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.
There are three murder investigations to follow, concurrent with the BSU’s ongoing interviews of serial killers. The trail of the BTK Killer aka Dennis Rader (Sonny Valicenti). A local murder case in Tench’s hometown that’s being investigated by an ansty detective (Rob Corrdry). And the beginnings of inquiries into the Atlanta Child Murders of ’79 to ’81, which were eventually pinned (at least circumstantially) on Wayne Williams.
The best scene I saw the other night happens in the second episode, inside a car in a parking garage. It’s a cautious, gently probing conversation between Tench and a teenaged boy who was almost erased by the BTK killer. What makes it pop is that (a) Tench, sitting shotgun and facing front, never looks at the kid, who’s sitting directly behind him and mostly looking at the floor, and (b) Fincher and Messerschmidt never bring the kid into focus — he’s just a gray haze with a terrified tone of voice.
There’s one scene I didn’t believe, and that’s when Smith’s Shepard character vents at Holden during a retirement party. In front of the whole gathering Shepard leaves the room as Holden is offering words of praise at the mike — way too explicit and melodramatic for an FBI careerist.
There’s another scene in which Tench, returning to his home in the late evening, notices that a rear kitchen door has been opened and left ajar. He asks his wife if she might have forgotten to close it; she says no. That half-open door stays with you for quite a long while. You just know it’s tied into something.
I’m going to leave it there. I’ll be watching the whole thing over the next couple of days, and then we’ll see what’s what.