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« In Which We Have A Long Way To Go In The FBI »

The Whiz


creators Joe Penhall and David Fincher

Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff), the mercurial protagonist of Netflix's Mindhunter, returns home from a long day of hostage negotiating, and he sits alone in his apartment. In that disturbing space, he has no books or television, and every other aspect of the interior design is a cross between Patrick Bateman and Teresa Giudice. This is a fellow who is not quite right.

The next evening Holden goes out and meets a very masculine woman, a sociology graduate student at the University of Virginia named Debbie (Hannah Gross). After coitus Holden asks Debbie why she is with him. “You’re smart,” she says, the biggest kiss of death there is. Holden is not much bothered by his new girlfriend’s apathy towards their burgeoning relationship, because there has never been a more transparent homosexual in the history of television.

The fact that Jonathan Groff broadcasts his gayness in every line reading he gives perhaps should have tipped off David Fincher and British playwright Joe Penhall that the hours they spend trying to make Groff come off straight are a waste of time. In one particularly graphic sex scene, Holden has Debbie pinned in such a position that it would be virtually impossible for their genitals to actually be touching.

Casting a magnificent gay actor as a straight FBI agent is a gag, and Mindhunter has plenty of them. Fincher has wanted to develop the more parodic elements of serial killing in a number of films: Seven and Zodiac both contained humor on this topic. I blame Silence of the Lambs for this trend; although I doubt Jonathan Demme was aware Hannibal Lecter would become a parody of himself.

With his partner Bill Tench (Holt McCallany), Holden performs a series of powerpoint presentations on the somewhat dull topic of what drives people to do evil things. Since forensic evidence eventually rendered criminal psychology into a background discipline, the only thing even vaguely interesting about the academic side of Mindhunter is Holden himself.

Others have argued that Holden is destined to become a serial killer in season 2 of Mindhunter, which does not necessarily seem farfetched since all his friends are murderers. One positive tendency of this modern age has been less glorification of killers themselves. We no longer see any novelty or intrinsic interest in the killing act. To hear the details of a murder, one need only turn on the endless reruns of NCIS or CSI. It’s unclear to me what Mindhunter really offers that is new in this vein, if it is not the story of how an FBI profiler became an evil man.

The only aspects of Mindhunter worth viewing are certainly not the dreary scripts – it is the performances and the sets, which bring to life a small corner of the world at the end of the 1970s as if it were a location and time period that makes an intrinsic sense that our own does not.

Ethan Peterson is the reviews editor of This Recording.

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