One of the things that continues to impress with Mindhunter is how it throws in new things. For most shows, getting halfway through the season means you are either in the main arc or you are adding filler as a way to pump the brakes and slow the pace. Mindhunter doesn’t do this at all. It actually hits the gas even more and throws in a few new and exciting things to focus on.
Episode 5 puts Bill and Holden back in Altoona, Pennsylvania, investigating the murder they picked up in Episode 4. Bill and Holden meet Benjamin, the fiancé of our murdered woman, Beverly Jean. He is, to put it unkindly, a dweeb. He bags groceries, a job he’s had since high school, and he dissolves like a wet tissue when Bill and Holden ask him about his poor, dead fiancé. Holden is taken aback by Benjamin’s sobbing and thinks he’s faking his devastation. This is either a fantastic insight by a trained agent or, going off my observations in Episode 4, a case of a guy recognizing someone else manipulating emotions, just like Holden is learning to on his own. In my mind, Holden Ford and Dexter Morgan have already met and become friends.
On other shows, this case would be a pretty simple whodunit. By the time we meet four characters, we know reasonably that one of them did it because there’s only 10 minutes left in the episode. Mindhunter prefers to let us stew a bit, not because it’s trying to be smart but because it wants us and its characters to really grapple with the idea that someone has killed this poor, young woman. Who could do such a thing? Who had so much anger? How could this person exist, let alone live among us and go to church with us?
How many lives are destroyed and how will they pick up the pieces, even as Bill and Holden leave Altoona in their rear view, relegating it to some memories and a case file? Mindhunter effectively tees up these questions for an audience that may be too attuned to schlockier fare like Criminal Minds and it’s a wonderful change of pace. Don’t get me wrong, I have long enjoyed Criminal Minds, but it’s built to stimulate and almost luxuriate in its grisly murders. Mindhunter doesn’t do anything like that at all – in fact, you don’t see the body itself, only some parts through photographs. It’s a deeply human way to approach murder, almost respectful.
Until now, I haven’t mentioned the scenes in Kansas, but I’d like to now. At the beginning of several episodes now, a balding man is seen doing some everyday activity. In Episode 2, he’s running an office. In Episode 3, he’s getting into a van. In Episode 4, he’s in a house evaluating it for an alarm system. In Episode 5, he’s mailing a letter. I won’t spoil who it is, but if you know your true crime, you probably know who this is and if you know the story, you’re pretty intrigued as to why he’s being shown.
These scenes are clever because these are totally innocuous acts, but the show contrasts them with what your brain probably already knows and what your heart already feels – there’s something wrong here. Whoever this person is, he illuminates the people around us who do the same things we do, but something else lurks behind the facade. John Douglas, whom Holden Ford is based on, once estimated that between 25 and 50 serial killers are operating in the United States. Think about that. Now go outside. Dare ya.
Back in Quantico, Dr. Wendy Carr is getting ready to go back to Boston. While driving her to the airport, Holden tells her about the case. Though it’s disappointing that she only has one scene, and it’s to be Holden’s sounding board, Dr. Carr offers Holden valuable insight into the motivations of serial killers and says that it looks as if Beverly had two murderers. This is important, not only because it helps Bill and Holden crack the case, but also because we know far more about the dynamic between serial killing partners because of real pioneers like John Douglas, Robert Ressler, and Dr. Ann Wolbert Burgess. What this scene does is serve to show us what is to come: the research, the thinking, the process of understanding the different types of killers that are out there.
This episode makes meager progress into the Holden and Debbie relationship, which is a snoozefest. Debbie couldn’t pick up Holden and Bill last episode because she was busy. In this episode, we actually see her busy, writing a paper and once again, working as a sounding board for Holden’s case. You know what? This is fine. I’ve given up on these two kids. This episode focuses almost exclusively on Altoona and Beverly Jean’s murder, and does it well and I’m going to focus on the positives rather than the fact that Holden and Debbie are as interesting as Benjamin’s crappy life and as dead as Beverly Jean (too soon?).
For Episode 6, I want Bill and Holden on another case. I want Dr. Carr to hit the road with them so she can glean some insights for herself. I want Debbie to go get a personality and a new boyfriend, I want Bill to stop smoking (it’s a terrible habit), and I want to know whether Holden is actually a good guy. There are only four episodes left, so I hope there are answers.