OUR BEST FEMINIST-COMEDIAN-TRUE-CRIME FANS TALK MINDHUNTER
ELIZABETH: Mindhunter, based on a book about a real FBI agent, is an original series created by Netflix about two straight white dudes who learn a lot of stuff about serial killers. I need to express this before we go any further, I love me some white dudes and I love me some true crime, so I’m not 100% mad at Netflix about this, but I think it’s important to point out that it would super exciting if we could see a show about some WOC up in this genre! I don’t know, maybe J. Lo messed it all up by doing Angel Eyes, but Netflix, let’s keep trying!
The 10-episode series follows FBI agents - Holden Ford (Jonathan Goff) and Bill Tench (Holt McCallany). The trope is pretty familiar. Holden is the green guy, Bill is the experienced guy, Holden keeps falling up, and Bill’s marriage is falling apart. They drink a lot, their jobs are hard, and they have a cantankerous boss, who’s always telling them how they messed up. The first episode is slow, but you soon learn these dudes are building the foundation for psychological criminal profiling. The two agents then begin interviewing serial killers to understand the criminal mind and consult an incredibly strong smart lesbian university professor, Dr. Wendy Carr (Anna Torv), and suddenly, we have a show that we can sink our teeth into because who doesn’t love a good murder story?
EVERYONE’S WATCHING IT, PEOPLE. So, if you’re not on it, get on it. The show makes me think about a number of things, so I wanted to invite some of my favorite true crime fans and feminist thinkers to dissect this show. Shanna Shrum, writer and comedian, and my friend Nat Tomasella, my favorite Canadian and partner to all my true crime shenanigans.
Ladies! Let’s talk about the relationship between Holden and his very forward boss bitch, Debbie (Hannah Gross). It’s the late 70s - women STILL trying to own their uteruses and get out of the kitchen. Holden meets Debbie in a bar, she practically pulls his D out right there, but takes him to her place to basically show him how to have sex. I love her because she a heaux (yas!) but at the same time, I’m annoyed at how she has to teach him so much. For example, when she takes him to see Dog Day Afternoon, a movie starring Al Pacino, where he plays a man who robs a bank so his lover could have a sex change operation, Holden is all sorts of confused, whereas Debbie breaks it down for him. Maybe he didn’t have google then, but c’mon, LET ME BOOKSTORE THAT FOR YOU. Like, why is it so hard from straight white dudes to learn on their own?
NAT: I think it goes back to the mama’s boy complex which is exemplified within that time period. Sure, they’re self thinkers but not strong on the self doing - some one else would do it for them. I’m hoping that when we look at shows or movies made about a real life dude in 2017, 40 years from now, the gender stereotypes will be diluted over time. Kids are growing up differently and more independently today, and thank god for that...except for little Timmy next door...he could die if you even BLOW him a kiss after eating a peanut butter cup.
SHANNA: All the handholding Big D had to do was super annoying. I have to say I did enjoy Lil H be all vulnerable at times with Big D. The scene where he tells her he adores her? I had to change my panties. But like Elizabeth said, I think their relationship really reflects back to us what was happening at the time the show takes place. And what is still ultimately happening today. Like hello Mental Load! Big D has to teach him all the things about sex AND help him do his job while she’s trying to get a doctorate?! Also, he like never lets her study. I hope he at least did the dishes. This is all set up at the bar when they meet and Lil H is all “Do you ever let up?” and Big D is all “Why the fuck would I?” Big D has no reason to let up cause she’s got the goods and she knows it. Instead the question becomes can Lil H keep up? Which ends up being a through line in the whole show.
ELIZABETH: Thank you! I know that Holden is the major player in the series, but his narcissistic naivete schtick is boo. In my brain, I’m screaming, “YOU UNDERSTAND MANSON, BUT YOU DON’T KNOW BETTER THAN TO GO DOWN ON WOMAN WHEN SHE DOIN HER NAILS??”
Debbie is not the only badass lady pants in the show. Dr. Wendy Carr is EXACTLY what this show needs. First, she’s intelligent, has an intense career, and she’s here to to pull this operation together. She consults, advises, writes a questionnaire for SERIAL KILLERS LIKE A BOSS; and when her girlfriend tells her that she doesn’t want Dr. Carr to take a job with the FBI because it’s “ridiculous.” Dr. Carr is all, “GIRL, BYE!” I love her, but the show then immediately makes Wendy an emotionless spinster.
They LITERALLY whip out scene after scene of this broad opening cans of tuna and putting it in a window of a basement laundry room in hopes of connecting with an alley cat. How bout that shit? The character is based on a real person, who was ruled in her field, but why do you think the showrunners decided this is how she should be portrayed? Is it possible for a Good Time Sally to be an extremely intelligent methodical woman, too? I mean David Fincher made videos for both Madonna and Paula Abdul (YES, GIRL, HE DID), so it seems he’d know that you can be both?
NAT: I actually didn't take it as lonely, crazy cat lady. She's a psychologist and was trying to coerce the cat out similarly to how she advised the detectives to do with their subjects. Give them something they like (tuna for the cat, shoes for Brudos, Big Red pop etc) to earn trust and camaraderie. Maybe the cat angle was too light for this badass woman? Perhaps, if she did the same thing with an anxious stray dog with a bag of White Castle sliders it would have been more in tune with her character. Sidebar: cats are sociopaths!
SHANNA: Excellent point Natalie, cats are sociopaths! I am not loving the character arc they gave Dr. Do Not Fuck With Me. Here she is this total boss bitch in Boston and the second she starts manhandling these dudes she becomes Captain Lonely Pants. But I guess breaking up with your girlfriend to join the FBI to deal with real live serial killers might hamper one’s desire to paint the town red? If she were a normal divorcee she'd be wearing cashmere scarves and giving away pottery she made in her night class with all the other happily divorced women. But I’m going to be nice here and give the writers the benefit of the doubt (I checked there are at least three women writers so I feel they merit it) Perhaps they are trying to illustrate that making bffs with serial killers will seriously fuck up your personal life?
ELIZABETH: Great points. Though, Shanna, I’d have to say that if I broke up with a real drip of a girlfriend and got a job at the FBI profiling serial killers, I’d be like SHOTS! SHOTS! SHOTS!
Mindhunter’s storyline is based on a man and all the serial killers are men, as per the norm, I noticed that most the people I know watching are ladies. There is also evidence that women are more interested in true crime than guys and that there are several theories why that might be. Why are you interested in this show and true crime?
NAT: I tend to need to know the “why” of it the act. I'm drawn to what made that person do these unthinkable things and what makes them tick. How did their past lead to this particular decision in their life. I remember when I was young my favourite show to watch on A&E was City Confidential. There was something about Paul Winfield’s voice that drew you into that story and learn everything about what happened and what lead up to the murder. I wish Paul Winfield would narrate my life. It would be far more exciting: she ordered the venti, iced coffee...but would it be HER LAST TIME? Nope. She's crossing the street...but would it be HER LAST TIME? Nope.
SHANNA: Pretty sure it’s been drilled into me since I was a wee thing to do everything possible not to become a victim of violence or rape so I think my interest stems from there. I figure if I learn enough about it and watch The Fall enough, I’ll be able to tell if my Tinder date is the next Ted Bundy or if he’s just trying to get in my pants. It’s all about not ending up in a trash bag at the end of the night. Right?
ELIZABETH: GIRRRRL, it’s funny because it’s true and painful. What’s ironic is that most murders are committed by people you know rather than your match on Bumble. I always check my husband’s google history. If I see “How to Pass a Lie Detector Test,” I’M OUT! Also, I love cheesy crime show lines, one of my favs is, “But did she really know who she was married to?” HELL NO! SHE DIDN’T. Except maybe in Dirty John, which is a roundtable for another day.
There are several things that interest me - 1. The killer himself - like when he was standing at Target looking for some luggage, why didn’t he ever think to himself, “DAMN! I’m looking for a suitcase to move this dead body. WHO AM I?” 2. The science and police work that goes behind finding the killers; I would be a terrible investigator by the way because I don’t even notice when I drive off from a farmer’s market without my kid. 3. The women - so many women - who have been the victims of these crimes. I am sad, that once again, the women are ignored in the storyline. Who were they? What are their stories? In the context of this show, I understand that it’s (sadly) not relevant to the plot line, but I want to acknowledge that there are real victims.
Mindhunter does a great job portraying the serial killers without actually making the viewer watch the crime, which I find to be more disturbing. What other things do you think the show does well or doesn’t do well?
NAT: I agree. The way the kills were described were strong enough to plant the image in your own mind. I also liked the vignettes of what you can only conclude is the BTK killer. As a viewer you're helplessly watching and knowing things will be going down with these breadcrumb snapshots. It questions the whole concept of dissecting who the suspect is but not until after something has happened.
SHANNA: I have come to really despise gore. I didn't use to, but advanced age and a steady diet of Game of Thrones has caused me to develop a sensitivity. So I really loved how the show managed to scare the bejeezus out of me without my having to watch red corn syrup spurt everywhere. I don't know about you but I was constantly waiting for Dr. Carr to be bludgeoned while she was trying to feed that damn phantom cat tuna.
Like Natalie I also really enjoyed each episode opening on the BTK Killer. Mainly because it made me feel super smart and superior as a viewer that I immediately knew who that fuckhead was. It also created a nice juxtaposition between the killers in captivity versus the wild and it made me excited to see when the two storylines will intersect.
ELIZABETH: PARK CITY, KANSAS! RUN!!! I also liked how they addressed race and that the show was pretty much a white cast in the scene with the black guy who applied for a job with their unit. It was quick and addressed the point - RACISM IS SOME SHIT. In season 2, they’ll address the Atlanta Child Murders, but Fincher said something real weird, “Next year we’re looking at the Atlanta child murders, so we’ll have a lot more African-American music which will be nice.” He was talking about the evolution of the music concurrent to the changing societal landscape and growth of the field, but uh…...it was weird.
Can we discuss the feet tickling? ALSO WEIRD!
NAT: God! The whole tickling of the feet made me so angry. It just showed how damn detached that generation was about predators in authoritative roles like teachers, pastors, or priests. It made me thankful that we've evolved as a society to question actions more. Albeit, we've got work to do considering Letchy Von Letcherson aka Weinstein is only being addressed NOW after years of the industry knowing about it.
SHANNA: IT IS NEVER OK FOR SOMEONE TO PAY A CHILD IN EXCHANGE FOR TOUCHING THEM. I work with kids so this storyline enraged me. Like hello, obviously the teachers who thought the Principal’s feet tickling was totes legit hadn't seen The Keepers. The whole thing was such a reflection of how society keeps theses predators in business by protecting them because they “raised test scores” or “became president of the United States” aka rape culture. I practically cheered when Lil H flipped that car around and drove back to the school. That action felt like a huge win for the character, and then because it's 1977 and everyone is all “What's the big deal, they're just feet?” Then we get to see the ramifications of Lil H’s decision, which reminded me a lot of what it looks like when a woman reports an assault.
ELIZABETH: SAY IT LOUDER FOR THE PEOPLE IN THE BACK! It was an interesting scenario to present in order to examine the blurred lines between morality and professionalism. I thought Marc Kudisch, who played Principal Wade, was a little over the top. I bought every second of it though as I was yelling at the tv, “I’D WHOOP YOUR ASS FOR TOUCHING MY BABY’S FEET!”
True confession, I thought Jack Erdie was hot as Richard Speck. I think unlike the other killers that were portrayed, which were spot on, Erdie gave Speck a lot of rock-a-billy cool, which is not how I’d describe the real Speck. Also, am I crazy, but he also had a bit of Jon Stewart swag, no?
NAT: I didn't get a Jon Stewart vibe but, man, I thought he portrayed him well. The whole baby bird scene killed any attraction there was for Erdie - through no fault of his own he was just acting this despicable person. In fact, all actors nailed their characters. The one that stood out was Cameron Britton’s Kemper. I almost stood up and clapped after his first scene.
SHANNA: The only thing I could think of during Erdie’s scene is: How is he gonna kill that bird?
ELIZABETH: That definitely was not what I was expecting.
ELIZABETH: Toward the end of this season, things started to feel real formulaic and I was a bit over it. Maybe that’s just the symptom of binge watching? I am looking forward to season 2 though. What are your predictions and hopes for the next one?
NAT: Obviously, they'll continue with the BTK thing. It's an interesting side story because it was a 30 year case and an element that shows that no matter how much you know about serial killers, how much do you REALLY know.
SHANNA: Once Lil H gets a grip, I hope to see more of his cute bum. I'd also like Debbie to end up in a satisfying and equitable relationship with Dr. Carr. Just kidding (sort of) Really though, I am looking forward to seeing more of Bill Tench’s relationship with his son and how his work affects his home life. Bill is a really good dude, I’d marry his ass in a heartbeat even though he most certainly smells like the inside of a carton of Marlboro Reds. I hope this somehow helps him grow into the father he never had.
I really hope they interview Manson. They name dropped him plenty in season 1 so I have to expect that will come to fruition in season 2. Don't let me down Fincher!
ELIZABETH: Manson is a serial killer that doesn’t interest me. I feel like he should fall under the Cult Leader category. BTW - Have you been listening to the Cults Podcast? Neither of you mentioned Special Agent Gregg Smith (Joe Tuttle)! Because no one likes a rat, Agent Smith, so your storyline is dead to me. No pun intended.
SHANNA: That's because Agent Greg Smith is the kind of guy, who when you tell him you're pregnant, will ask you if you're sure it's his. #spineless
ELIZABETH: Thanks gals for wrapping up this roundtable. I hope we’ll be chatting about this next season….OR WILL THIS BE MY LAST TIME??