The line between TV and film continues to be blurred, particularly as film talent moves to the small screen. Though David Fincher hasn’t directed a film since 2014’s “Gone Girl,” the Oscar-nominated filmmaker is up to his same caliber of work on TV. “Mindhunter” season two of Netflix doubles down on what made the first installment an engrossing piece of television. Detectives Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) and Bill Tench (Holt McCallany) make for a great odd couple partnership. The featured serial killers and cases feel like distinct, and tread fresh ground separate from the first season. Every aspect of the production looks and sounds top-notch. Those who slept on season one should take note; David Fincher is at his full power on Netflix and makes “Mindhunter” a must-watch.
Though Groff took most of the spotlight in season one, McCallany carries the show right from his opening scene at a church BBQ. Bill somehow has found a work-life balance that leaves him somewhat numb to social cues and silently paranoid maneuvering the world. His John Wayne style of carrying himself with strength and power starkly contrasts with where audiences catch up with Holden. After flying to Vacaville to interview Ed Kemper (Cameron Britton, unfortunately not in these first three episodes), Holden wakes up hospitalized, suffering from panic attacks he mistook for heart attacks. Once back at work, Wendy Carr (Anna Torv) sidebars with Bill. How will they each act as the protector of Holden? Both know how much talent he possesses and how he can lose control in the way he weaves it.
The first episode starts off slow with no real movement on any serial killer. Yet, it smartly concentrates on the relationship between this trio in the Behavioral Sciences Unit. Groff communicates how Holden’s youthful ambition also comes with much self-doubt. His anxiety comes not just from the shocking nature of his job, but of the grave responsibility, he feels entrusted with. Meanwhile, McCallany shows that while Bill is the rock of the group, he also has the potential for emotion and compassion. This season we get to peel behind the curtain into the personal life of Wendy a bit more. Torv makes Wendy both highly intelligent and a little alien. This presents itself in interesting ways when she flirts with a local bartender. The procedural elements are great, but this central trio is what elevates the show.
Though the main actors make the show, the supporting cast of killers that populate the procedural give sparks of life and unease at every turn of this grim murder saga. Each episode opens with day to day moments with the BTK killer (Sonny Valicenti), who was previously teased in season one. To gain a greater understanding of his gruesome murders, Holden and Bill hit the road to interview the likes of “Son of Sam” David Berkowitz (Oliver Cook), who dances on the tightrope between lies and delusion. Holden even makes his own trip to Atlanta for a double whammy of interviews with William Pierce (Michael Filipowich) and William Henry Hance (Corey Allen). As good as both actors are, the real star of the Atlanta segment involves Sierra McClain as a hotel concierge who becomes Holden’s gateway to the Atlanta Child Murders.
David Fincher has a way of making the most mundane bits of procedure seem cinematic. This isn’t through flashy camerawork or quick cuts. Instead, he uses inventive, clear, assured pacing, crisp lighting and technical sound cues to clue audiences in to the experience. Underneath each of the team’s introductions to their new boss (Michael Cerveris), a faint whirring punctuates every few moments. It sounds almost like a skipping recorder. Though this new director promises to aid the Behavioral Sciences Unit, including burying an investigation into Holden’s actions, something possibly sinister looms underneath each interaction. Likewise, loud period-specific pop music plays over a bar that Holden and Wendy frequent. There’s something disarming and jarring about pairing their tense work conversations with groups of average people looking to have a good time. Fincher knows how to craft visual and aural clues that make “Mindhunter” season two an involved and enthralling experience.
Not enough can be said about the gorgeous cinematography by Erik Messerschmidt. Peak TV always seems to be shrouded in darkness. If a battle isn’t taking place in pitch black, how will the audience know how epic it is? Messerschmidt sidesteps this frequent pet peeve. Instead, there’s a sterile sort of light that peers into every scene. Much like our characters, he looks to uncover the dark secrets that live in everyday people capable of an unspeakable evil.
One of the most interesting sequences involves Bill’s interview with a victim of the BTK Killer that got away. The inventive staging of the scene makes it all the more chilling and gripping. The editing and cinematography in this sequence all work to further highlight how strong the show’s writing is. It’s a perfect example of how Fincher navigates his murderer’s row of talented writers, cast and crew to produce something that could easily belong in “Zodiac” or “Seven.”
Killers don’t just come out at night. They live among us, sometimes closer than we think. This point gets further underscored when a murder happens near Bill’s home in a house his wife Nancy was selling. “This sort of thing doesn’t happen here,” Nancy says. “It happens everywhere,” Bill replies, knowing that he can never truly clock out from investigating psychopaths and killers. Already the show has introduced us to the BTK Killer, the Atlanta Child Murders and teased a Charles Manson appearance (played by Damon Herriman). As dark as the subject matter can get, after three episodes I couldn’t wait to binge more.
“Mindhunter” Season Two premieres on Netflix on Friday, Aug. 16. Three episodes were screened for this review.
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