Mindhunter delivers a gripping, dramatic finale, making it one for the ages.
David Fincher’s Mindhunter was, beyond a doubt, a captivating and thrilling cinematic experience. The season laid down the psychological groundwork leading the audience to an epic finale. Jonathan Groff was the epicenter of this crime thriller and delivered one hell of a performance as Agent Holden. A character, who by the finale, struggled to balance his responsibility as an agent and as a curious individual poking into the minds of the crazy. His endeavors into understanding the “why” behind the act of heinous crimes became an obsession, that caught up to him in the final moments of the finale. His partner, Agent Tench (Holt McCallany) began to notice Holden’s shift in behavior and decisions, and despite him enforcing structure, was unable to keep Holden in line.
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In the shadows of this dynamic was psychologist, Dr. Wendy Carr (Anna Torv). She became the voice of reason, and sometimes disagreement as Agents Holden and Tench conducted this psychological study of deranged criminals. Her role became an integral part of the story through the course of the season, and the finale. The final episode brought a beautiful conclusion to what was a psychological roller coaster of a season. There are questions left unanswered (Park City, Kansas mystery man), and thoughts left unfinished (Agent Holden’s intense breakdown), but as the show looks ahead to a second season, there is certainly more to come yet.
Mindhunter’s finale left us with so many questions and thoughts. Let’s meet our roundtable to break it all down!
Joseph (@JoeFilmJourno)– An Englishman in Norway who won’t stop talking about films and TV
Alex (@alexbrown17)– Freelance writer from Toronto, Canada, promises he is not a serial killer
Mohammad (@MA_Javed)– Entrepreneur, Redditor, Gym Buff, Stranger Things fan
Alberto (@AlbertoFinglas)– Freelance writer, film, and TV lover
Diane (@TooBadDiane)– Broadcast TV media sales by day, your average fangirl by night
1. Okay, so everyone was left wondering who the guy from Park City, Kansas was. He was shown at the beginning of every episode and closed out the first season. What are your thoughts on him? Do you think we’ll come to learn that he is a famous serial killer? Do any of you think that this is Agent Holden in the future? With a second season already in play, do you think we’ll see him again? Share your thoughts!
Joseph (@JoeFilmJourno): I wouldn’t be surprised if we never see him again, or rather I hope so. I saw his character as a test to the audience – he’s a question that begs to be answered, “who is this man?”. The answer the audience arrives at is telling of if you agree with Holden and Tench’s work. The show goes to great lengths to battle the question of “how do you arrive at guilty?”. Often, their accusations are based on information extrapolated from their interviews which is then transposed onto other cases with similar information. However, in some cases, there is an uncertainty of whether these correlations have an assured, exact outcome. I don’t think we’re supposed to know whether this guy is a killer, or is just thinking about it, or is just caught up somewhere in between. We’ve never seen him kill anyone. He just has some similar behavior to the other serial killers. Up until the final episode, we have no substantial reason to assume he’s anything but a civil citizen – and even then, we have no real proof to say otherwise. If I was given confirmation of his crime it would betray the theme. He has to be an uncertainty. Regardless of if he gets away with his crime or if he’s wrongly accused, to leave a lingering scar against our prejudice is a brilliantly depressing punch to our ego – it’s very Fincher move, and should stay that way.
Alex (@alexbrown17): Obviously there are a few things that help Mindhunter standout from the rest of the pack when it comes to binge-worthy shows. Whether it was the pedigree of a talent like David Fincher or the casting of talented unknowns in the roles of the serial killers to give it a sense of realism, this was the first show on a streaming service in some time that was able to demand my attention. No clearer is that craftsmanship on display than these pseudo-cold opens with a man who I believe we are led to assume is Dennis Rader: the BTK Killer. Not only was Rader operating during the time-period of the show (and all the way up until the early-90s), but his inclusion seems to be a nod to the two major categories of serial killers we learn about in season one: the emotionally driven opportunists such as Richard Speck, or the methodical, organized Edmund Kemper. Rader, who had intimate access to people’s homes as a home security consultant, seems to be a blend of both. Or, if nothing else, he is our one true glimpse at a killer-at- work. The show certainly benefits from not having any scenes of whimpering victims or sadistic killers caught in the act. TV has more than enough of those.
Mohammad (@MA_Javed): The guy from Park City is intriguing. I think the safe bet says he’s a famous serial killer we’re going to learn more about as the show continues. He has no relation to Holden other than being caught by him and his partner. The crazy theory would be he is Holden from the future, after having been fired and disgraced by the FBI. Holden seems to have odd tendencies, almost reminding me of the serial killers themselves. That’s why I think he’s so interested in studying them. But this theory still seems a little far-fetched.
Alberto (@AlbertoFinglas): Let me preface all my answers by saying this; the episode is great, is excellent TV, Fincher directed the shit out of it, and it’s entertaining. But as a finale is extremely disappointing. None of the major threads that were open in the series, feel even remotely close to their conclusion. This is NOT a good finale, but it’s a GREAT episode. We will definitely see Mr. Park City Kansas. I did a little research and figured pretty quickly who he is. I won’t say it, in case you don’t want to be spoiled. I will straight up shoot down the idea that he’s a form of future Holden, before reading this question, I didn’t think it was a possibility – now I know it’s not.
Diane (@TooBadDiane): So I have a feeling I already know who the guy from Park City is because I watch way too much Investigation Discovery and that is clearly Dennis Rader AKA BTK. Not sure if we’ll see him again next season, or if they’ll showcase a new serial killer a season which would be pretty neat. Considering Rader wasn’t caught for a very long time, it could go either way with and really show how far much longevity the show can have.
2. Through the course of the season, we saw Agent Holden’s character progress in a very dramatic way. He went from curious to aggressive in his interviews, disobeyed the rules of the FBI/his team, and started to do things according to his style. What are your thoughts on this progression? Did you feel that you started to analyze him as a sociopath? Did you agree with his methods? And what did you think about that breakdown at the end of the finale?
Joseph: After Holden escapes from the arms of a psychopath, and he realizes and fears his mortality, the camera bursts open, it ruptures its logic, rigidity and objectivity, he collapses onto the floor and all orientation is lost as we’re positioned into his deteriorating mind – Holden has wholly degraded himself and with this the show’s construction breaks. This is the antithesis of progression. It’s Mindhunter’s first and only handheld moment. This is now an emergency. Most of the time, Holden and Tench kept a safe distance from their subjects. Together they are dominant in the “near perfect conditions” where they observe and interact with murderers. Yet, never once did Holden consider that his initiation with power would come with some returning interaction from his subjects. He made a great show of remaining unaffected, knowing he had the upper hand, but as soon as the pendulum swings back his way, he folds like a baby. It’s a beautifully realized moment when he squirms out of Kemper’s arms and the camera’s objectivism collapses with him. Reality kicks in as the boy’s wide eyes narrow, and the ego ruptures entirely.
Alex: It’s well-tread ground at this point, but Nietzsche was right: “If you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.” And while Ford is loosely based on real FBI agent John Douglas – who probably didn’t end up in the fetal position in the hallway of a hospital for the mentally insane – the season really could only end one way for our hero.
Mohammad: Holden’s character definitely showed the most progression through the first season. In the beginning, he was an unsure, curious, goody-two-shoes, always wanting to learn. By the finale he wasn’t afraid to bend or even break the rules, a far cry from his do the right thing persona. His demeanor went from unsure to over-confident, his personality from curious to listen and learn to believing himself to know better. By the end, he was honestly reminding me more of the sociopaths and killers he was interviewing, than his colleagues. One of the most interesting parts of season 2 will be how his personality continues to evolve.
Alberto: I noticed Holden showing sign of psychopathic behavior by around episode three. I knew it would develop into something important, but never imagined it was going to be that huge or that fast. The entire scene that leads to the breakdown in the finale is a huge lesson in film-making. Fincher uses framing and directs Groff in a way that shows how similar Holden and Kemper are, which ends up being the “stressor” behind Holden’s breakdown. “You gotta make it with that young pussy before it turns into mom,” – Ed Kemper, Serial Killer episode 102 & Holden Ford, FBI Special Agent, episode 110
Diane: I actually really love how far he’s gotten. He’s clearly establishing himself and it’s working. Honestly, at this point, when this type of study is still in its infancy, he’s doing something different and scary but it’s working. I’m not sure I see Holden as a sociopath. I find him to be a determined empath who can get into the mind of someone else. This is what gets him in trouble, but it’s the only way to truly understand these people and how their mind works so at the end of the day I think Holden clearly believes the end will justify the means. The breakdown at the end was a long time coming. I don’t think up until that moment he realized how dangerous his behavior is until he had a giant-sized human and serial killer hugging him, it was finally this light bulb moment of “ugh crap, what am I becoming” and it all came crashing down him.
3. Holden and Debbie started off strong but inevitably came to an end by the end of the season. Do you think this is due to Holden’s behavior/line of work? Do you think Debbie should have been more vocal about his behavior? Do you think Debbie was actually cheating on him? Tell us what you’re thinking!
Joseph: Seeing Debbie and Holden apart is a tragedy. I adored their loving conflicts. They challenged each other. And losing such a strong dynamic is a pity. They were like a loving conducive thought experiment, their debates are born from their love to engage with one another. That said, Holden, unfortunately, lets their conflict overwhelm his appreciation of her. She became something tangential to his work, a device, connected by a point but deviating in relevance. While I am uncertain of her guilt (there’s that theme again), I suppose that inevitable is the best word to describe the relationship’s ugly fracture since Holden’s obsession would only evolve endlessly, while she would never settle for anything less than what she deserved in the relationship. Ultimately, I think Holden pushed her away to the tipping point – this isn’t to say that she cheated but that she fell out of reach.
Alex: I’m not entirely sure it matters if Debbie even was cheating on Holden. Not only was it respectful of the audience to leave a little up the imagination, but what we were shown with Ford, Tench, and Carr over ten hours suggests that in the world of the show you can’t keep your work life and your home life separate. Being psychological pioneers takes a toll.
Mohammad: I believe the downfall of Holden/Debbie’s relationship was Holden’s ego growing as the first season continued. In the beginning, he was curious to learn from her and interested in her work as well. By the end he seemed to put far more importance on his own work, almost behaving as if he’s doing more important work than she was. The cheating aspect I found rather confusing. Once the lights turned on in the darkroom experiment, she was sitting in a guilty looking position with her school partner. Holden saw and left without explanation. Then he got back together with her without explanation. The show didn’t really explain this in my opinion.
Alberto: Let me tackle this one in reverse. No, I don’t think Debbie was cheating on him. We have to remember the show is told from Holden’s perspective, this was a representation of his increasing paranoia due to the nature of his work; which leads to his break up with Debbie. Who, I do believe should’ve been more vocal, I felt the series undercut her character a couple of times by not having her talk to Holden, which was the most interesting part of their relationship. The back-and-forth. The repartee.
Diane: This is a tough one mostly because relationships are tough. I do think toward the end Debbie may have been cheating on him. She’s a free spirit and she was right in suggesting Holden only listens when she’s referring to his line of work. At the end of it all, Holden changed completely. The kind and polite boy she met, in the beginning, was now a man with something to prove who spends most of his time in the company of evil, that has to take a toll on anyone.
4. Agent Holden and Agent Tench seemed to be at odds by the end of season one. So much so, that Tench didn’t vouch for Holden when interrogated by the board. Why do you think that is? Was Holden really out of line in his methods or do you think it was necessary for him to be that way to get the job done? Do you think Tench should have backed him up knowing that these criminals needed to be provoked in order to cooperate?
Joseph: Tench is a very personal person. He’s not overly expressive, it took a few episodes for him to introduce his son, but he’s not unaware that work and relationships do need a particular level of personableness. In fact, he spends half of the first season course-correcting Holden’s behavior in front of the police. He’s very chummy with other cops, but serial killers are his threshold for niceties. In theory, his disagreement with Holden seems somewhat hypocritical to his behavior. Holden bares no partiality against the killers, but Tench does. Here it’s not a matter of principle, it’s prejudice and subjectivity. Yet, I suppose what scares him is that Holden seems to be too subjective with his interviewees, that he’s enjoying the engagement with psychopaths – and I agree with Tench, Holden is going a little too far into these killers’ comfort zone, and look where it got him.
Alex: I wouldn’t be too worried about our pals Ford and Tench. We know that Tench views Holden as a surrogate son (after his mini-monologue post-car accident). It adds to the realism of the show that he doesn’t stand up on the director’s desk as if it were Dead Poet’s Society. In his eyes, the kid made a mistake. Now they have to live with it and pay the price.
Mohammad: Agents Tench and Holden began the show with seemingly good chemistry. Tench seemed to be more of the structural leader with Holden being the one expanding the boundaries of that structure with his curiosity. But as the show progressed and Holden’s confidence and belief in himself grew, he wasn’t able to be reigned in by Tench’s structure anymore. His approach was one of the ends justify the means. Tench was not entirely comfortable with this approach, and his colleagues even less so. I think this is why Tench didn’t back him with the board.
Alberto: I disagree with the main assumption in this question. We are taking for granted that “criminals needed to be provoked in order to cooperate;” which feels more like Holden’s confirmation bias than what we saw in each interrogation scene. He is also being results-oriented, completely sure that because it works – it must be the best and only way to do it. In conclusion, I have Bill’s back on this one, Holden is out of control, overflowing with narcissism, seeing your partner like that –must be scary shit.
Diane: I think Tench thinks he’s right if that makes sense. He doesn’t know anything different from what he has been taught his whole life. This is a learning curve for him just as it is Holden. The problem with what they are doing is that there is just so much red tape and although I don’t necessarily agree entirely with head games Holden was playing with these people, he did what needed to do in order to get the information. His issues with authority are showing themselves because he’s getting a big ol’ head with the work he is doing. He wants to be the guy the reinvents the wheel and Tench wants to just make a more advanced wheel. I think it’s also one of the reasons he had a breakdown. He didn’t listen to Tench, he didn’t cool it, slow down, think. He just does. We just get mad at Tench as the viewer because we know from our modern world what Holden is doing will become a standard practice, but there have to be rules and Holden crosses the morality line to prove his worth and honestly if I were his partner I wouldn’t be cool with it either cause that’s my ass on the line.
5. Okay, so the Kemper and Holden situation got weird in the final episode. Why do you think Kemper latched onto Holden this much? Why did he make Holden his medical proxy? Also, how scared were you in the final moments of the episode?! Did you think Kemper was going to hurt him?
Joseph: Holden was foolish to believe that this situation would be entirely objective, I think Tench knew that giving them too much information would be like giving them a rope to climb over the wall that protects their personal lives. Kemper attaches himself to authority, this aspect of his character was understood way before we even saw him – so, why did Holden think that he would be an exception? That giving him extremely personal information wouldn’t create the same response. I’d reckon it’s a horrible combination of over-ambition and naiveté – and the absurd belief that prison stops a criminal’s ability to make contact with society. Given the communication between killers in prisons several states apart, incarceration does not offer a barrier between prison and the outside world. Also, in that final scene, we get our first hint of the physical damage these psychopaths can deliver, and I couldn’t have left the room faster myself. To put it simply, in that moment, Kemper gave me the heebee-geebees. I shuddered.
Alex: My favorite scene of the season by far, and one I’m really hoping warrants some awards consideration for Cameron Britton. The symbiotic relationship between the two was too strong to ignore, and the season would have felt incomplete without a return to that pairing. With everything falling apart around him it almost feels as if Holden is visiting him because he’s the closest thing he has to a friend. Also, apparently that moment of panic as he realizes he’s stuck alone with Kemper during a changeover is based off a real-life situation that befell Agent Douglas’s partner. Beyond terrifying.
Mohammad: I honestly didn’t think Kemper was going to hurt him, he seemed to enjoy his company too much for that. I think Kemper believed Holden actually understood him on a different level than most others. Rather than being purely disgusted by his actions, Kemper believed Holden held more curiosity than disgust for what he had done. I think those final moments were a way to reel Holden back in a bit, he seemed to think he was invincible before this took place. Kemper reminded him this is not the case.
Alberto: I touched on this scene before, truly amazing craft by everyone, Groff (Holden) and Britton (Kemper) are doing some extremely beautiful and impactful yet subtle work, and Fincher shows why he is one the best directors working today. In the back of my mind, I had rationalized why Kemper wouldn’t hurt Holden, but Fincher builds so much tension through the use of dialogue and camera work, that yes – I did feel Kemper could hurt Holden badly.
Diane: Kemper latched on to Holden so much because he’s everything Kemper sees as awesome and cool. Remember, this dude watches a crap ton of cop shows and who better to latch onto the hot-shot FBI guy that actually gives him the time of day? This is the big leagues for someone like Kemper. As awestruck as Holden was for these killers, Kemper was awestruck by him. Saw him as an equal. He made him a proxy because that’s the only way to get his attention. Hurt himself and then get him to come see him because clearly, the cards he was sending weren’t working.
6. Let’s discuss Tench and Holden’s shady colleague, Agent Smith. What do you think his deal is? Why did he send in the tape? And what does he have against these guys? Do you agree or disagree with what he did?
Joseph: To use a general method of categorization, if this were a Dungeons and Dragons game, then Kemper is Neutral/Chaotic Evil, Tench is Neutral Good, Holden is Chaotic Good, Carr is True Neutral and I’d place Smith as a Lawful Good. I think this sums him up perfectly. I don’t give too much credence to Holden’s claim that he’s a spy. If anything, he fits into the group better than Holden, behaviorally speaking. Rather, I’m trying to understand why he sent in the tape. With the lack of motive (other than to do what is right), I’m inclined to believe that there may some sabotage intended. But, if I’m being honest, I think Smith is dead weight to the show. He doesn’t really add anything to the conversation, other than to stir conflict in the plot. He’s a bit of a wet blanket with nothing to do. Perhaps they’ll make something more of him in season 2, but, as for now, I’m not loving him.
Alex: From the moment he was introduced as a potential mole for the big boss himself, Agent Smith may as well have been carrying around a giant sign on his forehead reading “Plot Device.” That said, the work they were doing required a degree of getting your hands dirty that many weren’t ready for. Stands to reason it wouldn’t go smoothly.
Mohammad: I actually don’t think Agent Smith was shady. Quite the opposite actually. He was too honest and felt too uncomfortable working with a guy like Holden had turned into by the finale. Smith is a by the books type of person and Holden constantly made him bend and break rules to suit his own needs. I think Agent Smith was very nervous about this and this is why he sent in the tape.
Alberto: I have no clue at all what this character is up to, at first I was sure he was snitching for the boss. But leaking the tape after the meeting… maybe is the “moral” thing to do, and it can be used as a reflection on how the rest of the team is either losing or leaving their morals behind for the “greater good”. I’m just guessing, this is by far my least favorite character, so f** him.
Diane: I just think this dude needs to go somewhere else. Clearly, he’s not cut out for the work that they are doing. I also think he almost pissed himself when he realized how much trouble he was about to get into. It’s a dog eat dog world and he did not want to get eaten, but honestly, I would shake this dude and remind him how team works. One person gets screwed and so does the rest of the team. I mean, hello, we’ve all done annoying school group projects.
7. Anna Torv did a phenomenal job as Dr. Wendy Carr. What did you think of her role in all this? And what are your thoughts on her story/personal life? What was the deal with the cat?
Joseph: So, she’s not a lonely cat lady, but she is a bit lonely, and she kinda has a cat now. Seriously though, she’s an interested and curious character, and she’s fantastic. The cat thing is fascinating. She doesn’t hunt the cat to validate its presence, she simply supports and feeds it. As far as Carr is concerned, her curiosity is fed and the cat is its own thing. I liked this delicate touch. I’ve never seen Anna Torv in anything else, but she has my attention. When we’re introduced to Carr, I genuinely thought she might be Carrie Coon, I feel that she and Torv share a similar vibe – they’re both excellent actresses and have total command over their serious, matter-of-fact characters. I love them. What’s more is that she’s respectably strong among the men. Holden is the opposite of a caricature of masculinity, while Tench is more conventionally masculine (he’s conservative about family problems, physically intimidating and has a deep, slightly gruff voice – though he’s pretty sensitive too), however, Carr is neither of these things. She’s not judged as strong by her likeness to masculinity, rather she’s regarded and respected by her intelligence and value as an academic. Her character feels refreshing. Overall, I think Carr best embodies what Mindhunter is at its core; objective, non-accusal, curious. Holden ultimately betrays these principals, Tench falls weak and struggles with them, while Carr is smart and open enough to let obsession be a fool’s game.
Alex: Anna Torv is the best. Anyone that watched Fringe knows this. That show lost me around the seventh time they time-traveled to a different multiverse (?), but FBI Agent Olivia Dunham was always great. And as for the cat? It’s umm, a metaphor… for… I have no idea. Ask Holden and Tench, looks like they have some free time before season two!
Mohammad: I agree Anna Torv did a fabulous job as Dr. Carr. I enjoyed her character quite a bit. She seemed to be the one with the best balance of pushing this important work, but keeping her integrity while doing it. She was the one who gave me confidence this team could actually succeed with this study as she knew the right way to tackle the bigger picture of the team. The cat part was interesting. I’m not sure exactly what the deal with the cat was, but I think it may have been to show she was a little lonely here. Feeding the cat was a way for her to connect with something outside of work.
Alberto: I loved every second Torv was on-screen, she is pure gold. I especially enjoyed how the further we got into the show, she was given equal screen time but with less dialogue. They took her character from exposition machine to fully-fleshed, and it was really fun to watch. I enjoyed the bits we got from her personal life, it provides the character and Anna Tory the time to develop a real person. Even if it was dropped pretty quickly in exchange for development inside the FBI. I’m still puzzled about the cat. Which supports the point I made in the first answer, it’s a good episode, but a lot of threads are still open, and it left me with a bitter-sour taste.
Diane: Anna Torv can do no wrong and although Dr. Carr was not always my favorite character she helped sell it as the straight woman, so to speak, the one that would keep these two guys in line and it worked for a while, but I do feel bad for her. She looked so tired at the end. This job is beating her up and it’s clear she misses her old lie no matter how fun this one might be. Also, I hope kitty was ok. Clearly feeding it was giving her something to look forward to, but it also served as symbolism show that her emotions from beginning to end. When she first feeds the cat she’s happy and when everything starts to finally turn to shit she finds the ants or whatever that was in the can. Just like her own life.
Final Verdict: Sights are set and hopes are high as the wait begins for Mindhunter’s second season.
With season one of Mindhunter completed, there is a lot of anticipation to see where the story leads next. The finale left the audience with an emotionally distressing moment involving Agent Holden, who had just escaped a frightening encounter with Ed Kemper (Cameron Britton). This moment brought to light the odd but human connection Agent Holden had begun making with the serial killers he was studying. This transformation he underwent, through the course of the season, resulted in a rude awakening when Ed Kemper was inches from his face (a frightfully superb performance by Britton btw!). As a result of these behavioral changes, every character in the finale has essentially disconnected themselves from Holden. This will be an interesting dynamic to return to when the second season starts.
Furthermore, viewers were left wondering of the mystery man from Park City, Kansas and his significance to the overall story. This was David Fincher’s work at its best, delivering allure and enigma to a character that unknowingly became an integral part of the developing story. Whether this mystery character will set the stage for season two is yet to be seen, but if his questionable behavior is any indication, he just may be Mindhunter’s next story.