I love crime. Do you love crime? I bet you do. And who else knows we love crime? David Fincher.
In fact, he knows it so well that the new season of Mindhunter cannot stop satirising our sick fascination with crime. We are the middle-aged professional fathers at a barbeque, pestering Bill Tench for details about serial killers. We are the faux-academic child psychiatrists perking up at the mention of Charles Manson. We are the Atlanta public on the other side of the TV screen yearning for the latest news of the shocking and gruesome.
Fincher nods along with us, and continues to provide. However, he has also begun to peel away the layers of the crime drama voyeurism, revealing that underneath sensationalism lies the foulest – and most confusing – aspect of the human psyche. While the satirical fascination and curiosity of the lay public is a gentle pat on the head, the various allusions to trauma is a full-on smack.
Trauma comes centre stage in this season. We begin with Holden Ford’s hospitalisation for panic disorder and witness the impact of crime oversaturation. Although this incident is dealt with suspiciously and erroneously quickly – Holden pops a Valium or two and kind of gets on with it? – it still leaves an unpleasant aftertaste. However, the most shocking and brutal depiction of trauma comes from Bill’s adopted son’s story line. Brian raised questions even in season 1 due to his withdrawn nature and refusal to talk, which suggested an unidentified trauma and a dark past. This eventually comes to the forefront as he participates in the manslaughter of a toddler. Was this the result of deviancy or of un-addressed trauma? Will past trauma breed more trauma?
These questions ought to cause concern as Mindhunter continuously stresses the impotence of childhood development on serial killers, or disturbed individuals in general. Bill Tench slowly becomes aware of this as he confronts it both through the words of child psychologists and through his own work. He comes to realise that seemingly simple things as a frequently absent father – which he is – can cause a significant negative impact on a child’s psyche. This fear also plays out in Dr Wendy Carr’s new girlfriend’s relationship with her son, who seemingly struggles to adapt to his parent’s divorce and to his mother’s way of life.
The main issue that this points to is the question of nature vs nurture. If serial killers are people with abnormal responses to normal situations, how Is that response determined? Is there such a thing as true evil or is it all just a product of incorrect social conditioning? Charles Manson seems to believe in both. For the people of Mindhunter– and probably us too – the main horror of the Manson family lies in the fact that Manson’s disciples were middleclass, educated kids; they were us. Yet Manson claims that they behaved as they did because society disposed of them, while simultaneously insisting that he did not persuade them to do anything that they didn’t want to; that the desire to kill was already inside of them. It thus becomes unclear, were their evil deeds a response to society? or were they the product of ingrained evil? Was this trauma or human nature?
Regardless, the horror of their deeds still lingers, just as the horror of Brian’s involvement with a murder of a toddler still lingers with Bill. He feels powerless in this situation, crawling around in the dark as he navigates the world of trauma response, and eventually comes to a realisation that profiling and understanding human behaviour is not at all straight forward. There is no definitive cause and effect. Furthermore, this displaces him from his usual role as the man in charge, who is sitting across from a convicted criminal with a large file full of information and data; and he finally confesses to Brain ‘Your silence scares the shit out of me’.
This fear and confusion also shed light on the perils of attempting to profile human behaviour and psyche. In this season, the Atlanta child murders are intended to demonstrate the FBI’s new profiling methods, however, for the most part they were met with scepticism. It could be due to personal prejudices and self-defence that Holden’s insistence on a black male perpetrator continuously got dismissed by those around him, but it is also due to caution and fear of the seemingly all-knowing hubris. As Jim Barney pointedly asks Holden, ‘What is the tipping point for matching a profile?’, stressing the perils of attempting to contain human behaviour though scientific methods.
Thus, the sobering central issue of this season of Mindhunter remains the relationship between the individual and society. It is a relationship that is a ripe ground for trauma, for misunderstanding, for victimisation. It is a relationship that is constantly evolving, both for the good and the bad. Society changes its mind about what is deviant – such as by removing homosexuality from the DSM – but it also changes its mind about what is right. The individual cannot be completely in sync with his surroundings, nor does he respond behaviourally as everyone else. Hence, it is difficult to understand, yet alone capture and classify the multiplicity of human behaviour, and Mindhunter’sFBI are merely treading the water…