Mindhunter was released by Netflix in October 2017. Due to its popularity, a second season was revealed to be in the making shortly afterward. The main characters of Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) and Bill Tench (Holt McCallany) are, for many, what make the show so engaging. But for others, that’s not the case.
It’s a crime drama based on the book Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit which follows the work of a specialized government agency tasked with creating psychological profiles of serial killers and other violent criminals.
That subject matter is another cause of the show’s success. The audiences revel in the motives and reasoning of criminals who have committed acts that grate so much against our own sensitivities. Ford and Tench work almost exclusively with psychologist Wendy Carr (Anna Torv) to interview and build dossiers on incarcerated felons.
The series was created by Joe Penhall who is more widely known for his stage plays Blue/Orange and the award-winning West End musical Sunny Afternoon. Mindhunter is a step beyond what Penhall would mostly be concerned with, but it cannot be denied that he has brought to the screen something engaging.
However, some critics have argued that the show is not everything it purports. A few niggling whispers of public opinion are to be found on the internet, 15 of which we thought we would share with you.
15. The First Episode Is Boring
We’ve looked at the dialogue of the first episode and found it to be wanting. But for some, that wasn’t the only element that came across as boring. Episode 1 seems messy and not very well planned out, yet it isn’t a pilot, it’s the real deal. Neither is the show particularly attentive to detail (more on this later), but it does place us in the 1970s with relative ease. But that’s about it. We are left to fend for ourselves.
As one viewer said of the first episode: “Nothing really happens, a handful of good scenes are swallowed by glacial pacing, and there’s little to no indication of why the story begins at this time or in this place.” There is a sense that if we were to take a movie plot and stretch it as far as it would go until it snaps, we would be left with Mindhunter.
14. The First Season Ends Too Quickly
Some amateur critics have remarked that the season 1 finale finished unsatisfactorily. In their minds, such a sloppy end to the last episode foreshadowed a second season which may lack just as much. It wasn’t so much the ending of the episode that was poor, but the fact that most of the plotlines were untied even as the credits rolled. For a Netflix show, this seems par for the course, but it was nevertheless disappointing.
Another black mark against the show was Holden Ford’s collapse and psychological breakdown which to some seemed “hackneyed” and out of place for a character who, until then, had portrayed himself as solid. His mania comes just after his visit to serial killer Ed Kemper. We’ll look into that more later as to why the whole weird ambience was another hiccup in an otherwise excellent production.
13. The Acting Is Terrible
The acting left something to be desired, according to some. This meant that it was hard to warm to any of the characters (then again, perhaps we weren’t meant to). It also didn’t help that the dialogue was contrived in some places and sounded more like it was being spoken by amateur psychologists than the best criminal profilers the United States had to offer. It was stilted and made to sound more complicated than it should have been.
In some scenes, the acting was wooden and unrealistic, but so too was the plot (more on this later). One critic said Penhall, “might as well have had the characters reading off of a teleprompter.” It is worth asking how much Penhall considered the “between the lines” details of Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit when it came to his writing of the script.
12. Ford And Mitford’s Conversations Are Weak
Ford’s ongoing relationship with Deborah “Debbie” Mitford (played by Hannah Gross) is also a bone of contention. It never seems to go anywhere, and if it does (they break-up an awful lot), it returns back to where it was in a previous episode. That leaves no narrative arc and in effect, no interest for the viewer. To add to that disinterest in their love affair, Penhall has given Ford a nasty s*xist edge which for many is a big turn-off.
The conversations between the two are, most of the time, “weak and unendurable” according to some . Add to this what we have just spoken about in terms of a stunted script and you have an even less attractive offering. “Could you just be my girlfriend? Could you just listen?” he says in one episode. “You mean shut up and adore you?” “Well, you could try it. Once.”
11. In The Finale, Ford And Mitford’s Meeting Is Lacklustre
Mindhunter suffers also from stereotyping. Admittedly, in the time it was set (1977), putting someone in a pigeonhole for what they wore, said, or did was commonplace. But these days, when audiences crave originality, the show may have been better received had Penhall dispensed with the stereotypes and concentrated on revealing something about the characters that we hadn’t seen a thousand times before.
For instance, take the stereotypes of shows like Colombo and Starsksy and Hutch — big shows in the ’70s and ’80s thrived on audiences knowing what each character was going to be like within a moment of being introduced to them. And the same is evident in Mindhunter’s final episode when Ford meets with Georgia’s District Attorney who says (in a drawl that would’ve been the envy of Lucas Black in the 1996 film “Sling Blade”), “You’re in Georgia. Death is the will of the people”.
10. There’s No Plot
Here’s the biggest problem for most people — the lack of a plot. It would seem to some viewers that all we need to know to enjoy Mindhunter is the knowledge of its concept: “FBI agents in the late 1970s are setting up a new serial killer profiling unit within the FBI, and for that purpose travel around the US prison system to interview several serial killers to analyze them.” While there is no denying how good some production elements are, the weakness of the plot shines through.
One critic even liked the plotline to Scooby Doo. That’s understandable because in essence, the story is already laid out in the premise. The same person carried on by saying that even if we had missed the first eight episodes, it would not have taken too long into the ninth to catch up on everything that happened to Ford and his crew.
9. Ford’s Meeting With Ted Kemper Is Contrived
When Ford meets serial killer Ted Kemper, some feel the wrong approach was taken with the dialogue. Admittedly, Cameron Britton’s depiction of the notorious serial killer is at once disturbing, real, and frightening. The connection between Kemper and Ford grows believably with each description of his murderous routine.
But as the conversation in the last episode picks up, some viewers got a sense they were watching an interview with a supervillain. This change of direction from reality begins when Kemper shows Ford the scars he inflicted on himself when he tried to commit suicide. The dialogue begins to sound like something better suited to the Joker in one of the Batman movies with speeches including lines such as, “Do you wanna know how I got these scars?”
8. Ford’s Psychological Breakdown In The 9th Episode Is Clichéd
As mentioned, after Ford visits Kemper, he is hit by a sort of psychedelic mania which most fans of the show agree seemed completely out of place and unlikely. The use of a Led Zeppelin extract makes no difference to the action except to add even more of a sense of oddness to the scene.
Accompanying the music and the mania, Ford is greeted by images of his wrongdoings — people he has double-crossed, angered, or upset. The voices seem to spew forth trivial warnings and statements that make the moment seem almost laughable. What’s more, the effect of the whole thing with such an abrupt transition from what we have been used to (in the previous 8 episodes) is hard to adjust to. It seems more in keeping with a children’s animation or a comedy film in which the hero is met by the ghosts of his past.
7. Dennis Rader’s Presence In The Show Is Mystifying
Mindhunter is a “thinking” show. It’s a show for someone who wants to try to work out what’s happening, in the knowledge that they do in fact know what’s happening. And although in some films and TV shows cryptic appearances aid the viewer’s interest, the occasional cut-away to murderer Dennis Rader helps no-one. It would seem that showing Dennis Rader in action (he who murdered ten people in Sedgwick County, Kansas between 1974 and 1991) is a directorial quirk for no other reason than a creative one.
How does doing that help the viewer who, after all, is the one who’s paying their monthly subscription to watch a show like this? Answer: It doesn’t. We wonder if he is going to make a comeback in the second season.
6. The First Episode Had Clichéd Dialogue
The first episode was generally accepted for what it was: mediocre. But the first of anything is often below par until script editors have a feel for the characters and make changes to match their appearance on screen. One critic said the show’s first episode had “an absolutely ridiculous script” but that the direction was, in the end, its saving grace. True, once we ignore the petty and boring dialogue, we can appreciate the sterling work done behind the lens.
Clichéd dialogue is often a death sentence for a production, but its survival depends on how well everything else comes together. If it possesses a redeeming feature (such as direction), then we may just excuse it as being an off day for the scriptwriter. Mindhunter is well directed and its direction is sympathetic to the dark, sinister subjects of the FBI’s investigation. It works, but only just.
5. Ford’s Character Is A Common One
Too many shows have included a crime fighter who is themselves on the edge of the law. Mindhunter’s stereotypes come back into play here for Ford. Throughout the first season, his professional and personal lives begin to unravel and we sense that it is his connection or meetings with the criminals he is trying to profile that is causing this destruction. That’s all very well, but it has been seen in countless other productions.
It’s an unfortunate coincidence that the character upon which Ford was based on also inspired Hannibal’s Will Graham and The Silence of the Lambs’ Jack Crawford. But is this any excuse? Has the plateau of original thought really been reached by Penhall? For some, this ruined Ford’s strength of character, with one viewer admitting that, as a consequence, were “much more interested in the private lives of his colleagues.”
4. It Feels Diluted — More Like An Extended Film Than A TV Show
Let’s carry on with the movie metaphor. A TV series in nine parts is not a movie, nor can it be written as such. A movie has three distinct sections to it: a beginning, middle, and end, and at the end of each of those sections, there’s a cliff-hanger. A TV show has to have lots of cliff-hangers throughout, especially at the end of each episode. It also has to include quicker character development and plot movement.
Most viewers agreed that in the first two episodes of Mindhunter, the plot dragged because it was stretched too much. In essence, it was diluted and with its diluting came a lack of sharpness and direction. USA Today said, “The first two episodes feel almost deliberately incomplete, begging for something bigger to arrive.”The plot did arrive in the end, but as we have already seen, even that was meagre.
3. The Series Is Very Much A Boy’s Club
The character of Deborah “Debbie” Mitford, some think, is underused throughout the first season. It’s hard, though, when writing a screenplay based in an era when women’s dominance in high-profile roles is not what it is today. As a consequence, the lack of strong female characters driving the plot (what little there is) is noticeably lacking. One critic said of Mitford: “The narrative relegated her to the sidelines. The fact that she could make meaningful contributions to criminal profiling made it more disappointing that she rarely got the chance.”
In addition, Ford’s way of forging a connection to the killers he interviews is, at the very least, suspect. By donning the persona of a pedophile, he is able to coerce the killers into admissions about their attitudes and techniques. Some viewers felt that this also points to a perversion of his character.
2. The Show Isn’t Attentive To Detail
Producers may have made some effort to timestamp the drama with use of cars from the 1970s, but in all other respects, the show fails to bring to mind a true historic setting. The hair, wardrobe, and way of speech of men and women of that era are not properly hit on and as a result, the viewer has a diluted impression of the age.
Additionally, some viewers feel that Jonathan Groff (who plays Ford) is not right for the part of an FBI detective. As one commented on IMDb in 2017: “Holden Ford, is a straight-up bore: He’s too pretty to be a real agent and just smart enough to be annoying. His hostile, self-centered, know-it-all girlfriend, Debbie, is a classic example of the one- dimensional “strong woman” character written by script writers who probably don’t know any strong women.”
1. None Of The Characters Are Likeable
If you have ever tried to write a play or a film, you’ll know that you have to make your characters relatable. More importantly, you must make your main character likeable. Once again, it seems Joe Penhall has missed his subway stop with this. Some viewers feel the characters are lifeless and odd, and that isn’t just as individuals. One said, “The relationships between the characters are odd. Do the actors all hate each other? Or are their characters written this way?”
In addition to the painful dance being played out between Ford and Mitford, we have the relationship Ford endures with his co-workers, none of which seem to be very fond of him. That chemistry is too mystifying to be understood, forcing some to speculate that the writer has added subtext too murky to be worked out even if we watched it over.
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