Mind Hunter and Mindhunters: A Review of the Netflix Series

Mind Hunter and Mindhunters: A Review of the Netflix Series

A few weeks ago, I was wandering around Barnes and Noble looking for some true crime books to read (I’ve been on a kick with this genre lately). I picked up a book on Jack the Ripper (a mind-shattering puzzle of a case that continues to fascinate me) and went to check out. The store cashier (also a true crime fanatic), asked me if I had read the book Mind Hunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit. I had not. He proceeded to tell me about the book, and he also informed me of the new Netflix series called Mindhunters (without the space) that is based on the book, urging me to give both a try. Barnes and Noble, as well as Netflix, owe this guy a commission, for I am sold on both.

Mind Hunter is a compelling look at the career of John Douglas, the man who is essentially responsible for the advancement in law enforcement procedures that are used to profile serial criminals, narrow down the suspects, and put these deranged criminals away for (hopefully) life. Douglas and his FBI colleagues traveled the country over interviewing incarcerated serial killers and serial rapists, using the information they gleaned from the experience to create a system for pinpointing how certain criminal personality types will behave in certain situations and using that to anticipate their next move, hopefully capturing them before they can strike again. Among the people and the cases Douglas discusses are Ed Kemper, Richard Speck, Charles Manson, The Green River Killer, The Atlanta Child Murders, and many, many others. Through his diligence and relentless puzzle-solving, Douglas managed to help law enforcement solve myriad crimes and to stop myriad others before they could happen. The book was hard to put down, but episodic enough that you could if you had to. Still, as each case unfolds, the reader is constantly in awe at how much Douglas juggled and still managed to push for the changes in the FBI that resulted in the effective evolution of its Serial Crime Unit. You may finish reading about one case, but Douglas has already started working on another and you find yourself staying up late to see how (or if) it resolves.

Having enjoyed the book as much as I did (is it right to say you enjoyed a book on serial crime?), I was intrigued to see what Netflix would do with the book as a television series (besides remove the space in the title, that is). Mindhunters is surprisingly true to Mind Hunter, with the one major difference being that John Douglas is not a character in the story, but has a stand-in in the guise of Holden Ford, played to quirky perfection by Jonathan Groff. The cases and stories in the book are mostly there (in some variation) and I many ways, the series does a better job than the book at drawing parallels between the cases themselves and how the criminal profiling system emerges. Holden is socially awkward and a bit aloof, but Groff (and the writers) also paint him as charming and driven. Giving Groff ample support is Holt McCallany as his FBI cohort Bill Tench, a gruff but loveable mentor for Holden who is struggling as a father to a child who is detached and who keeps him at a distance. Anna Torv portrays Wendy Carr, an icy college professor who comes on board to help Holden and Bill begin to structure how they conduct their interviews and use the data in a meaningful way. Hannah Gross plays Holden’s sexy and spirited girlfriend Debbie.

 Jonathan Groff

Jonathan Groff

Though the series takes about an episode-and-a-half to finally get going, once it does, it is as gripping as the book. My one quibble is the necessity for the gratuitous amount of sex scenes between Holden and Debbie, which are unnecessary to the plot and really do nothing to further it. It’s as if the writers feel that they either need to assert Holden’s sexuality to make sure we don’t see him as peculiar as the criminals he profiles, or that they just assume we really want to see Groff’s ass and savor watching him performing cunnilingus on Debbie. Whatever the reason, a little goes a long way here and there is no need for overkill. Other than this, the series is addictive, overflowing with guest performances by unknown actors creating some chilling and memorable characters. I found Mindhunters, despite its challenging content, to be an easy watch. The powers-that-be judiciously never let the show become too gory or maudlin, finding a touch of humor here and there in Holden’s relationships to the people in his life. This gives us a chance to breathe and absorb, reflect and process. It’s a daunting story, but a fascinating one. Mindhunters is worth the visit to Netflix. 

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