but irrepressible exclamations you might hear from the crowd at comedy club where the stand-up said something particularly off-color—until they get to their car afterwards and simply stare at each other in disbelief. They’re good enough at their jobs to instinctively transform their shock and disgust into reactions that will keep them on Ed’s good side, so they can keep getting what they want from him in turn.

Bill spells all this out to Holden on the flight home, in one of the show’s best conversations yet about the nature of their job. “There’s nothing behind Kemper’s eyes,” he says. “It’s like standing near a black hole. And he thinks we’re his friends!” He pauses. “Well, he thinks you’re his friend.” Then he leans in to Holden for the conclusion: “Which makes you a pretty great FBI agent.” These guys are uniquely equipped to gaze into the abyss without its returning gaze getting the better of them, for now at least.

I reviewed episode three of Mindhunter for the A.V. Club. It’s improving for sure, but the conversations that don’t include serial killers still sound like they were written by aliens.

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