The Daily Stream: Mindhunter Is A Pristine, Pitch-Black Study In Obsession

(Welcome to The Daily Stream, an ongoing series in which the /Film team shares what they've been watching, why it's worth checking out, and where you can stream it.)

The Series: "Mindhunter"

Where You Can Stream It: Netflix

The Pitch: "Mindhunter" is a gorgeous slow-burn psychological thriller with a pitch-black heart. The series follows FBI profiler Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff), an overconfident young agent who all but invents the field of criminal profiling in the 1970s. Ford's character is inspired by John E. Douglas, whose book forms the basis for the series. Holden has an unnerving scientific curiosity about criminal behavioral patterns that leads him down the darkest of rabbit holes. He and his team, which includes old school agent Bill Tench (Holt McCallany) and psychologist Wendy Carr (Anna Torv), find themselves chatting with the sickest serial killers in America on a quest to better understand, and ultimately prevent, violent crime. As the series unfolds, their immersion in such bleak work has unexpected consequences for their own minds and relationships, not to mention the field of criminal investigation as a whole.

Why it's essential viewing

Though "Mindhunter" was created by Joe Penhall, it's often credited as a David Fincher joint — with good reason. The "Zodiac" filmmaker directs seven of the show's 19 episodes, and his pristine, perfectionist vision is all over the series. Every second of "Mindhunter" looks sharp, and the series is soaked in Fincher's signature olive tones, with fantastic cinematography and unparalleled editing. Every flawless bit of filmmaking works to heighten the dangerous obsession that drives both the team and the killers they hunt. "Mindhunter" pulls off an incredible slight of hand, managing to strike fear in the hearts of viewers without ever showing a murder. Instead, we hear them described in great, shudder-inducing detail by some of the most talented actors working today.

The show's first season focuses on Ed Kemper, the real-life necrophiliac who killed eight people, including his own mother. Kemper is played here by Cameron Britton, and the actor imbues him with a near-hypnotic freakiness that's impossible to look away from. By the end of the deliberately paced first season, Kemper has slipped his fingers inside Holden's own mind, to deliciously terrifying effect. When he becomes a lesser presence in season two, the show's twisted ethos has corrupted our expectations so much that it's almost sad to see him go. The second season is as taut as the first, though, with an overarching plot about the Atlanta child murders that shines a light on the weaknesses in Holden's research. It also introduces the BTK Killer, shown in deeply unsettling clips that keep him hovering around the edges of the show like a boogeyman. As if that's not enough, Charles Manson also shows up, portrayed with jarring accuracy by Damon Herriman.

"Mindhunter" is undoubtedly for fans of true crime, but it's less interested in sensationalizing the brutality at its core than it is in figuring out the price of letting this stuff into our heads in the first place. The profilers who inspired the series did the work that led to the public knowing — and becoming fixated with — the grisly details of noteworthy crimes, basically creating the craving the modern craving for true crime content as we know. 

Fincher and Penhall clearly still have plenty of narrative and ethical avenues left to explore, but for now, the show's future seems to be in limbo. Regardless, the masterful two seasons we do have on Netflix are more than capable of pulling any unsuspecting viewer who clicks "play" into their dark, near-perfect orbit.