R29 Binge Club: Mindhunter Episodes 1-3 Recaps

After months of mystery, Netflix’s big new psychodrama Mindhunter is finally here. As we saw in the buzzy trailer, the David Fincher-directed thriller takes us directly into the minds of serial killers at the exact moment the term was first being explored. Gone are the simple-to-understand crimes of gangsters like John Dillinger and and Machine Gun Kelly — no, not that Machine Gun Kelly — while in their place, are people killing others for much more obscure reasons than fame and fortune; now, people’s dogs are telling them to do it. Think real-life infamous criminals like Charles Manson and the Son Of Sam killer, David Berkowitz.
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So, enter special agent Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff), an up-and-coming FBI agent who truly, desperately wants to understand the psychology of these seemingly unknowable killers, and older agent Bill Tench (Holt McCallany). The pair travel the country teaching local police officers what they know about the new brand of murderers popping up across the country, while also trying to understand the threat themselves. Eventually, the men will come in contact with more serial killers than they expected, leading to the kind of drama one would expect from a made-for-Netflix-binges series like Mindhunter.
Keep reading for a live recap of Mindhunter’s wild first season, and keep coming back as we update this story throughout the day. As Holden says in the trailer, “You want truffles? You got to get in the dirt with the pigs.” Well, it’s time to dig.
“Episode 1”
It’s 1977 in Braddock, Pennsylvania and agent Holden Ford has a hostage situation to manage. He arrives on the scene and finds out a seemingly unwell man named Cody Miller (David H. Holmes) has taken five people hostage and is threatening them with a massive shotgun. Cody’s only true demand is he wants to see his wife, whom it's later revealed he had an argument with. Ford doubts whether that would be for the best, since the man is unquestionably in the middle of an episode. We know this because he keeps talking about being “invisible” and proves this by publicly stripping off all of his clothing and going totally full-frontal in front of the police, since he doesn’t think anyone can see him. “I can see you,” Ford tells Miller, whose pants and underwear are around his ankles. “I can see that you’re naked. I can see that you’re cold.” Although Cody fixes his clothing, his crisis only gets worse when he realises he won't be talking to his wife. As Ford looks on, Miller shoots himself in the head, leaving a gorey mess behind.
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And so ends the Mindhunter cold open. After the death in Braddock, Ford returns to his FBI homebase in Fredericksburg, Virginia and is informed by his superior he’ll be teaching young minds full-time about hostage negotiations. Although Ford’s boss claims this is important work, none of the 29-year-old’s students seem that excited. Even Ford himself is more interested in a class taught by a Peter Rathman (Jordan Gelber), who’s talking about the impossible-to-understand murder motives for men like Son Of Sam killer David Berkowitz. “It’s a void,” he says. “It’s a black hole.” That certainly sounds like a possible Mindhunter mission statement if I ever heard one.
After drinks with Peter, Ford becomes a little obsessed with figuring out the psychology of the world’s new crop of killers. He audits a few classes at the University of Virginia about criminal psychology, even know his superior says the study of the human mind is “frowned upon.” Bizarrely, the way he says the subject is for “backroom boys” somehow sounds homophobic, but maybe that’s just the latent prejudice of HBO's The Deuce, which also takes also place in the 1970s, influencing my outlook. When Ford doesn’t exactly get a warm welcome from the academic “hippies” of UVA, he ends up getting a different, more real-world-focused education from fellow FBI employee Bill Tench of the behaviour science department, who runs into the younger man in the Bureau cafeteria. Tench explain he goes on the road and gives classes to local police departments on what the Bureau is teaching these days. Would Ford happen to be more interested in traveling the country from New York to California over, say, getting suspicious looks from long-haired professors on university campuses? Of course he would.
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This is how our heroes find themselves in Fairfield, Iowa among the cornfields. A young single mother and her son have been savagely murdered, because what is a serial killer show without a savagely murdered woman and child? Tench explains to Fairfield officers that means, motive, and opportunity are no longer enough anymore when it comes to figuring out who a criminal suspect could be. Instead, you need to think about “what, why, who.” Then, you’ll catch your bad guy red handed (the red is probably someone else’s blood, because this is Mindhunter). Ford immediately manages to make some enemies by making a vaguely emotional nature-versus-nature case for Charles Manson, as opposed to totally demonising the California cult leader. A hardened old detective named Frank McGraw (Thomas Francis Murphy) questions Ford’s presentation, explaining he’s a 22-year LAPD veteran who knew every single person who worked the Manson case. “How many homicides have you worked?” the man snipes. Is there anyone who isn’t immediately suspicious of Ford?
Despite McGraw’s snarky attitude towards Ford, he approaches the young man and Tench about his case, which is about the aforementioned slain sweet single mom, who was named Ada. The details of the murder are horrifying, as it involves Ada being cuffed to her bed, lashed, and rectally violated with a broomstick, possibly all while her son watched. The murderer then killed the boy in the same way. There was blood everywhere and semen on throw cushion in the home. McGraw has absolutely no details about the murder other than the photos, so, Ford concludes without more information, he and Tench can’t help. McGraw, who moved to Iowa just to get away from these kinds of unfathomably dark crimes, is rightly infuriated again. No one likes Ford.
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The episode ends with Tench chewing Ford out for making everything so deeply complicated without helping anyone. The final shot of “Episode 1” shows the two men driving through the dark back roads of middle America, with Don McLean crooning “Crying” in the background.
Oh, by the way, there’s a B-plot in here about Ford getting a girlfriend named Debbie (Hannah Gross), who makes him watch movies about gay love stories and transgender women, smoke pot, and listen to women curse in the middle of sex. He is stunningly awkward throughout every single beat and a total fed. At least we now know a trained FBI agent like Ford is unable to tell if a woman is lying about having an orgasm.
Photo: Courtesy of Netflix.
“Episode 2”
Holden Ford is the kind of person who says things like, “A killer who can’t stop talking? It’s a gift!” Holden Ford is so ridiculously into his new passion for criminal psychology it’s darkly funny. In fact, three separate moments in “Episode 2” made me laugh out loud, although that may be due to the fact I woke up at 3 a.m. to start watching Mindhunter. The show is apparently so top secret, Netflix couldn’t afford to release a single screener. You’re probably wondering what could happen in a show about truly haunting, woman-hating serial killers that could make someone like me of all giggle. Of course, each of the moments had to do with the absurdity of agent Ford, and the tone feels very similar to the black comedy splashes of the Fincher-helmed Fight Club, which was my favourite movie throughout my teen years.
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Now that we’re thoroughly descending into the truly creepy world of serial killers, it’s time for Ford to talk to one in reality. His first “conversation” partner is Ed Kemper (Cameron Britton, whose resemblance to real-life serial killer Kemper is staggering), also known as the “Coed Killer.” Ed is 6-foot-9 and about 300 pounds, or, as local California police put it, “super king-sized.” Ford decides he’s going to try to bring his FBI-issues handgun into his first interview with the giant of a man, which is a terrible idea. Actually, seeing a highly intelligent, manipulative, and dangerous man like Ed in the first place is an awful idea. But, good old Ford will not listen to reason. So, his facial reaction when a corrections officers lays out the possible real-life consequences for meeting with Ed — which are possible murder, assault, general abuse, or being dragged into a hostage situation — is actually priceless. The next humorous moment arrives when Ed, an imprisoned man who speaks to almost no one all day, drags Ford’s intelligence, asking him, “You can spell oeuvre, can't you?" The shade is mitigated however, by the appalling, true fact the “oeuvre” Ed was originally referring to was his history of brutally murdering women and raping their corpses, his own mother included.
Finally, rounding out the pitch black humour of “Episode 2,” is the scene where Ford and Tench’s boss Shepard reams the pair out for secretly meeting with an infamous “sequence killer,” as Ford says in this instalment, like Ed and angering the Sacramento, California district attorney. Why is Ford so good at making people all across America angry? “What’s next, Charles Manson? When’s he booked for?!” Shepard (Cotter Smith) rhetorically screams at Tench, who’s defending Ford. The younger agent, however, can’t keep his mouth shut and peeks into the door, saying without a hint of irony, “We were thinking June…” Read the room, Holden, read the room! Ford’s reveal is so absurd, all Shepard can do is throw his own arms up in the air.
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“I like you,” the FBI head honcho tells Tench after gaining his composure. “I don’t particularly like him, but I like you,” I’m fairly certain no one likes Ford, so Shepard is not alone. Ford’s own girlfriend Debbie isn’t even all that pleased with his oral sex skills. Again, Debbie barely gets any real attention this episode. All we learn about the graduate student, other than her pointed critiques of Ford’s head-giving techniques, is she has a mother who still lives in Detroit, Michigan and is very judgemental of how men speak about their own mothers. Considering how serial killer Ed talks about his own mother, Debbie’s Mom is correct to use such a shrewd test. At least Ford claims he likes his mom and really enjoys talking to her. Yet, I expect something more darkly complicated is going on behind Ford’s “momma’s boy” smile, because nothing can be so benignly simple in a thriller like Mindhunter. Is she dead?
The Debbie storyline gets the general shaft because “Episode 2” is squarely dedicated to sending heroes Ford and Tench towards solidifying the FBI’s behavioural science unit. Ford’s first meeting with Ed Kemper reveals there’s a pathology with serial killers, a yet-to-be-used title, that’s not in line with the category of “lust killings.” Rather, Ed sees his crimes as a “vocation,” and is disturbingly self-aware about his string of murders. The apparent “conditioning” he shows hints it’s possible to see a pattern with murderers like Ed, which we now know, four decades later, is true. Ed believes there could be at least 35 people like him in America right now, and Ford theorises whomever nearly beat an elderly Sacramento woman within an inch of her life, and killed her dog, might be one of those people. So, after laying all of this out for their boss Shepard, Ford and Tench are forced to move their new secret operation of researching criminal psychology into the basement. At least they can officially dedicate a fifth of their workweek to their new goal of outsmarting criminals by talking to criminals.
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As the Talking Head sing in the close of “Episode 2,” are Ford and Tench now Fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-far better? Let’s hope so, because the cold open gives us our first glimpse at a Kansas man (Sonny Valicenti) who’s really, really obsessed with rules and seems like he’s going to end up murdering people in a way that will give me nightmare. All signs point to the mystery guy being Mindhunter’s version of the BTK Killer, Dennis Rader, who hails from The Wheat State, wore the exact glasses this creepy man wears, and was an ADT employee. The credits currently only refer to the man as “ADT Serviceman.”
P.S. As a 13-year Supernatural fan, the Brothers Winchester have conditioned me to absolutely love watching two polar-opposite men travel the United States in a vintage car while staying in different no-name motels. So, to me, that travel montage was perfect. And it hinted Tench probably has a wife! And she’s fed up with the fact he’s never home.
“Episode 3”
By the end of “Episode 3,” an impressed police officer tells Ford he’s a modern day Sherlock Holmes, and Tench is his Mr. Watson. This is definitely true, provided at some point in A Study In Scarlet, Sherlock Holmes lit up with pure joy after learning to an old woman was murdered, only yell, "It's elementary, my dear Watson, WE ARE VINDICATED." I assume I missed that part of the novel, but I’m sure it happened. As usual, Ford is way too excited about the kind of macabre themes that should give him far greater pause. Again, what is his relationship with his mother really like?
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While we don’t get any more of an explanation on that huge looming question, we do meet another woman, Dr. Wendy Carr (Anna Torv). So that brings the count of Mindhunter’s speaking roles for women up to three: Debbie, Wendy, and FBI boss Shepard’s secretary, who is surely allowed to mumble things to the important men walking past her desk. New addition Wendy is a social sciences professor in Boston, Massachusetts who has known Tench for years. Currently, she’s working on a book detailing the supposed psychopathy of captains of industries. Yet, she believes the serial killed Ford and Tench — Forch? — are studying aren’t so different from these wealthy white-collar criminals. The only difference between the two groups is their “different leanings.” Speaking of books, Wendy believes Forch could be on to a true “Eureka!”-worthy idea by studying serial killers and should consider writing a book about their findings. The doctor thinks their insights could have “far-reaching value” for not only law enforcement, as Forch believes, but also everything from disciplines like behavioral science to criminology.
Ford is, as expected, extremely excited by this news, going to so far as to write out “B-O-O-K” out in his notes. Tench, ever the apprehensive one, immediately shoots down the prospect, reminding Dr. Carr the Forch operation is so secretive it was banished to the basement by their boss. It’s not like they can do around publicising their investigation to the entire world. He also claims they don’t have the time for such a heavy project because of “Road School.” Wendy makes this face and points out someone else could pick up that work. Tench doesn’t agree, even as Ford starts prattling on about his book dreams.
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After stopping by Wendy’s office, they try to see a convict named Benjamin Miller, but he declines the visit. Soon enough, it’s clear Tench is warming up to the idea of making their study a little more intense as he marks a gigantic map with the locations of the other murderers he and Ford would like to visit sometime soon. Tench gets further pulled into Ford’s obsession when the pair received a phone call from Sacramento, learning another old woman was attacked in the exact same way the elderly lady from “Episode 2” was. Yet, this time, the brutal beating was deadly, and her dog was “eviscerated.” Another hint the killer is getting more intense with his “sequence” slayings: this time, the dog was even bigger.
When Forch gets to Sacramento, Detective Roy Carver (Peter Murnik) drops a few details that suggest this murder is similar to the Kemper killings. The person clearly wanted to humiliate and dominate his victims, is possibly choosing women who remind him of his mother, is physically mature, socially-slash-emotionally immature, and probably still lives with his mom. Like Kemper, one man, Dwight Taylor (Tobias Segal), also likes talking to cops and asked what “happened” to the latest victim once police arrived at the crime scene. Forch gives each other knowing looks, recognising they probably found their suspect.
The hunch turns out to be correct, and Dwight eventually confesses to the crime after Ford, Tench, and Carver all give the 30-year-old during a smoke break outside of home. It seems his rampage was set off when his mother, who already humiliates her son on the regular, like Kemper’s mom allegedly did, met a new boyfriend and immediately allowed the man to move into the Taylor's already-cramped home. This is why Carver toasts Ford, calling him a regular Sherlock in a truly earnest way. After saving the day in Sacramento, Forch visits Kemper again, and there is absolutely nothing the slightest bit humorous about this meeting, unlike the drags of “Episode 2.” It’s all so disturbing toward women, I’ll just skip the details. With these experiences in mind, Tench agrees to at least consider expanding their research and inviting Doctor Carr to Virginia to strategise.
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When it comes to Debbie Watch, the student gets two scenes. One where she essentially stares at a slightly manic Ford, who is ironing clothing in the middle of the night, and one scene where she talks to Ford while he’s in the shower. He tries to go down on her once again and swears he’s “very kinky.” The amount of menace in his voice reminds me something is probably very wrong with him. And, everyone please remember we haven’t seen Debbie — who just so happens to be from the exact city where Ford spent his formative FBI years — speak to a single living person other than the agent. Is she real? I’m not sure. Like I said, David Fincher did direct Fight Club.
Either way, Forch have bigger problems to worry about than whether Debbie is a figment or not, as the BTK killer is creepily haunting around another Kansas city in the “Episode 3” cold open.
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