Posts Tagged ‘david fincher’

“Mindhunter” thoughts, Season One, Episode Ten

October 25, 2017

Holden’s meeting with Ed Kemper, who attempts suicide and names Ford as his medical proxy in order to force another meeting, is the first time any of his conversations with murderers has felt like something out of a serial-killer-as-supervillain movie. It’s not actor Cameron Britton’s fault—he plays Kemper with the same unnervingly conversational affect as ever. Rather, it’s the mechanics of the meeting: revealing the stitches from his suicide attempt like he’s a breath away from one of the Joker’s “Do you wanna know how I got these scars?” speeches, leaping from his hospital bed with cat-like reflexes, threatening to murder Holden and make him akin to the “spirit wives” he gained when he killed his previous victims, then reversing course and hugging Holden, thanking him for his honesty. When Holden says he doesn’t know why he came, it turns Kemper into a criminal mastermind, luring the FBI’s best and brightest into a potential deathtrap just to show he could. I’m sure it’s supposed to say something about Holden’s increasingly agitated state of mind, but it just makes him look dumb and indecisive, two things he’s never been.

The follow-up is even more of a misfire. The instant Holden hits the door out of Kemper’s hospital room, Led Zeppelin’s “In the Light” kicks in. The song’s creepy-cool John Paul Jones synthesizer opening had been used to great effect during Holden’s flight to California, but this time the track is fast-forwarded to Jimmy Page’s triumphant, upward-climbing riff. The transition is so abrupt, the musical sentiment so poorly matched to the moment, that I actually laughed out loud—yet that’s not even the half of it. Holden staggers down the hallway and collapses, in the grips of a full-fledged panic attack so severe he thinks he’s dying. As the hospital staff frantically tries to aid him, he hears the voices of other characters in his head, reliving times they called him on his bullshit and warned him about his behavior: Bill, Shepard, Wendy, Kemper, even Principal Wade. “Wait,” you may be thinking, “you mean like the ‘I made my family disappear’ scene in Home Alone?” Yes, exactly like the “I made my family disappear” scene in Home Alone. Add a few floating-head visions and a “You’re what the French call les incompétents” and not even David Fincher and Chris Columbus could tell the difference. The device is so hackneyed it comes across like a joke from a children’s comedy.

Worse, it’s unnecessary. Did we really need to hear people telling Holden he fucked up for us to understand, while watching him have a panic attack brought on by a serial killer who took advantage of him and could easily have murdered him, that Holden fucked up? I can’t remember the last time I saw a season finale swing and miss this hard.

I reviewed the season finale of Mindhunter, which I did not care for, for the A.V. Club.

“Mindhunter” thoughts, Season One, Episode Nine

October 23, 2017

For the Behavioral Science Unit, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. The penultimate episode of Mindhunter Season 1 shows the team operating at the peak of their powers, working in in tandem to create the term for which they’ll go down in history: “serial killer.” It also depicts faultlines forming that could jeopardize the whole project (if this weren’t verifiable historical fiction, anyway). If you’ve been following along, it’s not hard to understand why the former aspect of “Episode 9” works much effectively than the latter. Mindhunter is always better when its characters are all on the same side.

The “serial killer” scene is the most satisfying example of this phenomenon yet—a conference-room scene between Holden Ford, Greg Smith, Bill Tench, and Wendy Carr that feels like watching a tight jazz quartet trade eights. Wendy tries to come up with a term for murderers who carefully prepare for their kills versus those who go on a spontaneous rampage. Smith asks if that isn’t simply organized versus disorganized killers. Wendy says, no, that refers to the process during the crime, not the pattern behind it. Killers like Charles Whitman or Richard Speck, she says, take random victims during rapid-fire rampages, so their existing term of art “sequence killer” doesn’t work. “Whitman was on a spree,” Holden says, with Wendy and Greg backing him up. Bill agrees too, but then expresses doubt about the “sequence killer” label for a killer like Ed Kemper: “It feels too…cadenced,” he explains, starting to actually sound like a musician. Debbie thinks he might be on to something. “It should feel like a long story,” Holden follows up, “continually updated.” “A series of killings,” Bill replies. “Serial?” Holden murmurs. “Serial murderer?” Greg suggests. “Serial killer?” Bill says, refining the concept, and you can see on everyone’s face that he’s hit the mark. “That’s better,” Wendy says, impressed. “Let’s see if it sticks.” Yeah, let’s see!

I reviewed the penultimate episode of Mindhunter Season 1, with David Fincher back in the director’s chair, for the A.V. Club.

“Mindhunter” thoughts, Season One, Episode Two

October 15, 2017

Edmund Kemper is not your average pop-culture serial killer. That’s the point. Mindhunter’s second episode may be dogged by many of the same problems as its premiere—we’ll get to that later—but its decision to cast “The Co-Ed Killer” at the Hannibal Lecter to restless FBI Agent Holden Ford’s Clarice Starling is as smart and sinister as the man himself. Played by actor Cameron Britton, whose performance is already one of the most chilling of its type, Kemper is the embodiment of Ford’s argument that this new breed of killer is too crazily complex for the existing rulebook to cover.

The “we’ll get to that later” is doing a lot of work in the above paragraph, but nevertheless I enjoyed the Ed Kemper material in episode two of Mindhunter, which I reviewed for the A.V. Club, a great deal. Just be prepared for my very different thoughts on the music cues and the female lead.

“Mindhunter” thoughts, Season One, Episode One

October 14, 2017

“It’s not like there’s some magical machine that makes identical copies of things.” To its eternal credit, Mad Men got the single worst line of dialogue in the entire series out of the way in its pilot episode. Don Draper’s brief aside about the state of the art in office equipment functions as a gag only from the perspective of its 2007 audience, at the expense of its 1960 characters. What we know, and what Don doesn’t, is that of course there are magical machines that make identical copies of things, or that there will be eventually. The poor sap has the temerity not to have journeyed via time machine to an era where photocopiers are a thing. Joke’s on you, buddy!

I thought of this line a lot while watching Mindhunter, Netflix’s new serial-killer procedural from writer-creator Joe Penhall and producer-director David Fincher. The difference is that while Mad Men relegated its “look at these troglodytes who haven’t even heard of Xerox yet” hindsight to one brief, bad joke, it’s Mindhunter’s entire premise.

Based on the influential true-crime book Mind Hunter: Inside The FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit by Mark Olshaker and John E. Douglas, and featuring analogues for Douglas and his fellow Fed Robert K. Ressler, it chronicles the birth of criminal profiling and the concept of the serial killer as we know them, during an era when law enforcement’s skepticism of such notions—and of psychology in general—was ingrained and endemic. In other words, it’s a war story written from the perspective of the winners, one which enlists its audience as recruits for the retrospectively inevitable victory. That’s the problem, really: It’s a tale of bone-deep uncertainty in uncharted territory, told with the quiet confidence of a sure thing.

I’m covering the first season of Mindhunter for the A.V. Club, where believe it or not I’ve never written about television before! Here’s my review of the premiere, which helped me realize there’s basically a whole subgenre of “based on a true story” that I don’t care for: the origin of something everyone thought was wrong but which we in the audience know turned out to be right. Also, you gotta hear the dialogue in this thing. It’s like an alien wrote it.