Mindhunter: Episode 2 recap

The exploration of criminal psychology continues in episode two of Mindhunter. The show jumps into the murky and uncomfortable world of murderers and motives, mirroring the enthusiasm of its protagonist, Holden Ford. Are you ready for what they find?

The prologue has nothing to do with the plot of the second episode of Mindhunter after the opening credits, but the lessons gleaned from the scene will hit home during the episode’s final act.

We begin in Wichita, Kansas, where an uptight man has approached a co-worker asking how he might help him. The co-worker says he’s in need of replacement electrical tape, and the uptight man responds he’d be happy to help – once he’s given the cardboard core of the finished roll of electrical tape. The man’s baffled co-worker thinks it’s all joke until the uptight man replies that those are the rules.

If you’ve spent any time watching news magazines and re-creation mystery shows, you know this opening scene is reminiscent of the B.T.K. killer. B.T.K.’s rules, structure, personal and professional frustrations showed the world that not all killers are wild, crazy, and obvious. Sometimes people can commit unspeakable acts, and maintain their composure and harmonious way of life. This example sets the stage for the murderer Holden will meet and interview in episode two of Mindhunter.

Still wide-eyed and enthusiastic, Holden is explaining to Bill why Charles Manson would be an excellent interview subject. The two are in San Francisco, flying to Santa Cruz for another class for local law enforcement. Just as we saw in the first episode, those who teach must always be learning. Holden is determined to explore the idea of obscure motives, and Charles Manson – a cult leader who never actually committed the killings he is sitting in jail for – is an ambitious interview get that Holden is determined to snag while in the area.

Bill is giving a lecture to the Santa Cruz Police Department when a local officer gives Holden a big tip, Ed Kemper, a six-foot-nine man who murdered multiple people, including his mother, severed his victims’ heads, and had sex with them afterwards. Holden is chomping at the bit to visit Kemper at his medical prison facility, but Bill just wants to golf when not working.

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Holden heads to the medical facility alone, and walks the long, scary corridor to the meeting room, where he will come face-to-face with a dangerous, unstable killer. It’s in this sequence we see Holden has not lost his enthusiasm to make a change, become an impactful teacher and serve the FBI to the best of his ability. While Holden is still the bright-eyed idealist, we also see his maturation from episode one, where he was prone to gaffes expected of a rookie.

The straight-laced Holden Ford, who couldn’t pick up a girl in a bar without looking clumsy and shy, meets with Kemper and employs a series of sly tactics to draw him out. Holden uses careful verbal language, open body language and immerses himself in the world of Kemper to the point of even eating an egg salad sandwich courtesy of the prison cafeteria. Holden and Kemper’s roundabout way of discussing the murders, Kemper’s background and Holden’s motives are inter-spliced with scenes of Holden meeting resistance from Bill (who wants his partner to just drop it, and help with actual cases local police officers need help with) and encouragement from Debbie (who is trying her best to loosen up her boyfriend without changing the essence of who he is). Holden uses Debbie’s social tips to draw Kemper out, and seeks Bill’s steadying hand when it becomes apparent Kemper may be deceiving Holden.

While Holden looks to have matured somewhat in his teaching career at the FBI, he still lacks the finesse and subtlety of seasoned veteran, Bill. Immersed in this world of profiling, Holden creates a profile for a case in Sacramento that has stumped the police. Holden asks shrewd questions and carefully observes all details about the case, which is a stark contrast to his meltdown in Indiana when he was approached about helping solve the murder of a single mother and her child. Word gets back to Quantico about Holden and Bill’s activities in California, and they receive a firm “stop, do not pass go” from FBI brass. Bill keeps Holden’s meetings with Kemper secret, but it’s Holden who decides to lay it all out for his boss: he has been meeting with Kemper because he believes the FBI could learn a great deal about dangerous people and their motives. As Bill passionately defended Holden’s work, “How can we get ahead of crazy if we don’t understand how crazy thinks?”

By the end of the episode, Holden and Bill receive permission to allot ten hours of work a week on criminal psychology and the work they had previously been pursuing in private. The partners are instructed to continue their research under the radar, and like all great FBI outcasts (like my beloved Mulder and Scully) they are relegated to a dark, cluttered office in the basement at Quantico. It’s the promise of interesting times to come, with a healthy dose of push-and-pull between the seasoned veteran and the wide-eyed younger agent.

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Mindhunter seems to have set itself up to be an intense procedural layered with conflict, emotions, and motives. Once again, we have a series showcasing FBI agents crisscrossing the country seeking the weird, depraved, and controversial. If you enjoy in-depth news magazine features about famous killers, you will love Mindhunter. If you love The X-Files, you will feel a vague sense of nostalgia when you see how these two FBI agents operate within the apparatus of the Bureau.

Mindhunter is off to a strong start with the second episode improving from the first. It will be interesting to see if the show stays character-driven or if it becomes a plot driven procedural. Hopefully it is the former versus the latter, because the days of “Just the facts, Ma’am” have long been over in episodic television.