Season 2 of Netflix’s ‘Mindhunter’ is chilling, worthy successor to season 1

Illustration of main character of Mindhunter
Olivia Staser/Staff

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Grade: 4.0/5.0

It’s fair to say that “Mindhunter” — Netflix’s criminal profiling drama that boasts celebrity names David Fincher and Charlize Theron as executive producers — is not a television show that caters to the faint of heart. It’s not so much an excess of gore that grants the show this distinction (though the rotting corpses shown matter-of-factly in the opening credits may cause some to disagree); it’s the detailed, sickly focus on the horrors that humans can do to each other that gives “Mindhunter” its scare factor. The show’s writers know that hearing a man discuss, in detail, the calculated manner in which he slaughtered his victims is worse than seeing rivers of actual blood.

The long-awaited second season of “Mindhunter” — which saw its first season premiere on Netflix in October 2017 — continues along the vein of slow burn psychological terror while sharply delving deeper into the personal lives of its leading characters. Season two picks up right where season one left off, seeing protagonist Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) recover from a panic attack induced by an ill-advised hospital rendezvous with serial killer Ed Kemper (Cameron Britton, building upon his uncanny depiction from last season). From there, the season sees the FBI’s fledgling Behavioral Science Unit — led by Holden, Bill Tench (Holt McCallany) and Dr. Wendy Carr — conduct more interviews with serial killers and expand its reach to include more high-profile cases.

This season’s trajectory is a welcome departure from season one, circulating unique storylines to all of the show’s characters rather than sticking to a single-minded focus on Holden. Letting the leading trio go their separate ways provides the season with a lot of novel ground to cover: Bill Tench’s storyline, which focuses on the fracturing of his family, is a standout, allowing McCallany to showcase more complexity beyond Tench’s typically staunch demeanor. 

However, the most interesting among these avenues is the increased presence of Wendy’s character within the story’s framework — season two sees Wendy come into her own professionally.  Torv’s cool, measured cadence lends itself wonderfully to scenes wherein Wendy finally conducts interviews with serial killers on her own — but also more meaningfully explores the character’s sexuality in a new love interest, Kay Manz (Lauren Glazier).

Holden, meanwhile, largely retains his compulsive tendencies as he becomes obsessed throughout the season with solving the now-infamous ongoing child murder cases in Atlanta. This subplot marks another trend for the second season of “Mindhunter” — increased appearances from household name serial killers. “Son of Sam” (Oliver Cooper), the “BTK” killer (Sonny Valicenti) and Elmer Wayne Henley Jr. (Robert Aramayo) are among the famous names that make appearances, played with chilling accuracy by a talented array of performers. 

But the mother lode comes in episode five, which sees Holden and Bill interview Charles Manson, as played by Damon Herriman, who also appears as a younger version of Manson in Quentin Tarantino’s recent film “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.” This interview sequence capitalizes on the well-developed duality between Holden and Bill, a dynamic that underpins the entirety of “Mindhunter.” While Bill snarls in disgust at Manson, Holden (an exaggerated proxy for the show’s dedicated audience of true crime acolytes) grows starry-eyed as the bedraggled former cult leader gifts him with an autograph.

And while the cameos of these real-life boogeymen — Manson, Kemper, the “BTK” killer — will no doubt act as the chief draw for many who choose to binge “Mindhunter,” it’s the show’s dedicated and nuanced examination of its lead characters that provides its staying power. “Mindhunter” is, after all, a show about psychology — a sustained theme that helps season two match the horrors of season one while also stretching its narrative focus in new and interesting ways. 

Season two’s names may be more recognizable, its subplots larger in number, but the building blocks of the show’s success — intricate dialogue, gloomy cinematography and top-notch performances — remain the same; helping “Mindhunter” to cement itself as one of the best productions currently on television.

Grace Orriss is the assistant arts & entertainment editor. Contact her at [email protected].