The world has had a few months to let Mindhunter stew in their brains and Netflix has announced that the show will be back for a second season. But first, we have to watch the rest of this season.
Episode 9 is wonderful, not just in its simplicity, but in how its central theme of hubris resonates across all of the different plots. At the beginning of the series, Holden was wide-eyed and naive. It’s clear that Holden has been undergoing a metamorphosis. Through the killers he and Bill have been interviewing, he believes that he’s gained more knowledge and awareness of how to catch criminals. As he says to Dr. Carr, “this is no longer a theoretical exercise.”
But there’s a great price to pay. When Holden and Bill visit their next serial killer, Richard Speck, who killed seven student nurses in 1966, Holden tries to get Speck to loosen up. His use of a gendered slur during his improvisation crosses a line with Bill, who is bothered by his young colleague’s techniques and encourages him to redact the transcript.
This entire time, Holden has been acting like the star player of the football team, throwing around expertise and wisdom he hasn’t earned. He also refuses to take responsibility, which gets him into hot water twice. First, Speck lodges a complaint against Holden for his antagonistic interview style and Holden, Bill, and Gregg (the new team member) are dragged into the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility to clear the air. Unfortunately, Holden has become Icarus, flying closer and closer to the sun; the lies that Bill and Gregg tell and the secrets that Shepard and Dr. Carr have to keep places them all on his wings as passengers. The dam can’t sustain the pressure, and it breaks, setting up a confrontation for the last episode of the season.
The second time his hubris hurts him is when Mrs. Wade, wife of the child-tickler from Episode 8, confronts Holden at his apartment. Roger Wade has been fired, and he’s no longer allowed to work with kids. It’s all Holden’s fault. Even though child-tickling is legitimately weird and creepy behavior, Holden took that man’s livelihood into his own hands. He brazenly refuses to take responsibility for influencing the school board’s decision to fire Roger. The show sets up an interesting thought experiment. What will Roger do now? If Roger is innocent (weird, but innocent), then his life will be difficult as he tries to find new employment. If Roger is truly capable of escalating, as Holden suggested, then Holden himself becomes a trigger for this behavior. Is Holden responsible for what Roger might do? The show leaves that question hanging in our minds.
This confrontation is very well done. We only see Mrs. Wade at a distance. She hovers by the elevator the entire time she’s speaking, hitting the button several times to keep the elevator doors from closing. Holden is a little freaked out, and he should be – this woman has managed to find out where he lives. Mrs. Wade is the show’s conscience in this scene – she questions whether someone so young should have so much power over others. Roger Wade, whether or not he was ever going to escalate his extremely inappropriate behavior, is almost incidental. This scene, though it’s about Roger’s livelihood, is not about Roger at all. It’s about Holden and his hubris.
Jonathan Groff has become a formidable presence on Mindhunter. He’s surrounded by great actors who really embody their roles (especially Cameron Britton as Ed Kemper); Holden could have been the least interesting character and lost in the shuffle. But, Groff really anchors his arc with a deft awareness of what tone is required from scene to scene. With Debbie he’s aloof, with the serial killers he’s electric. With Bill, he’s like a kid who wants his big brother to think he’s cool. I’ve really enjoyed this show so far, and a lot of that has to do with Groff.
What does get lost in the shuffle, just a little, is the Richard Speck interview. The interview is used as a setup for inter-office conflict, but should really be examined by itself for being a riveting scene. Jack Erdie plays Speck like a tornado of emotions, all anger and hate. Speck is only in one episode, but I hope the show finds room to bring him and Rissell back for next season.
We’re almost done with the season, so I’d like for the show to wrap up a few things. Where exactly are Holden and Debbie going? They’re not doing too well as a couple. What happened to the stray cat that was in Dr. Carr’s apartment building? Is there a serial killer in her midst? What about Bill and his son? I’d like to know if Bill is any better at reaching him.