Three questions about Mindhunter‘s second season, which I’m in the middle of re-watching: (a) Which of the two seasons have struck you as the more involving, complex, haunting or whatever? And why?; (b) What are your feelings about the two absorbing but less-than-essential subplots (the creepy saga about Bill and Nancy Tench’s beastly son, and Wendy Carr‘s ill-fated love affair with Kay Mason); and (c) Damon Herriman‘s Charles Manson rant, which happens during his interview with Tench and Holden Ford, is so brilliantly written and performed that you can’t help but say to yourself, “Jeez, Quentin Tarantino had this guy on OUATIH and all he did has have him drop by the Polanski/Tate house and wave with a creepy smile?”
I really love how Mindhunter 2 focuses almost entirely upon the Atlanta Child Murders investigation over the last…what, five episodes? And on the eventual discovery of likely child-murderer Wayne Williams, and how the guy who plays Williams (still searching for his name) looks almost exactly like him. Ditto the actors who play Charles Manson (Damon Herriman) and David “Son of Sam” Berkowitz (Oliver Cooper).
In the below video Holt McAllany (who plays Bill Tench) explains how and why the resemblance is so precise.
I was completely riveted and I may even re-watch for good measure, but there are two things I wasn’t especially transported by.
One was the subplot about Tench’s malignant son, Brian, who says exactly four words (“Did the fish die?”) in the whole series and is clearly destined to become some kind of super-fiend when he grows up. Nothing happens, nothing develops…the kid is just a zombie from the get-go. Brian is adopted but what a nightmare regardless, and there’s no way out of it for poor Bill and his wife Nancy (Stacey Roca).
The other “what?” is the serious attention paid to the love affair between Anna Torv‘s Wendy Carr and Lauren Glazier‘s Kay Mason, a foxy divorced bartender. Their relationship is not without intrigue and the performances struck me as exactly right, but the whole subplot is just an aromatic sideshow. It has nothing whatsoever to do with serial killers, interviewing serial killers, finding Wayne Williams or the BTK killer, FBI politics or the BSU. Takeaway: Workaholics and obsessives aren’t that great at relationships, etc.
The night before last I was watching the first three episodes of the second season of David Fincher‘s Mindhunter. Not at home but on a large Hollywood Arclight screen, and it was quite the odd feeling — curious but so pleasurable — to watch a quietly chilling procedural that’s mostly about dialogue, dialogue and dialogue.
But always dry and succinct. Cunning and crafty and joined with a visual palette that tells you that something wicked will eventually this way come. Or is actually happening right now but hard to get the goods on, much less stop.
At first I was saying to myself “God, here I am in a mostly full theatre and we’re all just listening to razor sharp dialogue, and it’s so great to be doing this…to be part of what amounts to an almost surreal viewing experience by today’s standards.” Not just dialogue, of course, but Erik Messerschmidt‘s muted, shadowy cinematography along with some wonderfully fleet cutting by Kirk Baxter. But the talk is just wonderful — taut and crisp and on-point.
But the main element, as with season #1, is an inaudible hum of some kind…something strange and unsettling that you can’t quite put your finger on, but is there in spades every step of the way. It’s “normal” seeming but at the same time spooky. This is a signature Fincher thing, the same quietly throbbing undercurrent that made Zodiac such a deliciously creepy sit.
All nine episodes are currently watchable…binge-able, I mean…on Netlix as we speak. The first three were directed by Fincher, episodes #4 and #5 by Andrew Dominik, and #6, #7 #8 and #9 directed by Carl Franklin. The screenwriters vary from episode to episode, but the principals are Courtney Miles (credited with story or teleplay credits on seven out of nine episodes), Josh Donen (story credit on seven) and Liz Hannah (co-teleplay credit on #4, full teleplay on #6).
A Netflix rep just asked me what I thought. “Brilliant, haunting, masterful,” I replied. “Never poking or jolting viewers with conventional thriller or horror moves, but at the same time throbbing with a certain kind of under-the-surface tension.”
All you know for sure is that Fincher and colleagues won’t be resorting to the usual cops-vs.-serial killers razmatazz, and that you’ll believe absolutely everything they show and convey and fill your head with.
I love that Mindhunter #2 has been shot with a 2.2:1 aspect ratio (standard widescreen 70mm a.r., used for 70mm screenings of Apocalypse Now), and that the camera was a Red Xenomorph Dragon, and that it was shot in Dolby Vision 6K.
I love these episode summaries: (a) “The investigation zeroes in on a prime suspect who proves adept at manipulating a volatile situation to his advantage”, (b) “Bill’s devastating family situation spills over during his interview with Holden’s holy-grail subject: Charlie Manson. Wendy’s new romance heats up” and (c) “Hitting a dead end, Holden suggests a bold plan to draw the killer out. Bill’s family faces more scrutiny. Wendy chafes as her job begins to shift.” I eat this shit up.
Things begin almost immediately in the wake of season #1’s final episode, when Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) lost his composure and possibly some of his mind in the too-creepy-for-words presence of serial killer Ed Kemper (Cameron Britton). This feeds into the threat of recurring anxiety attacks plus a new Xanax prescription, which leads into Holden’s Behavioral Science Unit partners, Bill Tench (Holt McCallany) and Wendy Carr (Anna Torv), quietly worrying about his ability to handle high-stress situations.
We learn early on that BSU boss Robert Shepard (Cotter Smith) is “retiring” under duress, and that his replacement Ted Gunn (Michael Cerveris) understands the methodology and is particularly supportive of Holden, who isn’t exactly a by-the-book type and is occasionally given to following his instincts.
Season 2 of David Fincher and Joe Penhall‘s Mindhunter series returns to Netflix on August 16th. Based upon or at least inspired by (I’m presuming) “Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit” by John Douglas and Mark Olshaker. Season 1 was set in 1977. Season 2 is set two or three years later and covers the Atlanta murders of 1979–81. It also includes an encounter with Charles Manson, once again played by Once Upon A Time in Hollywood‘s Damon Herriman.
As with season 1, Fincher has directed four of season 2’s 10 episodes.
“Mindhunter Finality,” posted on 10.27.17:
I finally finished watching Netflix’s Mindhunter last night. All ten episodes. Wow. Precise, patient, unnerving, character-rich, exacting dialogue, blissfully intelligent. By far the most engrossing Netflix thing I’ve sat through this year, and that includes Okja, First They Killed My Father, Mudbound and The Meyerowitz Stories.
I’m really glad the second season has been approved as I couldn’t get enough of season #1. Really and truly riveted. A perfect thing to watch at the end of a long, vaguely depressing, anxiety-ridden day consumed by writing and researching and…you don’t want to know the rest.
Though Mindhunter I’ve come to know four…make that five actors I’ll never forget and want to engage with again — Jonathan Groff (Holden Ford), Holt McCallany (Bill Tench), Hannah Gross (Debbie Mitford), Anna Torv (Wendy Carr) and even Joe Tuttle, who plays God-fearing, goodie two-shoes FBI agent Gregg Smith, who ignominiously rats out Groff when he sends a Richard Speck interrogation tape to a pair of FBI internal affairs investigators.
I finally finished watching Netflix’s Mindhunter last night. All ten episodes. Wow. Precise, patient, unnerving, character-rich, exacting dialogue, blissfully intelligent. By far the most engrossing Netflix thing I’ve sat through this year, and that includes Okja, First They Killed My Father, Mudbound and The Meyerowitz Stories. I’m really glad the second season has been approved as I couldn’t get enough of season #1. Really and truly riveted. A perfect thing to watch at the end of a long, vaguely depressing, anxiety-ridden day consumed by writing and researching and…you don’t want to know the rest.
Though Mindhunter I’ve come to know four…make that five actors I’ll never forget and want to engage with again — Jonathan Groff (Holden Ford), Holt McCallany (Bill Tench), Hannah Gross (Debbie Mitford), Anna Torv (Wendy Carr) and even Joe Tuttle, who plays God-fearing, goodie two-shoes FBI agent Gregg Smith, who rats out Groff when he sends a Richard Speck interrogation tape to a pair of FBI internal affairs investigators.
An HE salute to producers David Fincher (who directed episodes #1, #2, #9 and #10), Charlize Theron, Josh Donen and Cean Chaffin.
For whatever reason I didn’t do my research until a week or so ago, and hadn’t realized that Holden Ford is based on former special agent John Douglas, who co-authored the same-titled book about his 25 year career with the FBI’s Investigative Support Unit.
I loved the Holden and Debbie breakup scene in episode #10. [After the jump.] Or rather the “Holden breaks up with himself” scene. Debbie is radiating that silent hostility thing that women love to radiate when so inclined, signalling everything and saying nothing. Holden calmly adds up the signs and indicators and comes to a conclusion that “you’re breaking up with me?” Yup, that’s what she’s doing but she’s making you do the work.
It’s a fact that Williams (now 61) is (a) serving life imprisonment for the 1981 killings of two adult men in Atlanta, and (b) is believed by police to be responsible for at least 23 of the 30 Atlanta murders of 1979–1981, aka the Atlanta Child Murders. Although Williams was never tried for killing kids and has long maintained his innocence, there have been no similar killings of young black men since he came under suspicion in May 1981.
And yet Atlanta’s Missing and Murdered: The Lost Children, a forthcoming HB0 documentary, seems to suggest that because Williams was never charged, much less convicted, for any of the 23 for lack of hard evidence, that his guilt is an open question and that others might have been responsible. Yeah, maybe, but how come the child murders stopped after May ’81?
Documentary quotes: (1) “‘We found the killer, and that’s it’, but that really wasn’t it“; (2) “People saying this has to be the Klan or some crazy cop, but nobody really knew anything”; (3) “They didn’t follow those leads…[instead] they chose one [suspect]”; (4) “Elected officials did not want this [murder investigation] to go on” and so they decided to pin the killings on Williams and be done with it.
It’s not surprising that David Fincher‘s Mank (Netflix, award season) was shot in silvery monochrome, but it is a bit curious — certainly noteworthy — for a film set in old-time Hollywood (1940 to ’41) to use an aspect ratio of 2.39:1. In a period realm, widescreen a.r.’s summon associations with the ’50s and ’60s. Then again I personally adore black-and-white Scope — it’s among my absolute favorite formats (along with 1.37:1 Technicolor and 1.66:1 VistaVision).
It’s also unusual that Mank was the first theatrical feature to be shot by Erik Messerschmidt in a senior dp capacity. Fincher is using him because he served as dp on a few episodes of Mindhunter. Messerschmidt also did additional photography on The Empty Man and second-unit photography on Sicario: Day of the Soldado. He served as gaffer on Fincher’s Gone Girl (’14).
There are two kinds of movie devotees, and they can be neatly divided by their reactions to the news that Martin Scorsese‘s The Irishman runs three hours and 29 minutes. The first group of supposed movie lovers is aghast at this news (“My God, my aching ass! And the bathroom breaks!”), but at the same time they’re totally down for an eight-hour couch marathon watching David Fincher‘s Mindhunter 2. The second group is utterly delighted by the news that a genius-level filmmaker, a half-century veteran whose vision and knockout chops have been hailed time and again, has made a nice, long, super banquet-sized film…”I can’t wait!”
Second group to first group: No good movie is too long, ond no bad movie is too short. Period. End of story. Shut up.
From HE correspondent Mark Smith: “The second season of Mindhunter is about utilizing the new FBI science: can the psychological profiles of the incarcerated serial killers that Holden and Bill have so far gathered be used to catch a killer who’s still active? Is all this interviewing and traveling and sharing pizza with Ed Kemper worth a shit? This question is not only relevant to the Atlanta Child Murders, but to Bill Tench‘s creepy future-killer adopted son.
“One of the common traits of a serial killer (confirmed by Ed Kemper) is that he’s compelled to return to the scene of the crime, especially if there’s a chance to see the killer’s nefarious deeds being inspected by police and/or civilians. It gives his ego a jolt, fuels the narcissism.
“In episode 6, about 31 minutes in, we see the Atlanta police chief and Holden on the side of the road where a massive search is taking place for new bodies. A group of reporters/photographers chases down the chief. When he gets into his car, the reporters turn and see Holden walking away, the giant yellow letters FBI leaping off his windbreaker. The throng chases him down. He calmly gets into his car and shuts the door.
“And then something weird happens…
At the very end of the shot Holden’s car is surrounded by reporters and photographers, and one of them suddenly spins toward the camera, right in the foreground. He’s got a camera around his neck. He looks around and runs out of frame, as if trying to find another bit of the action to focus on, scanning the area for a Pulitzer-prize winning snapshot. It happens fast and is made to feel random, like another part of the chaos.
“But anyone who’s watched Mindhunter knows that it’s extremely deliberate: the shot selection, the editing, the camera movements, the acting. No one is Method Acting here, no one is holding court: you say your lines with clarity and honesty, and please shit-can the histrionics. Camera movements are usually slow and deliberate, if they occur at all. And the action is staged with almost robotic precision.
“So when a guy in the foreground spins toward the camera and rips the viewer’s attention away, you can bet it’s deliberate.
“I’m not saying I jumped from my chair and screamed, “That was the killer…that was Wayne Williams!” but the moment stuck with me.
“It felt odd, out of place, a red flag, a mental coupon to be tucked away and cashed in later.
“And then when they showed Wayne Williams after they pulled him over on the bridge (50 minutes into episode 8), that’s when I jumped out of my seat in triumph.”
Twice this week I noticed guys getting up and presumably attending to business only a minute or two after a film has started. Who does this? It happened near the beginning of Wednesday evening’s Mindhunter screening at the Hollywood Arclight, and at the start of last Monday’s Blinded By The Light all-media at the Grove. Both times the evacuees didn’t return for a good four or five minutes. This is little dog behavior. Can you imagine a Manhattan theatregoer standing up and side-shuffling towards the aisle two or three minutes after the first-act curtain has gone up? You can take a break at the half-hour or hour mark, although moviegoers with a semblance of self-control rarely do this. I sure as hell don’t, in part because I don’t slurp Diet Coke out of 32-ounce containers.
As previously noted the second season of Joe Penhall and David Fincher‘s Mindhunter pops on 8.16, or a week and a half hence. Netflix usually provides critics with early online access, but not this time. I learned today that Los Angeles-based critics will get to see the first three episodes in tandem in a nice theatre…very cool.
Last weekend David Fincher visited South by Southwest to talk about Love, Death and Robots (Netflix, 3.15), an “anthology animated short series made by different artists from around the world” blah blah.
I’m a stone worshipper of Mindhunter, the 2017 series that Fincher produced and partly directed (and which will re-launch with a second season later this year), and I definitely enjoyed the Fincher-produced House of Cards for the first couple of seasons. But I wouldn’t watch Love, Death and Robots with a knife at my back. Because in my mind an “anthology animation short” series is Otto Ludwig Piffle…take-it-or-leave-it esoterica for animation oddballs and navel gazers and guys who avoid sunlight and regular pedicures, and who look and behave like Pete Davidson and wear skeleton-feet sneakers.
Remember the old David Fincher? The guy who was one of the most dynamic, innovative, forward-reaching directors of narrative features (on the level of Soderbergh, Cuaron, Inarritu and Kubrick) and who was slugging it out in the boxing ring and at least trying to make stuff that really mattered? That Fincher has now retreated into a kind of Netflix cave. He hasn’t made a theatrical feature in over four years, close to five. The good but vaguely underwhelming Gone Girl (’14) was his last theatrical effort.
If you ignore Alien 3 (which I advise everyone to do), Fincher was on the feature-film stick for 19 years, and made four world-class knockouts — Seven (’95), Fight Club (’99), Zodiac (’07) and The Social Network (’10). He also made four above-average, stylistically-striking popcorn films — The Game, Panic Room, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and Gone Girl. I’m not calling The Curious Case of Benjamin Button a stinker, but I’ll never, ever watch it again.
Why is Fincher more or less hiding in his little Netflix cave? He’s following his heart and his muse, and I’m sure that’s a satisfying place to be, but what about the devout fan base (i.e., persons like myself?) It’s like Fincher has decided he can’t be “David Fincher” any more…like that was a phase and now he’s past it.
He obviously no longer believes in theatrical narratives. Because Hollywood itself no longer believes in same, and because the zombie executives won’t greenlight anything even remotely original, and because Fincher won’t make formulaic crap. And so he’s operating out of his own little creative bunker. He’s not even doing a Soderbergh — making modest but original features, working with Netflix but exploring new distribution schemes, shooting on iPhones, etc. He’s working and living in a realm that allows for creative freedom, but the absence of the old Fincher breaks my heart.
If Fincher is trying to get anything made in the realm of narrative features, I haven’t heard of it. Has he totally bailed or is there something he’s developing that might actually become something? I’m asking.