Mindhunter Season 2 Subtly Questions Racial Profiling 

Archita Kashyap - 56 weeks ago

David Fincher and the creative team make a statement while creating a quasi academic, gripping show.

(Jonathan Groff in a still from Mindhunter)

David Fincher comes full circle with his command over the sub-genre of serial killers in the second season of Mindhunter. Directed by Fincher, Andrew Dominik and Carl Franklin, this time, psychological research gets tested on the field, inadvertently showing an inherent racial mindset of law enforcement that lingers in America. 

Mindhunter takes material that could be extremely boring, indulges in its evolution through detailed conversations and discussions between FBI agents and a psychology expert to show the evolution of methodology that helps in catching and assessing criminals. As the series grows, it also shows the contradictions that theory can bring when put in practice, applying it to one of America’s most controversial serial killing cases that remains unsolved. The series highlights racial profiling that had roots in this process, underlining the potential of it’s misuse in future. 

As filmmaker, Fincher has shown his unapologetic fascination with the subject of a complex, twisted and efficient multiple murderer (the term preceding ‘serial killer’ in the US crime lexicon as per this show), in divergent and intriguing stories. With Seven, the criminal trumps a well intentioned detective with calculated villainy; in Zodiac, an unsolved crime involving multiple murderers in the 60s and 70s confounds journalists; and there’s Fight Club, about what possibly carries on inside the head of a split personality. 

(Jonathan Groff and Holt McCallany in a still from Mindhunter)

With Mindhunter, his indulgence and interest in serial killers completes a circle, focusing on its origin story in criminal psychology. Based on the book Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit written by John E Douglas and Mark Olshaker, the series is created by Joe Penhall. Fincher directs and is executive producer including a host of experienced TV veterans and Charlize Theron. With credentials that impress, Mindhunter takes off with the beginnings of a specialized division within the FBI that focuses on behavior patterns and personality profiles. The Behavioral Science Unit, with a dead pan, blank and super serious agent young Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff), the experienced Bill Tench (Holt McCallany) and an academic specialized in deviant behavior, Dr. Wendy Carr (Anna Torv) gradually start to put together methodology and assessment metrics by interviewing multiple murderers locked up in prison. 

In both seasons, Mindhunter gets off to a slow start. But just when one begins to wonder if it will be a bore, these lingering, verbose scenes begin to add up to the larger, arresting plot. Demarcations in approaches that it’s protagonists have, and their personal lives become background to practical application of their theories to an actual crime. The series picks up pace with multiple murders in a racially vitiated atmosphere. 

(Director David Fincher on the set of Mindhunter)

In the second season, the concrete research developed by the Behavioral Science Unit is put to test on the field. The site for this application is the controversial Atlanta Child Murders case of late Seventies and early Eighties that rocked the city. 27 children were abducted and killed and the case remains unsolved till date. The unit’s innovator, Holden Ford designs a profile based on cumulative research. A young black male is the sexual predator that is preying on adolescents and teenagers of African-American origin. Amidst a high-pressure massive investigation led by the city’s mostly White police, the FBI and helmed by this specialized unit that swears by psychological research, a Black community is fired up against age-old racial violence. Added to this potent mix is politics of both local and national levels. Together, these factors influence the investigation sufficiently. And the good intentions of the Behavioral Science Unit of the FBI get diluted. All that remains with this case are the origins of racial profiling, a controversial practice till date. 

In this season, Fincher directs the first 3 episodes setting pace in his typical style of gloomy colours and uncompromised, dialogue heavy settings. But the final episodes focused on the Atlanta child murders that become inconsequential to the high stakes game of local and national politics are it’s best part. Carl Franklin helms these episodes with tones of simmering anger, frustration and a sense of a task left incomplete. 

Another aspect that stands out in this season is the complex relationship that it’s chief protagonist, Agent Bill Tench and his wife Nancy have with their adopted son, Brian. When a crime is committed involving the reclusive child, their conflict and doubt have been captured beautifully, as have been the levels of ostracism within the family and in a suburban community. Is an FBI agent in charge of profiling and building methods to capturing serial killers, nurturing a disturbed, criminally prone child? This sub plot humanizes an otherwise straight-laced show. 

Mindhunter starts off where most police procedurals live - origins of criminal investigative procedure beyond forensics. Fincher and his team have created a benchmark on extended story telling without bending backwards for entertainment and thrill. It’s an acquired taste when you begin watching it, but once hooked on, it keeps you glued. Crime can go beyond thrill, and Fincher makes it almost academic to understand those who commit them, and deal with them. Despite that, Fincher and the creative team’s victory are in making it fun and gripping.


David Fincher / Netflix / Andrew Dominik / Carl Franklin / Seven / Fight Club/ Zodiac / Anna Torv / Jonathan Groff / Holt McCallany

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of The Film Hashery.

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