True crime is one of the most popular genres around these days. Podcasts, documentaries, and TV series have all seen a boom in re-telling crime stories. Over the past decade or so, audiences have been inundated with plenty of shocking and grisly details of real crimes. Sometimes, the true crime genre can take a dark turn and seemingly revel in the gory details of real victims or almost glorify horrible people who committed unspeakable crimes.
Netflix’s Mindhunter takes a different approach. The series is an adaptation loosely based on real events, and it shows the origins of an FBI task force intending to hunt down serial killers. One of the show’s through-lines is a series of intense, fictionalized interviews with real-life serial killers being shown within the context of the show. The show’s protagonists sit across from lightly fictionalized versions of Ed Kemper, David Berkowitz and cult leader Charles Manson.
But the show strikes a necessary balance and shows these notorious criminals as distinctly human. They aren’t larger-than-life criminals of myth, they’re real-life criminals who did terrible things and are rotting away behind bars.
Another way in which Mindhunter differentiates itself is with its deliberate and slow pace. So often, crime stories can seem like a race to see who can rip off the headlines the fastest. Mindhunter takes the opposite approach and instead delves into decades-old crimes to examine how killers can be stopped. Often, the reality of law enforcement work is that is painstaking and slow, with more paperwork than anything else. Mindhunter seems to be one of the few crime shows to wear that reality on its sleeve with long car rides and FBI agents spending a lot of their time at their desks, hitting the keys of a typewriter.
In our era of true-crime mania, Mindhunter serves as a necessary bucket of water to the glamorized and grisly genre that true crime can so often be.
Mindhunter seasons one and two are now streaming on Netflix.
I’m Evan Rook.