I’ve recently finished working my way through The Vietnam War, Ken Burns’s 10-part documentary that tells the story of that disastrous conflict in mesmerising fashion.
After finishing a series as overwhelming as that one, it’s easy to sink back into the sofa and feel a little bereft. What on earth do you watch next to follow up something so transfixing? Luckily, the new series of Curb Your Enthusiasm has been the best for a while and has kept me very happy indeed, as has the unsurprisingly superb Blue Planet II. Yet, with only weekly doses of those shows on offer, I needed something else to fill the Nam-shaped hole in my life: a series I could watch on demand and truly get stuck into.
Many thanks, then, to Netflix for Mindhunter, which was released on the streaming service back in October, and which I’ve only just caught up with. This crime drama (another 10-parter) is the work of David Fincher, best known for directing Seven and Fight Club. It was inspired by the memoir Mind Hunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit, written by former FBI agent John Douglas with the assistance of writer Mark Olshaker. The book details Douglas’s time with the bureau’s behavioural science unit and his development of criminal profiling techniques that would, for the first time, give law enforcement officers a serious means of assessing what makes serial killers tick and how to track them. Fincher’s series puts a couple of fictional agents in Douglas’s stead, Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) and Bill Tench (Holt McCallany). They travel across America teaching FBI methods to small-town police forces and interviewing notorious serial killers along the way, as their trailblazing theories take shape.
This is classy, thoughtful television: a crime series in which the female characters more than hold their own and complex ideas about psychopathy and psychology unfold slowly but surely amid more familiar tropes of the police procedural (the buddy cop partnership of Tench and Ford, the obstructive top brass, the grisly crime scene photos).
Fincher’s Zodiac, another true crime story, is his movie masterpiece. Mindhunter isn’t too far behind.
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