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Mindhunter is overrated artsy psychobabble designed to impress the pseudo-intellectual




When reviews came in for Mindhunter, the Netflix crime drama set in the 1970s, I was extremely excited. I’ve been impressed with pretty much everything Netflix has put out (my favorites have been Stranger Things and Longmire), and as a lover of crime dramas I had high expectations following the rave reviews.

I was disappointed. There’s not much here other than an interesting premise.

No spoilers, but the premise surrounds a small team of FBI agents and a consultant who are compiling data by interviewing serial killers. The start is brilliant and edgy. The character development is creepy but enthralling. The technical aspects like cinematography and editing are spot-on.

What’s the problem? It has no true drive. It’s artsy without the art. It’s suspenseful without the anxiety. It confuses criminality with motivations and leaves the viewer wandering around waiting for the real juice to boil over. Then, it never does.

I can understand why it’s so nicely reviewed. It’s attractive from many angles, but there seems to be confusion over how to piece it together properly and build up the suspense without getting too cheesy. They avoid the cheese so well that there’s not enough suspense. Because they err on the side of caution, reviewers find very little to dislike. What they don’t realize is that they don’t find much to like, either, other than the grimy feeling it leaves on our psyches after the season ends.

Perhaps the best way to explain it is through art itself. It’s easy to duplicate the style of Jackson Pollock and most people couldn’t tell the difference between a Pollock and a junior high art project. That’s what we have here. It has the components but refuses to deliver the payoff. They are moving through slowly to prolong the series, but this should have been made with the intention of two or three seasons, max. Instead, they’re setting it up for the standard five+ seasons that make it financially prime.

I’d love to have seen it designed to be shorter. Then, they would have been forced to pack more into it rather than focus on too many nuances.

Okay, one minor spoiler just to give you an example. To develop one character, the put a cat in her laundry room. We never see the cat. But we hear it (it’s apparently a kitten) and we have evidence that it’s there because the tuna can she leaves it every night is empty the next morning. One morning, she goes down and finds bugs in the full can.

That’s it. This is character development designed to express her loneliness. It’s creepy because it’s in a dimly lit public laundry room. There’s suspense because we want to know if there’s anything to the kitten story, whether it has something to do with the cat itself or if her nightly trip is being monitored by a dangerous element. So far, there’s nothing. After one season, there was just a cat that she fed a few times.

Don’t get me wrong. There are some amazing scenes in this show. The elevator scene from the image above was nothing short of outstanding.

Perhaps I’m the pseudo-intellectual who just doesn’t get it. Maybe the critics are all at the right level and I’m just too dull to grasp what the emperor really does have clothes. After season 1, I’m sticking with my perspective.

+Jesseb Shiloh is not-so-new to blogging. He enjoys things that most don't and doesn't mind and occasional nap. And he's never ambiguous nor contradictory most of the time. Find him on Twitter.

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  1. Norman Doyle

    February 1, 2018 at 5:32 pm

    If anything, Mindhunter is fodder for the crowd of ID, Oxygen and TruTv “re-enactment crime” shows. Most of those are cheap, gratuitous, exploitative trash that either place a no-name pseud above the title or the killer as a kind of mythologized figure.

    The latter is the main problem with Mindhunter. Rather than strip away the mystique around a group of people that has been romanticized ever since Douglas and Ressler identified them AS a group, the program adds another layer of ‘boogeyman’, re-igniting a fire around people who were sliding away from the public consciousness.

  2. Monday Loner

    February 10, 2018 at 3:22 am

    Many years ago I read an interview with writer James Ellroy, can’t remember where. Discussing his appreciation for Thomas Harris’s Red Dragon, Ellroy indicated that fictionalizing serial killers and the people who hunt them was a literary cul-de-sac, so to speak. Harris had hit the mark so well, according to Ellroy, that the sub-genre of serial murderer in crime fiction was perfected, therefore played, so he turned his attention to the filthy underbelly of post-WW2 LA.

    Ellroy’s Black Dahlia shares an aspect with Joe Penhall’s Mindhunter: real victims, fictitious investigators. Of course, Mindhunter has real killers too, which sadly, from a non-fiction standpoint, The Black Dahlia does not have.

    But there I think the similarities end. It may be that in the late teens of the 21st Century, with serial killers (or their body counts, at least) on the decline, a new dramatic light could be shone on the crimes in the last third of the 20th.

    Unfortunately, Mindhunter fails in this regard. Instead of a more clinical, detached approach, Penhall, David Fincher etc. have reclined in the perverse romance and mythology around serial murderers, with the killers as stars. All Mindhunter does is remind us that the victims are footnotes. I’ve started to notice once again the comments from people who call themselves fans of murderers, which I just don’t understand. Moreover, these people look at depictions of Ed Kemper and Richard Speck as uncannily accurate, when nothing could be further from the truth.

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