Mindhunter expanded our minds about Jonathan Groff’s incredible talent

MINDHUNTER - Credit: Patrick Harbron/Netflix
MINDHUNTER - Credit: Patrick Harbron/Netflix /
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Mindhunter season 3
MINDHUNTER – Credit: Netflix /

Mindhunter season 2: Standing on the edge

Mindhunter season 2 starts off in a fascinating place because Holden has to deal with the aftermath of his panic attack—the realization that it could happen again—and that naturally marks a permanent change to his character. That’s a bold move from the writing staff; most TV shows only stick with a traumatic incident as long as it’s dramatic, and then move on to the next plot twist.

Instead, we get to see Holden at a disadvantage and trying to process that his own psychology has changed, or at least been exacerbated by his work. That gives Jonathan Groff a rich tableau to play with and a new challenge: how do you play someone who’s in conflict with himself? While in season 1 we saw Holden Ford shaped by the people around him, season 2 is as much about him trying to come to a new realization of self, and the question of how he can accurately look into the minds of serial killers if he doesn’t have that concrete self-image to hold onto.

From that point on, there are almost two performances: the narrative of Holden’s continued work at the BSU, expanded to include even more subjects, and the narrative of his own self. These two aspects don’t always head in the same direction but Groff is playing them both at the same time, again finding subtle ways to show his character’s interior monologue.

His detail work is even more valuable in season 2, because while Holden’s brain is still going a mile a minute, it’s no longer always coming out through his mouth. There are more quiet moments, and Groff is wonderful in how he lets those moments breathe, whether it’s taking a pause before a line or the way he holds himself.

Exacerbating the situation is the lack of support that Holden gets from his colleagues. Bill is none too happy to have to get his partner out of the hospital, and while Wendy tells Holden she wants to help him, it’s in the same scene where she’s sort of checking out the bartender she’d later date. Neither one of them totally spurn him, but they’re not really helpful either, and a lot of time’s spent with them discussing whether Holden is okay or if he’s a liability. The only thing worse than going through trauma is going through it alone.

Mindhunter fans get to see a fair amount of Holden operating on his own in season 2, whether it’s his steps toward recovery or his initial trip to Atlanta which first tips him off about the Atlanta Child Murders. He spends large portions of time away from his team and interacting with new characters like Tanya Clifton (Sierra McClain). It’s interesting to see him as a free agent again, because it has both pros and cons while he tries to learn from the mistakes he made in season 1. He gets to take so much into his own hands, but also gets the better of himself. There’s always a sense that he’s trying to prove something—whether it’s to the grieving parents, to local law enforcement, or even to himself.

Holden continues to push the envelope and assert himself further, which is fun simply to watch the wheels in his mind turn; thanks to Groff’s nonverbal cues, you can always tell when he’s got something. He has a way of owning a room when he’s in it now, even if he’s not in charge. He also screws up royally and much more publicly this season, making literal headlines, but that’s where Groff’s casting comes into play again: even when Holden is at his snarkiest, or crossing one more line, he never loses how endearing he is. There’s still that earnestness of the guy who wants to do the right thing; he’s just getting pissed off about it.

Because the show’s main narrative starts and ends with him (literally), Holden’s our point of view character and the way Groff plays him, we can always understand and empathize with him. We may not agree with him, we might want to smack him upside the head with a frying pan, but he never stops feeling as genuine and compassionate as when we first met him. Too often, these downward spirals turn characters into shells of themselves or at least versions that are difficult to watch, but Groff keeps Holden’s heart in the right place—and keeps it front and center.

Season 2 ends with a scene that’s a direct callback to Holden’s ill-fated hostage negotiation in the first episode, where he’s trying to get a stain out of his shirt, except it’s not blood this time. Going sort of full circle prompts the question of how far he’s actually come, especially when you see him taking in the news report that the Atlanta case is closed when he knows it’s not really complete. It is a heartbreaking moment for the character, because the audience knows how much of himself he’s given over to this investigation, and he still feels like he’s come up short. In both seasons, he’s laid himself on the line and hasn’t gotten what he was looking for.

Mindhunter season 2 shows us Holden Ford having become defined by his work; he’s spent so long looking into the minds of serial killers that it’s changed the way he looks at himself. We see it in how his interactions with other characters differ throughout the season as compared to the one before, and how he is in all those quiet moments. He’s done so much and yet doesn’t feel like he’s come that far at all. He deserves to find something that’s going to give him peace.

Which makes it almost criminal that there won’t be Mindhunter season 3, because Holden Ford’s journey ends up coming to a conclusion when the real story was about to start another stunning chapter.