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Netflix's Mindhunter Is the Perfect Crime Drama for Our Times

From TIME - October 12, 2017

You keep looking at me like a specimen, the massive man tells his visitor with a note of displeasure. Edmund Kemper (Cameron Britton), a gently spoken but imposing figure, may have wisdom to impart, but hes nobodys lab experiment. His is a vivid, racing mind. And his visitor (Jonathan Groff) is there to find out how exactly that mind conceived of and carried out a killing spree.

In Netflixs superior new drama Mindhunter, human minds are the staging ground for inhuman acts. Groff plays Holden Ford, a 29-year-old FBI agent with ambitions far beyond his station. Fords interest in criminals has less to do with bringing them to justice than with understanding why they do what they do and how their patterns might be spotted elsewhere. Thats what brings him to Kemper, a killer who gave himself up because, as he says, he despaired of never being caught. He was simply too good at getting away with murder.

Its 1979 and the FBI is operating at cross-purposes. The agency is at once reckoning with the legacy of its late chief J. Edgar Hoover and trying to find its way in a world that seems defined by new evils. Murder sprees by Charles Mansons California family and David Berkowitz, New York Citys Son of Sam, havent just captured the publics imagination. They seem illustrative, within the FBI, of a sort of malignant evil that can only be fought be redoubling commitments to old methods. Its one thing when Ford teaches future hostage negotiators to make perpetrators feel heardthats just strategy, albeit an edgy one. But when he confronts his colleagues about their reading of Manson as a figure from a morality playThats a little bit Old Testament, dont you think? Good, evil, black, white ...they revolt.

This tension, even more so than its subject matter, is what makes Mindhunter feel perfectly timed. Crime drama can, at its worst, revel in the grossest sort of spectatorship. Shows like CBSs Criminal Minds, or ones that trade on the names of real-life murderers, can all too easily slip into gratuitousness for its own sake. (That programs star, Mandy Patinkin, quit after two seasons over its content.) But at its best, the genre tries to understand the roots of crime by investigating some of humanitys most vexing paradoxes. Mindhunter, curious and thoughtful, is an example of the latter.

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