Let me first start off by issuing a spoiler alert. If you haven’t taken the time to watch Mindhunter on Netflix, you should probably binge the series and then come back to this article later. I went into the series with little to no expectations. I would urge you to approach it the same way. Mindhunter is essentially a 10 episode series based on the inception of FBI criminal profiling techniques.
Who Is Mindhunter Based On?
The main subject of this series is John E. Douglas who is a former special agent for the FBI. He is played by Johnathan Groff and the name of the main character is Holden Ford.
The series starts off by introducing Holden as a rookie FBI employee who teaches classes at the academy. He’s given an opportunity to help a fellow teacher take the classes on the road to educate cops at local police departments on FBI techniques used to catch criminals.
As the story progresses, Holden develops a deeper curiosity for why certain people seem driven to commit extreme acts of violence. This curiosity eventually allows him to be a part of a team of other curious minds wanting to delve deeper into the abyss.
Serial Killers Covered
Throughout the show you get a fascinating look at the process of gathering valuable information from real-life serial killers such as Ed Kemper and Richard Speck. Edmund Kemper is play by Cameron Britton and you can tell he did his homework. I’m sure you’ve heard of actors studying for a role, right? Everything down to the mannerisms and tone of voice is replicated brilliantly by Britton. Here’s a short clip of Kemper being interviewed:
After you watch the show, you’ll be able to see what I mean as far as the actors ability to authentically mimic this killer. I might actually go as far as to say that the actor might even be scarier than the actual man, at least from the interview perspective. After you watch the last scene of the tenth episode, you will see what I mean in saying this.
Obviously we know that Kemper would be terrifying in real life and you probably wouldn’t even want to be in the same room as him, I know I wouldn’t.
Piece By Piece – Profiling Unraveled
Each episode reveals a new addition to the technique known as “criminal profiling” and it was cool to see a fictional take on how this whole process began. It’s amazing to realize that some of the attitudes at the time were to lock the criminals away in a cage and throw away the key. Even today some people still cling on to that sentiment.
I’m not saying that we should release serial killers into the wild because it’s been proven that that’s not a helpful idea at all. Ed Kemper was actually institutionalized in his younger years for murder and released back into the general public. It didn’t go well, to say the least.
As the FBI agents begin to gather previously undisclosed insights from their interviewees, they start to see what works for getting a psychopath to open up, and what doesn’t. They are eventually granted funding by the government to focus all their effort on this process.
Born a Monster or Shaped Into One?
The classic nature vs. nuture argument is brought up again and again throughout the 10 episodes. Holden Ford has a curious mind and is willing to bend the policies a little bit here and there in order to obtain vital signs pointing to guilt, motive, childhood, etc.
While some of his techniques are looked at as unconventional, he’s able to enter into the disturbed psyche of humanities worst and attempt to provide an explanation of how or why they ended up that way.
It’s ground-breaking stuff that was never previously attempted and the curiosity pays off.
Attempts to Understand Are Not Attempts to Excuse
Sometimes we forget that someone who ends up as a mass murderer or serial killer is, or was at one point, one of us law-abiding citizens. We don’t want to accept the fact that while they should accept the blame and consequences for their actions, our lives are like a pond. Each event causes a ripple and those ripples trigger other events or behaviors that, by the end, sum up our achievements and actions or misdeeds.
I would argue that yes, some people are probably born with a certain brain chemistry or genetic makeup that would predispose them to certain thought patterns and behavioral characteristics. On the flip side, witnessing extreme tragedy or trauma at a young age will most certainly send long-lasting ripples throughout the course of that persons life.
To Have or Not Have Compassion
It’s an ironic thing that a lot of people share the opinion that these people should not be studied or understood. In a society that claims to be based on values such as compassion and turning the other cheek, we know that this is not always the case.
If not for any other reason, the study of connections between past events and future behaviors will always be valuable. Of course no one condones the act of a sadistic lust killing but if research can provide key answers or red flags by looking at a monster under the lens, I’m all for it.
I’m not suggesting that we award serial killers for their heinous acts. Not by any stretch of the imagination am I suggesting that. My point is that without some sense of understanding, it would be impossible to attempt the profiling techniques on display in this series.
Fact vs. Fiction
I do wonder how much of the show is based in fact and how much is speculative. Either way, if you read as much as I do about subjects like this, you’ll find yourself following right along with the interrogations and reactions of the FBI and criminal.
To sum up Mindhunter, it will take you on a psychological journey of discovery and hopefully it hooks you in as hard as it did to me. You might learn something new about the inception of FBI criminal profiling, I know I did.
It’s the best show or movie I’ve seen probably ever and I highly recommend you watching it. Especially since you’re reading about it on a site called Hardcore True Crime. I hope I didn’t spoil too much of the fun for any of you. If I did, I apologize in advance.
Thanks for taking a look at The Darker Side of Humanity with me. Feel free to leave any comments or questions you have below. I will be sure to respond.