Mindhunter, season 2, Netflix, review: A fascinating, remarkable show you'll want to binge in one go

Ed Power
Mindhunter Season 2 is streaming on Netflix

The blockbuster success of season one of David Fincher’s Mindhunter was a reminder that serial killers never go out of fashion. Fincher had already directed two of the classics of the genre in Seven and Zodiac (about the never-apprehended San Fransisco killer from the Seventies). The challenge he faced in his Netflix collaboration was sustaining our grisly fascination with some of recent history’s most twisted criminals over 10 hours of television. 

He prevailed not by raising the shock factor but dialling it down. There was none of Seven’s apocalyptic gore or Zodiac’s existential dread. Instead, Mindhunter was a compellingly by-the-book portrait of the groundbreaking FBI agents who, through the Seventies and Eighties, pioneered the then-controversial field of criminal profiling. 

Fincher and his writers strike the same restrained tone as Netflix’s most anticipated adult drama returns with a gripping and deliciously intricate second series. We rejoin FBI Behavioural Science Unit special agent Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff). He is recovering from a breakdown after getting a little too deeply inside the head of “Co-ed Killer” Ed Kemper. Ford is based on real-life profiler John Douglas, whose huge leap forward was to consult with killers already behind bars to gain a deeper understanding of those still at large. 

Jonathan Groff (right) stars as special agent Holden Ford

The rogues’ gallery is expanded in season two, where star billing goes to the incarcerated Charles Manson. He is depicted as a cackling latter-day Rasputin by Damon Herriman, the same actor who fleetingly played the cult leader in Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time In Hollywood. We are also reintroduced to Kemper (Cameron Britton) and BTK – for “Bind, Torture, Kill” – murderer Dennis Rader (Sonny Valicenti). Rader remains on the loose, concealing his crimes beneath a veneer of suburban banality.

The nexus between political neglect, racial poverty and psychopathy is explored, too. Ford and his partner Bill Tench (Holt McCallany) investigate the real life of case of the Atlanta Child Murderer, who snatched adolescent males off the streets with impunity. Ford believes an African American is killing the boys. Atlanta’s black mayor takes issue with the prognosis. The lesson is that when political expedience collides with public safety the former invariably wins out. 

Holt McCallany and Anna Torv

Unlike skin-crawling pseudo horrors such as the aforementioned Seven, Zodiac and Silence of the Lambs – which is loosely based on Douglas’s work – a 10-part drama cannot live on sickening killings alone. So Mindhunter carves out space for Tench’s troubled domestic life. And the entrenched sexism of big institutions in the Eighties is touched upon as Ford and Tench’s criminal psychologist colleague Wendy Carr (Anna Torv) is sidelined by the FBI’s gung-ho new boss. 

Fincher directs the first three episodes. His muggy vision serves as blueprint for the rest of the season. This is a world where people speak out of the corners of their mouths, every cop wears a sweat-stained shirt and primary colours are verboten.

Mindhunter’s most impressive accomplishment, though, is to weave an engrossing mystery without trivialising these real-life killers and their atrocious crimes. The series fascinates rather than unsettles. Yet the picture it paints of Manson, Rader and the rest is never glib. It’s a remarkable achievement and one of those rare “binge-watch” shows that lives up to the billing. You really will want to snaffle it down in one sitting.