Jonathan Groff sang ‘Frozen,’ ‘Hamilton’ on set of Netflix’s ‘Mindhunter’
Spoiler alert! Contains major plot details about the ending of “Mindhunter” Season 2, now streaming on Netflix.
Are serial killers born bad, or are they products of their environments?
That’s the oft-debated question at the heart of Netflix’s chilling crime procedural “Mindhunter” (Season 2 now streaming). The series – produced by David Fincher and based on retired FBI agent John E. Douglas and writer Mark Olshaker’s 1995 true-crime memoir – follows fictional FBI agents Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) and Bill Tench (Holt McCallany) as they interview high-profile murderers such as Ed Kemper and David “Son of Sam” Berkowitz and study their psychology.
The most noteworthy criminal portrayed in nine new episodes is hippie cult leader Charles Manson (Damon Herriman), who makes a brief but haunting appearance midway through the season during an interrogation scene with Ford and Tench. Tench has recently learned that his withdrawn adopted son, Brian (Zachary Scott Ross), was an accessory to a toddler’s murder by a group of local boys, raising frightening questions of whether Brian could grow up to become one of the deranged killers Tench profiles.
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Tench’s emotional family drama changes the tenor of his interaction with Manson, who famously instructed his impressionable young followers (whom he called his “Family”) to brutally murder actress Sharon Tate and six others in 1969. Tench accuses Manson of indoctrinating teenagers with his racist and murderous philosophies, which Manson turns back on him by saying they were the “children” neglected by society and must learn from their own mistakes.
“You’re not supposed to let children fall; you’re supposed to guide them,” Tench says heatedly.
“Guide them into what you guided them into?” Manson retorts with a laugh. “This anger that you’re feeling, Agent Tench, it’s just anger that you’ve got for you.”
It’s a charged confrontation that reflects Tench’s own feelings of guilt for not being home often enough, as he wonders whether he’s responsible for Brian’s seeming lack of empathy.
“What we see in that (scene) are two opposing philosophies about children and life,” McCallany says. “Does Bill privately harbor doubts that he could’ve done certain things differently? Absolutely. Like many men of his generation, Bill is an absentee father, he travels many weeks a year, and has tremendous difficulty connecting with his son. Manson is able to identify that Achilles heel and exploits that in their interaction, and that’s why we see Bill get so deeply affected.”
The season ends on a shattering note for Tench, who returns home to find that his wife (Stacey Roca) has left him, following disagreements over his frequent absence and Brian’s well-being.
Ford is left feeling similarly helpless by the final scene, having spent Season 2 doggedly investigating the so-called Atlanta Child Murders, a string of abductions and killings over the course of two years that resulted in the deaths of 29 black children (mostly boys) and young adults.
Contending that serial killers target their own race, despite pushback from FBI higher-ups, Ford eventually narrows in on suspect Wayne Williams (Christopher Livingston), a 23-year-old black man who was tried and convicted of two adult murders in the case. (The other 27 deaths technically remain unsolved.)
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But even after Williams’ arrest, one of the victim’s mothers (June Carryl) expresses her dissatisfaction with the FBI’s handling of the investigation, calling Williams a mere “scapegoat” so they could close the case.
“Wayne just might be Atlanta’s 30th victim,” she tells a stunned Holden, who until that point had never considered the case’s racial implications. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms reopened it earlier this year, citing the desire to “bring closure” to the victims’ families.
“It’s chillingly relevant today, just in the way that we can sweep people in poverty and people of color’s cases under the rug,” Groff says. That it took “29 victims before people really started paying attention was incredibly frustrating, I’m sure, for people going through it at the time.”
Ford’s new uncertainty over Williams’ conviction is expected to inform the character going forward, if “Mindhunter” is picked up for Season 3.
Jubilation over Williams’ arrest quickly dissipates in the final minutes of the season, with “Holden watching on TV that it’s basically case closed in Atlanta – I don’t think he thought that was going to happen,” Groff says. “It’s pretty earth-shattering, and I’d be really interested to see how that affects him.”
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