On Friday, August 16, Netflix released all 9 episodes of Mindhunter’s second season and David Fincher’s dark and twisted tale of two FBI agents chasing serial killers has wasted absolutely no time. It’s back and it looks better than ever.
First, let’s recap the first season.
Agents Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) and Bill Tench (Holt McCallany) pair up to form the Behavioral Science Unit at the FBI to interview and study serial murderers in prison.
To conduct their research they team up with Dr. Wendy Carr (Anna Torv), a professor who specializes in studying criminal behavior. Together, they establish a protocol for their interviews with Richard Speck (Jack Erdie), Ed Kemper (Cameron Britton), Montie Rissell (Sam Strike), and Jerry Brudos (Happy Anderson).
Meanwhile, Ford starts dating Debbie, a psychology grad student, and Bill feels disconnected from his quiet son, wondering whether he should be concerned about his behavior. Wendy ended a relationship to move to Virginia, and is increasingly compartmentalizing between her personal life and her professional life, where her colleagues don’t know she’s a lesbian.
We also get glimpses of a mysterious man engaging in a variety of activities like going to work as a security salesman of some kind and burning photographs and drawings. Keen viewers knew this was Dennis Rader, aka the BTK Killer, who killed 10 people from the 1970s to the 1990s. In the last few episodes of the season, Ford makes a horrifically crass comment to Richard Speck about his crimes against women and Bill is alarmed enough that he tells Ford to alter the tape and remove his comment. The unaltered version of the tape finds its way to the Office of Professional Responsibility, which hauls in Ford for his behavior. Stressed from his interview with OPR, Ford then arrives in Vacaville to visit Ed Kemper, who has lured him there by injuring himself. Kemper manages to lay hands on Ford, attempting to hug him. This creates an intense psychological and physiological collapse and after Ford leaves the room, he’s on the floor, terrified and alone, struggling to breathe.
Are you ready for season two now?
Season two picks up right after season one. Everyone is stressed out about OPR and it seems the Behavioral Science Unit is in jeopardy, Assistant Director Shepard is retiring, and Bill has no idea where Ford is, since the younger agent never told anyone he went to Vacaville to see Ed Kemper. He finds out soon enough, as Ford calls him from the California Medical Facility at Vacaville. When Bill arrives, we all get the diagnosis: Ford had several massive panic attacks and needs to regulate his stress to keep his panic disorder from getting worse. The doctor quips that he’s the first patient to leave his care in 25 years.
The new director, Ted Gunn, seems to be ambitious and believes in the Behavioral Science Unit’s work so much he wants to expand their office space and get them more support in the way of computers, transcribers, and other staff, but Bill’s wary at how much stock he’s placed in Ford’s instinct. Gunn credits the team with helping to catch Darrell Gene Devier, who murdered 12-year-old Mary Frances Stoner in 1979. Bill knows that his instinct and his penchant for relying almost exclusively on it is what got Ford into trouble before and he wants to both protect his partner and his job. Shepard was both an ally and an adversary, and as we find out in this episode, his retirement is anything but voluntary. Ford’s OPR investigation has cost one man the final years of his career. Ford, so naive and unaware of how his actions have hurt others, tries to congratulate the man. He storms off and when he and Ford face off, Ford begins to feel another panic attack.
Another person whose actions have hurt others? Greg Smith, the guy they hired to help with their work. Overcome by a sense of duty and conscience, Greg was the one who sent the unaltered Richard Speck tape to OPR. Ford calls him out on it and it creates a rift on the team. Wendy understands why he needed to tell the truth but the fact that he went against the agreed-upon alteration means he no longer has her trust. For Bill, it’s a transgression too great. He won’t advocate for Greg to be removed from the team, but Greg violated the trust of another FBI agent which is tantamount to treason.
In this episode, Wendy lays the groundwork for several upcoming interviews. There’s William Henry Hance, a black serial killer and the first they’ve encountered, and William Junior Pierce, who murdered nine people after serving a prison sentence for robbery, arson, and a litany of other crimes. Wendy also spots a pretty bartender at the dive that she and Ford go to so the agent can ask Wendy about his panic disorder. Bill also gets a case of his own to dive into. A fellow agent drops off case files that have the police stumped; a killer out of Kansas City (ohh my) who has been taunting the police with letters.
So far, this season is leaner. Debbie and Ford broke up in the first season (thank goodness) and the B-story has shifted away from Ford’s personal life to Bill’s. Nancy wants them to be social with their church friends, not only because one of them may be selling a home and could use Nancy’s real estate expertise, but also because – perhaps unlike Bill – Nancy wants to make a life with these people. She wants a support system, possibly one she isn’t getting from Bill, who works long hours, and Brian, her emotionally distant son. Stacy Roca, in Nancy’s severe perm, adds genuine pathos to her role of supportive spouse and part-time. Nancy also functions as a contrast to the black mothers in Atlanta we’ll meet in this season. In the 1970s, adults were still experiencing the post-World War II economic boom. People wanted to move upward, keep up with their yards and their homes, have a nice car and that charmed suburban life. As we know, this boom and its subsequent mobility were at the expense of black people. The American dream has never been available to everyone. The way the show very, very subtly contrasts Nancy and her friends, all white women, with the black mothers of Atlanta, asks audiences to think about how starkly different life was for two races during a time of upheaval and controversy.
This season also sets up an interesting dynamic that is an escalation from the first season. Greg’s still inside but no one trusts him. Wendy is potentially embarking on a new relationship, but without the ability to live as openly as a lesbian like she had in Boston. Bill wants to connect with his son but it’s not clear how he can do that. Ford is too cocky for his own good. He doesn’t see the pitfalls with being the golden child, namely that being expected to make the right conclusions and decisions means you are suddenly responsible for promises you can’t keep.
What else happened this episode?
I’m adding this section to cover the bits I just couldn’t get to in-depth.
So this week, we get another view (More detailed! More disturbing!) of our mysterious ADT alarm employee, who we know for sure is Dennis Rader, aka the BTK killer. Anyone who missed it last year has had more than enough time to follow the breadcrumbs. We see BTK in the bathroom, engaged in some… let’s just say, personal behavior. He’s tied his neck to a rope and the other end of the rope to a door. He’s wearing this white mask of a woman’s face. He’s in his underwear. “Don’t be scared! I was just goofin’ around!” Our man finally speaks.
His wife catches him and runs out of the house, horrified. It’s a scene that subverts some expectations for sure, because I’m sure many people expected a young woman tied up in that bathroom. Those of us who know the BTK case know that wouldn’t be the case, so it was weird and surprising and creepy to see the man himself there.
Another thing I want to note is the continued hilarity of Bill Tench using things that are too small for him to use. In this episode, it’s the tiny cups on the plane.