Episode 2 of Mindhunter features the debut of Cameron Britton as Ed Kemper, who killed several women plus his mother and grandparents, and engaged in necrophilia. It’s clear that Britton studied interviews with the real Kemper. Not only does he look just like Kemper, he also has the height and size to play the 6’9” killer. He towers over the guards who control his waking hours. He also sounds almost exactly like the real Kemper. When he meets Holden, he asks “do you want a sandwich?” Holden refuses but Kemper won’t let it go. He keeps asking what he wants to eat until he gets the prison kitchen to make them both egg salad sandwiches.
To me, this introduction wasn’t just to show Kemper’s attitude towards prison (he’s been at the California Medical Facility for 7 years). Given all the recent allegations about Harvey Weinstein committing serial sexual assault, Kemper’s power move reminds me of occasions in my life when powerful men insisted on something, whether it was a drink, an answer I didn’t have, or something else. Men like Kemper have a gravity to them; they know what they want and they will take it, whether you’re an FBI agent or a young woman.
In this episode, a few recurring themes emerge. One of them is identity. In one scene, Bill asks Holden where he’s from. Holden says, “I was born in New York…but it’s a mixed bag.” It’s the second time a character has asked Holden about his origins, and echoes one of the themes of the show itself, which is that we shape our own identity and we may never truly be able to decipher how our environments shape our behavior until we make a choice – perhaps to kill.
Another theme is power. In the first episode, Holden thinks that going to class will help give him authority for psychology, which he thinks is a real tool for criminal investigations. In the second episode, after two sessions with Kemper he’s emboldened with newfound knowledge. Bill warns him that Kemper may be manipulating him and asks, “now suddenly, you have all these unimpeachable instincts?” Holden’s arc here seems to be finding personal power, which pays off when he pushes their boss at the FBI to allow them to continue interviewing serial killers. Kemper has power over Holden, who needs validation that these theories in his head are leading him to real insights into the criminal mind.
This episode is a huge improvement from the first episode. The pace picks up significantly, and the scenes with Kemper are mesmerizing. The episode also has a sense of humor, with a hilarious montage that shows Holden and Bill hitting the road (or the airport), checking into motel after motel, eating plate after plate of diner food. Bill trying to use the world’s tiniest travel toothbrush made me laugh. At this point, it isn’t serial killers you need to be afraid of; it’s the fact that 1970s rental cars don’t have seatbelts, and you’re allowed to smoke on airplanes!
Another funny moment comes when Holden and Bill pack up their boxes and relocate to the basement of the FBI to continue their work, which now includes interviewing serial killers. It also gives our heroes a place where they, like future agents Mulder and Scully, would be able to seek the disturbed, undisturbed. “Nobody down here but the FBI’s most unwanted,” as Mulder once said.
This episode was also shot impeccably, thanks again to David Fincher, and the dialogue is a vast improvement. It’s begun to settle into something more natural and meant for the screen. Groff seems to find his groove when he and Ed are shooting the breeze and Holden is talking about his relationship with Debbie.
Speaking of Debbie, I was pretty tolerant of the time she spent naked in the first episode, but by now it’s too much. She needs to be a deeper character than Holden’s girlfriend (who is almost always just shown naked) or sounding board for his fascination with Kemper. This is on my wishlist for the next episode, which also gives us the debut of Anna Torv as Dr. Wendy Carr. Besides a better arc for Debbie, I’d also like for our intrepid agents to keep investigating local cases like the one in this episode, since that was easily one of the highlights after the visits to see Ed Kemper. I’d also welcome more moments like Holden coming close to coining the term “serial killer” – fun moments like that, where a viewer can almost feel like they’re witnessing history, are a small way of making the show feel cinematic.