I have, perhaps, resisted the obvious decision for a hair too long. Fault of some vaunted sense of vanity, I’m certain, but here we are now, and I’ve come around. Perhaps it took the continuity of these two episodes for me to realize; or perhaps I’ve just come to realize that if you’re still with me, you’ve gotten the gist of the series. Either way, this review is a two-for. I’m doing 4 and 5 together, friends! The narrative practically demands it.
These two episodes focus on Bill and Holden helping an almost comically quaint and dopey small town sheriff named Ocasek (and if that immediately summons “Just What I Needed” into your head, rest assured, you are not alone.) A woman is found brutally killed (there wouldn’t be too much of a show if we couldn’t rely on a steady stream of bodies) and our men provide insight and assistance. Ocasek proves woefully naïve – he lets the fiancé of the murdered woman leave town, because he is far more kind than he is savvy, but provides a certain invaluable awareness of the personalities and proclivities of the town. Over the course of the two episodes, we gradually learn that the murdered woman was engaged to a real poindexter, a milquetoast so vanilla you could flavor ice cream with him. He is the obvious suspect, and the correct one, though we discover he worked in tandem with his much more assertive and mean spirited brother-in-law, and to a far lesser extent, his sister (call her a collateral conspirator; she was pulled in well after the facts and kind of forced to clean up the men’s mess; call it a woman’s work, I suppose.) The struggle is to determine which of the men dealt the killing blow; both seem entirely capable and are wholly culpable.
And that really is, the long and short of the plot. Yet these two episodes feel full and active in a way that the often verbose show does not always. Understand; I greatly appreciate the long, wordy stretches of this series. It is not necessarily kinetic; it sometimes feels more like a stage play. But it is cerebral and haunting. However, there is nothing wrong with adding a tiny bit of pep here and there – and there is something vaguely thrilling about watching the actual investigative process in action. I am aware this is not an instinct in any way unique to me; detectives and their stock in trade have been perhaps the most universal of tropes for a very long time, for a very good reason. There is satisfaction in the solution of a puzzle. But, guys. This is Mindhunter, and it has no interest in leaving us fulfilled. Yes, we get some closure, but at the expense of Ocasek’s sense of trust, of security. Bill and Holden experience undoubtedly a higher volume of carnage, but at a greater remove. We know, because they are our heroes and this is what we accept of heroes, that they have empathy and in particular, Bill has worn the consequences of a life analyzing violence. But they are still at a remove. In the end, no matter how close they may get to these cases, there is anonymity to them; they are strangers, and it is sad, but it is not personal. For Ocasek, these are people. The victim, the killer, the accessories, are extremely intimate. This is the greatest asset he can bring to the investigation – his knowledge of who these people are, where they come from, what they do – and it is also the thing that will wound him most deeply.
I very nearly typed out the phrase “it is fun…” and then remembered what I was talking about, so let me amend; it is engaging to see the show throw a third into Bill and Holden’s dynamic and to see what happens. Their easy rhythms and chemistry can makes it easy to forget how strange and ugly what they are doing is, and too, how strange they themselves are in this world. At a time of hyper masculinity, where psychology is still viewed with an almost puritanical fear of the unknown, they are sensitive men who embrace the power of being intelligent, thoughtful, perceptive. For Holden, it is more natural. He is closer to a part of the hippie generation coming up below him, the free lovers who believe in flower power and giving peace a chance, and he has the face of a goddamn angel. But Bill looks like the old guard. He is buzzcutt alpha male material, and in that way, one of the greatest and most pleasing surprises of the show for me has been the adept and delicate way that Bill functions. He is as smart and capable as Holden, but better with people – oddly enough, more sensitive to them. He maintains a patience with Ocasek that Holden could not hope to achieve. Now we have discussed previously Holden’s alienation, strange little robot that he is, but too, his handling of Ocasek smacks of arrogance. Holden expects everyone to be at his level, or to just be out of his way. Being able to watch both interact with a third party draws their characters more acutely; refines them even deeper.
And this is where the show goes somewhat full circle. Because after the interplay with Ocasek, we are back to what works best; Holden and Bill, bouncing off of each other, honing their ideas to finer points and deeper insights. I love these boogers. I want what’s best for them. And I know worse is coming.