Two years after an acclaimed and brilliant debut, Netflix released a second season of the psychological thriller series “Mindhunter” to a fraction of the success. While some episodes, particularly the opening three, retain some of the same tense magic of season one, and the performances are likewise stellar, the series increasingly leans on the talents of its cast, particularly Jonathan Groff, as the storylines become less engaging and the plot slows.
The show picks up where season one left off, with FBI agents Holden Ford (Groff), Bill Tench (Holt McCallany), and Professor Wendy Carr (Anna Torv) researching and constructing psychological profiles of serial killers through interviews. Season two introduces a new boss for the principals, Michael Cerveris’s Ted Gunn to replace Cotter Smith’s Robert Shepard, and increased Agents Gregg Smith (Joe Tuttle) and Jim Barney (Albert Jones) from recurring to principal.
Season one was nothing short of exceptional. Strong writing, excellent performances, deliberate pacing, and a chilling atmosphere made the series one of the best things in 2017, thanks in no small part to executive producer David Fincher, who directed the first two and final two episodes. In the sophomore season, Fincher helms the opening three episodes, before handing the reins to Andrew Dominik and Carl Franklin.
While both are capable directors, neither have Fincher’s talent or specificity. Fincher can imbue even the most mundane moments with excitement, awe, tension, or importance, evident across his impressive filmography, including exceptional films such as “The Social Network,” “Se7en,” “Fight Club,” and “Zodiac.” In the hands of lesser directors, the series is drowned under the oppressive weight of its formerly methodical slowness.
Similar to season one, too many subplots in season three drag down the narrative. The show is at its best when following Holden and Bill working cases and interviewing killers. However, the focus is split in far too many directions, messily meandering through frustrating filler without much in the way of resolution.
Holden and Bill are able to interview only a handful of killers, with Gregg and Wendy doing a number of interviews. The magic of Holden’s instinct for empathizing and understanding these killers is lost in Wendy’s less successful attempts.
Far too much time was spent on the personal lives of Bill and Wendy in this season as well. Just as Holden’s annoying girlfriend was a detriment to the debut, this season must contend with both Wendy’s developing personal life and Bill’s increasingly fraught home life. A plot involving Bill’s son drags on for nearly the entire season, calling the action to a halt every time he is there.
Tragically, Wendy felt superfluous this season. Despite Torv’s excellent performance and Wendy serving as a major character, none of her storylines connected to the main plots in any meaningful capacity, save for augmenting her character development.
On a more character and relationship-driven show, these scenes could feel poignant and exciting. However, when the A-plot details a complicated search for missing children, navigating clever killers, bureaucratic hoops, and ever changing MOs, Wendy’s troubled love life becomes less compelling. Should the series be renewed for a third season, I hope the writers know better how to include Wendy in as important and interesting narratives as the character deserves.
One aspect that remains steady throughout the season is the excellent performances. Torv and McCallany remain strong presences despite uninspiring subplots, and Cerveris, Tuttle, and Jones round out the ensemble nicely, fitting well into the cast.
The standout of the series continues to be Groff as Holden. His presence on screen is captivating. His dedication to every moment draws the audience further into the world. The chemistry between Torv, McCallany, and Groff is as palpable as in previous seasons, but their reduced time together is a strain on the series.
Further, it was frustrating to witness the reduced presence of Ed Kemper (Cameron Britton). While several killers were featured in both seasons, Kemper stood out through his series of interviews. Britton’s fantastic performance and chemistry with Groff made the Coed Killer one of the highlights of season one.
While it is understandable that the team would need to focus on interviewing other killers, who interesting additions, particularly Charles Manson (Damon Herriman, who also played the role in 2019’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”). Nonetheless, none had close to the same impact as Kemper, whose presence was sorely missed this season.
I’m not sure if “Mindhunter” will or even should get a third season. With the uncertainty at Netflix surrounding the release of Disney+, a strong third season could be a compelling draw for the streaming service. If the show does get renewed, however, it hopefully will rest on its strengths: the fascinating characters, excellent actors, and Fincher’s direction.