Other significant new additions in Season 2 include Michael Cerveris as the unit’s new boss Ted Gunn, Lauren Glazier as Carr’s new love interest Kay Mason, and Albert Jones as Atlanta field agent Jim Barney. In addition, many episodes feature a cold-opening focused on a mysterious security technician played by Sonny Valicenti. These scenes wind up forming a compelling and disturbing mini-movie of their own by the end.
Given how Season 1 effectively ended on a cliffhanger, with Ford having a physical and emotional meltdown after becoming too consumed by his work, it’s a bit disappointing that the Season 2 premiere goes out of its way to sweep that drama under the rug and re-establish a status quo for the BSU. The introduction of S.A. Gunn serves mainly to defuse that tension and draw attention away from Ford’s pressing psychological issues. Season 1 drew some interesting parallels between medical science’s understanding of panic disorder and the field of criminal profiling, as both were very much in their infancy in the late ’70s. But Season 2 downplays Holden’s personal problems, instead relying on Tench and Carr for much of the character drama.
With equilibrium returning in the premiere, Season 2 falls into an early routine where the BSU divide their time between profiling killers and playing office politics, all while trying to maintain some semblance of a personal life. Not that that formula doesn’t play, but it does serve to remove any early momentum Season 2 might have had, building on the Season 1 finale. The first few episodes are definitely a slow burn. Like most Netflix series, Mindhunter could probably stand to trim an episode or two from each season.
However, fans always have those engrossing interview scenes to look forward to. Mindhunter is a very dialogue-driven show, and it often shines best during these moments where the BSU agents play mental chess with their interviewees and try to manipulate them into opening up about their “work.” It helps that these real-life killers are always so impeccably cast. Britton’s Ed Kemper may not appear nearly as much as he did in Season 1, but he steals the show whenever he does. Herriman also makes for a truly mesmerizing Charles Manson. The series really plays upon the cultural fascination that’s built up around Manson over the decades, exploring the gulf between the myth and the actual man in a fascinating way. Herriman’s performance is easily one of the standouts of the season.
Fortunately, the slow shift in focus to the Atlanta case (which eventually comes to dominate the latter half of the season) gives Mindhunter a clearer impetus and a more directed narrative. The case is fascinating in its own right (I’d recommend the podcast Atlanta Monster if you want to learn more about the investigation), but it’s also one that perfectly compliments the struggles Ford and Holden are going through.
Ford sees the case as a perfect opportunity to prove the validity of his work, yet is constantly confounded when his profile fails to turn up new leads or when local authorities meet his suggestions with polite indifference. Tench, meanwhile, endures the most difficult and personal struggle of the season, and his own woes neatly mirror the frustrating hunt for the Atlanta killer. McCallany is another standout among an all-around strong cast, and neither he nor Stacey Roca (who plays his beleaguered wife, Nancy) have any shortage of compelling material over the course of these nine episodes.
Torv’s Wendy Carr is a slightly more peculiar case. It’s not that she isn’t given some memorable material of her own in Season 2, but she increasingly feels isolated from the rest of the cast. Part of that is simple geography. Carr is left behind in DC while Ford and Tench spend most of their time in Atlanta, making it increasingly difficult to tie her story in with the rest of the show’s main threads. Carr’s struggles as a closeted lesbian in an extremely conservative, male-dominated organization are compelling, but at some points it’s as if the character is off in her own, separate series.
The music and cinematography remain huge selling points for the series. While Fincher only directs the first three installments, he establishes a clear tone and style that carry through in those directed by Andrew Dominik and Carl Franklin. Mindhunter isn’t as stylized as something like Seven, but it does make use of heavy shadows and washed-out colors to create a bleak sense of unease. The inhospitable, decaying environments reflect a US gripped by malaise, as if the growing serial killer phenomenon is a symptom of a larger evil in American society. It’s surely no coincidence that much of the Atlanta investigation takes place inside a shuttered Chrysler factory, or that the season is set early into the Reagan administration and the dawn of ’80s consumerism.
Like Fincher’s 2007 film Zodiac, Mindhunter succeeds in dramatizing real-life events while reminding us that, more often than not, there’s not much in the way of true closure to be found. The series is about the struggle to understand what motivates others in their darkest moments, as well as the truth that sometimes such an understanding is impossible. It weaves a compelling murder mystery, yet provides no easy answers for the main characters. That ambiguity permeates Season 2 and helps tie the various story threads together, even in those slower-paced earlier episodes.