- To say that David Fincher is one of the great American auteurs at this moment would be a short sell. In fact, Fincher’s sleek style and eye for unique storytelling has made him a must-watch artist. Fincher’s best known for his directorial efforts, but he’s no slouch as a producer as well. In the case of “Mindhunter” Fincher gets to wear both caps simultaneously. While Fincher may feel like a giant coming from on high to grace TV, he seamlessly establishes an aesthetic and vibe for the new show. In many ways, its a reflection of what Fincher is best at, namely psychopathy and violence against women. While this provides “Mindhunter” with a strong foundation, the series is elevated by its core cast and incredibly interesting premise.
“Mindhunter” is a dramatic retelling of the founding of the Behavior Sciences Department of the FBI. We first join agent Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) as he attempts to find his place in the bureau. A former hostage negotiator, Holden has become disillusioned with his role, believing he can be something greater. He is shortly introduced to Bill Tench (Holt McCallany), an agent who also believes there is more to the criminal mind than many think. After the two recruit Debbie Mitford (Anna Torv) the three are able to gain funding and support from the FBI to establish a new way of examining “sequence killers” while they are incarcerated.
The basic set-up for the series is interesting, but it’s the performances that make this a must watch show. Groff is excellent in his role as an unsure detective trying to find his own way to shine. His personality shift is impressive over the first season, and with each moment you see his confidence and arrogance grow. Groff has been excellent before, but McCallany is a revelation. He is such a needed piece to balance this show out, it’s simply remarkable. He brings a human side that hides under layers of thick skin and detachment. It’s an incredibly subdued performance that is instantly a must-watch whenever he gets on screen.
Torv is another key cog to make this series work. Her mere existence in a series like this brings an important element to the proceedings. She’s professional in ways the other two aren’t and she gives validity to their rework. Without Torv’s cool and multilayered performance the character would likely suffer the same backlash Anna Gunn felt during “Breaking Bad” as the “no fun police” of the series. Instead, her presence is welcomed, if not a requirement for the show.
Another series of characters that simply wouldn’t work without the tremendous work of the casting department are the serial killers who frequent the show. The best, by a mile, is Cameron Britton who should win every guest actor in a drama award come the next TV awards season. Britton crafts a real serial killer, Ed Kemper, into one of the most charismatic and monstrous characters to grace the small screen. He is so evil and physically intimidating, it’ll make your skin crawl. Britton will almost certainly be propelled to bigger and better things because of his stint here, assuming anyone can ever get the visage of Kemper out of their mind.
The Fincher aesthetic is impressive in this format and the show thrives because of it. While “House of Cards” used this aesthetic to tell a cold story of political intrigue, there is a human emotion and want for good that underlines this depressing world we inhabit. The dichotomy between the visual nihilism and the hopefulness of the narrative forces the audience to grapple with the material in unexpected ways. The superb set design and brilliantly small touches make this series a beauty to watch. The cinematography is some of the best on television. The music department rocks out with everything from The Talking Heads to Led Zeppelin to Exile. It’s a great playlist and further builds the atmosphere.
Where the show struggles the most is pacing. In the middle of the season, the show hits its stride and is brilliantly paced. The beginning of the show really suffers from a lack of cohesion in its storytelling. Fincher handles the first episode himself, primarily to do the heavy lifting. That said, it’s a bit of a chore to get through, and Fincher’s direction can’t really save the show from the hour-long exposition drop required to set up the rest of the season. The pacing is an issue that pops up periodically throughout the season. Once the team solves this issue, this could be a top 5 to top 10 show on TV today.
Overall, “Mindhunter” is a fun and thrilling ride from Fincher. It’s clear he is the man to shepherd this story to TV, and he’s having a blast doing so. The cast comes to play, and they get in dirty with the material. The narratives are well structured and shine a light on the dinginess of the work. With some adjustments, the show could become something truly special. Until those adjustments are made, audiences will swoon over an aesthetic like no other on TV today.