When the first season of Mindhunter came out in 2017, it seemed to be a familiar stomping ground for David Fincher. Following a serial killer through the eyes of police officers sounds like some of the director’s most recognizable movies: Se7en, The Zodiac Killer. However, instead of trying to outright catch a killer, this show depicts the FBI coming to terms with the idea of serial killers existing. The story brings together three people of various talents interviewing convicted felons to try and understand how they think. As the season progressed, tension built to the point where the finale left me wanting more.
Mindhunter Season 2 picks up right after the first left off—with one of the main characters suffering from a panic attack after being hugged. This odd development introduces a shift in the three lead’s screen time. While Panic Attack takes a back seat, the other two members of the group have their roles expanded. They each get side stories that rival in interest to the main one, offering the audience other angles to explore the ideas being presented by the show. It’s within the first three episodes that your attention is officially kept hostage as you feel the need to see how it ends. By setting a limiter on the most active member of the group, adding more story to the show, and introducing a whole new scenario for the characters to deal with, everything is working to keep you hooked.
The rest of the show is good but doesn’t come close to those first three episodes. The worry for Panic Attack is continued by his peers but never comes up again. His condition is thrown by the wayside as screen time has become a precious commodity. It’s being taken up by competing storylines that get harder to balance as each one becomes more pressing. It feels like everything starts to drag as you want the resolution for every plot point. What’s crazy is that out of the three different branches, one is resolved, another is left for a cliff hanger, and the main narrative is unfulfilled—on purpose.
David Fincher did an interview when the first season of Mindhunter was debuting, where he said ‘I learned my lesson from Zodiac’. The lesson he’s talking about is not having a definitive ending, one that is in full effect by the end of season 2. There is no simple resolution, it robs you of the dissonance you are supposed to experience, leaving you empty. He uses that hole made by the show as a tool to replicate the feelings of characters, intrinsically passing that on to the viewer. It’s there to get you upset about shortcuts taken, the bureaucracy that limits progress, and a shame for the true events the show used as a basis.
What makes Mindhunter so captivating is its ability to strike the balance of drama and realism in an enthralling way. The heavy usage of real-world events, capturing the essence of people rather than an impersonation of them— it all comes together to keep you invested. It doesn't matter that the characters in the show never existed in real life, as their actions are derived from reality. There is a weight present that grounds the experience, leaving intrigue for what comes next. Even though this season has flaws, there is so much good to overcome it.