A Nervous Dad Tries to Enjoy ‘Mindhunter: Season 2’
Watching films and television shows that depict children in situations where adults hurt or kill them has always shaken me. And naturally so. You’d have to be a real twisted individual to watch such true horrors for kicks. This goes back to my elementary school days, seeing a young Justin Henry fall off the monkey bars and slice his head open in Kramer vs. Kramer, not to mention Mommie Dearest and the wire-hanger scene. Poor Christina.
But since I’ve become a parent, it’s damn near traumatizing to watch a film where a child dies. Despite all the lascivious fun of last year’s Motley Crue biopic The Dirt, those scenes with Vince Neil’s daughter Skylar are flooring. Forget about the first Mad Max, and Pet Sematary. In fact, I recently watched The Shining for the first time since my son was born, and my new takeaway from the film is how shitty Jack and Wendy Torrance were as parents even before the cabin fever set in (though to be honest the awful trailer for the upcoming Doctor Sleep makes me far more scared for poor Danny Torrance than an axe-wielding dad ever could).
So when I learned that the second season of the supreme Netflix historical crime series Mindhunter would focus on the Atlanta Child Murders of 1981, I knew I was bound to go down a dark road with this show. However, with executive producer David Fincher channeling such sensitive fare, I had to succumb to the unknown, out of respect to the man who brought us Fight Club.
The First Rule Of Mindhunter
The violence against children in Mindhunter doesn’t define the arc of the show. Fincher and his crew refuse to allow that to define what this series is all about. Instead, he uses the atrocities to paint a larger picture that speaks to the societal ills brewing underneath the Atlanta Child Murders.
Like in Zodiac, my favorite Fincher film, his work in Mindhunter very much transports you to the time in which the second season takes place. And though he only directed the first three episodes himself, you can feel his watermark the whole season. Only a freak like me would quibble with such slight discrepancies in era accuracy, like having the agents record their interviews with a Maxell XL-II cassette that didn’t appear on the market until the late 80s. But the writing in these nine new episodes pulls you in despite such circumstantial foibles, beginning with updates of the team helming the FBI’s first Behavioral Science Unit.
Special Agent Holden Ford, brilliantly played by former Glee actor Jonathan Groff, struggles to get back into the rhythm of performing his duties profiling America’s most notorious serial killers after a harrowing run-in with Ed Kemper the Co-Ed Killer at the end of season one. Meanwhile, his partner Special Agent Bill Tench, portrayed by master character actor Holt McCallany, spends the majority of these nine episodes split between his duties at the FBI and a disturbing situation at home involving his adopted son and the death of a neighborhood toddler. The team’s anchor remains psychologist Dr. Wendy Carr, played with sharpness and grace by Australian actress Anna Torv, left to pick up the slack while continuing to find more outward comfort in her burgeoning sexuality through a relationship with a bartender played by Lauren Glazier, who also appeared in Fincher’s Gone Girl.
The season’s showy centerpieces involve Ford and Tench grilling Son of Sam and Charles Manson (played impeccably by Australian actor Damon Herriman, who also portrayed the infamous Svengali in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood). But Fincher and his team of visionaries, which also includes show creator Joe Penhall and Charlize Theron, look beyond the gratuity of America’s strange fascination with serial killers in order to pierce the heart of the kind of institutional racism that has mired the criminal justice system in the last 40 years. It’s jarring to witness the way the authorities handled Atlanta Child Murders, because it was a black serial killer hunting down black children. June Carryl, as one of the grieving mothers whose son was taken from her far too soon, impeccably captures the rage and frustration of a city.
In that sense, Mindhunter shares a modicum of open-ended dread with another brilliant Netflix series, Orange Is The New Black. It doesn’t offer any aspect of promise that the system will fully reform from the distasteful doings of the race-baiting, fear-mongering minority running this country. One can only wonder if the endgame of this exceptional second season will resonate enough with its viewers to inspire some of them to take action once they stop streaming.
Moments on Mindhunter are jarring to an easily shockable parent, especially with respect to the subplot involving the Tench family, who suffer a tragedy no family should have to endure. But whether it’s the (possibly) accidental death of a white toddler in the suburbs, or the murders of nearly 28 young men and boys in the ghettos of Atlanta, this exceptional series forces us to accept the duality of these tragic situations with equal levels of sorrow and fury.