What’s the true meaning of empathy? Well, if someone is still unclear, then Netflix’s ‘Mindhunters’ is a series they should watch, to perhaps have a better understanding of the word. The Joe Pehnall-created series, based on the 1995 book, ‘Mindhunter: Inside the FBI's Elite Serial Crime Unit’, written by John E. Douglas and Mark Olshaker, takes the viewer inside the psyche of a serial killer.
In a very slow, very research-based method, series’ lead, FBI Special Agent, James Holden, played by Jonathan Groff, emphasises on understanding the mind of a serial killer, to be able to, simply speaking, find reasons for motivation for other serial killers, yet to be caught by the police, hiding in plain sight. In fact, such is his conviction, that he refuses to believe there is any other way, despite him being the only one, initially, who agrees with his philosophy.
He manages to convince he is correct in the second episode, when he manages to show his partner, Bill Tench, played by Holt McCallany, how Ed Kemper’s hatred could explain another case they were assisting with, which had a similar MO.
Holden, starting with Tench, slowly convinces his colleagues and his bosses, to let him interview serial killers across different prisons in the US, to be able to get into the killer’s mind and in an almost prophetic way, pre determine their next victim.
Yes, it is easier said than done, and the show makes sure, it doesn’t end up glorifying Holden’s philosophy. The consequences are real as the first season’s final episode reminds viewers through Holden that the serial killers, can be empathised with, but at the same time lack humanity, which is the reason why they are still in prison.
Another consequence is how it affects all those involved with this project is how it takes a toll on their personal lives. Holden, Tench and even psychology professor, Wendy Carr, played by Anna Torv, who is torn between joining FBI and choosing to stay a closeted lesbian, since homosexuality was still an unacceptable thing in the FBI back then, are all affected.
Tehnch’s character arc in the second season takes a more interesting turn, when his cases start to have an impact on his personal life, especially his adopted son, Brian Tench.
But it is the show’s lead character who convinces the viewers that all the cost to their research is probably worth it. When he is approached by three mothers to look into the case of their disappeared children, Holden, perhaps in that moment along with the viewers, truly believes that his purpose can finally be put to practical use.
‘Mindhunters’ is definitely not one of those shows which is easy on your eyes. It is dark, intense and something which makes you feel uncomfortable. Yet, despite its slow pace, it keeps you engaged and, every episode makes you think.