The second season of Mindhunter is every bit as good as the best parts and better than the first season as a whole. Netflix’s cerebral, dialogue driven series about the process of finding and tracking serial killers is as absorbing and engaging as ever, and this time delves into the racial components of law enforcement and neglect of minority communities as the show explores the 1980 investigation into the Atlanta child murders, which ended in the arrest of Wayne Williams.
The show doesn’t exactly repeat itself this season, as there are still some interviews with convicted killers (Charles Manson makes a memorable appearance, and Ed Kemper returns for a scene), but Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) is a bit more sidelined as a character this time around, and frankly it’s for the better. After his panic attack in last season’s finale resulted in his being briefly hospitalized, the show focuses more on the personal lives of Bill Tench (Holt McCallany) and Wendy Carr (Anna Torv), who both prove to be far more interesting than Agent Ford (or perhaps better capable of holding the screen, no offense to Groff).
Especially McCallany. As Agent Tench, Bill is a throwback to a certain type of post-WWII man, one who resembles a grunt you’d see in supporting roles in 1950’s movies like On the Waterfront, yet his gruff exterior masks an intellectual curiosity and a willingness to embrace the new styles of their first stage methods in tracking killers, and new style agents like Holden. He’s exactly the kind of guy you’d picture as an old school FBI agent from decades ago, yet his ability to make you sympathize with him as a lead and always reveal new shades to his personality while staying true to himself make him by far the most compelling character on the show. As he steps into the spotlight this season I hope creator Joe Penhall realizes that he should stay there.
Anna Torv is also intriguing as Wendy, who stays closeted to the men she works with, yet embarks on a new relationship with a bartender while experiencing the ever present, structural sexism that keep her from being taken seriously at the top levels of the agency, even as she was brought in due to her expertise and academic credentials in the field. Michael Cerveris is a new addition as Ted Gunn, the new department head who embraces the Behavioral Science unit and wants to make their methods protocol, but the politics of the FBI, the White House and local law enforcement itself is a theme this season as it can never stop from intervening in the process of investigation, wherever it occurs.
The last half of the season takes a new direction as it is almost entirely consumed by the Atlanta murders, where Bill and Holden are sent to catch their suspect. Wayne Williams himself is phenomenally played by Christopher Livingston, and one of Mindhunter’s best qualities is its ability to conjure up an atmosphere of dread in each and every episode, no matter what’s happening onscreen, be it an interview, an investigation or the goings on in the agent’s personal lives. This is not a horror show, it’s one about procedure and exploration and yet if you watch it alone and in the dark, you will be startled and wary by your surroundings. The show doesn’t settle for tidy endings either. As fascinating as the Atlanta case is, you’re not satisfied by its resolution, because in real life the story didn’t track that way, There were too many mitigating factors, from the racial politics in the state and in the country, to the ways in which these investigations are mired by interference at every turn, and the tragic factors at play in minority communities that don’t receive help from either the police or the feds. Mindhunter refuses to make things simple- it presents the complications as they are and dives headfirst into the sordid realities of both the mundane and the grotesque. It may not be a show for everyone but it is certainly for me. I can’t get enough of it.