The question is: is it human nature to be enticed by sadistic, creepy, yet charming serial killers that psychology, TV and film show us today?
The truth: it’s just human nature to want to be in the know. The term ‘serial killer’ first appeared in a 1981 Times report discussing Wayne Williams, who was implicated in the murders of 31 children in Atlanta between the years of 1979-1981. Now, this is important to know because if it wasn’t for the FBI Agent Robert Ressler, the term ‘serial killer’ would likely never have been coined.
Ressler was lecturing at the British police academy in England in the 70s, where he heard the description of some crimes occurring in series, including rapes, robberies, and murders. Interestingly, a Psychology Today online post from 2014 notes the description reminded Ressler of the movie industry term “serial adventures,” which referred to short episodic films, featuring the likes of Batman. Realising that no episode had a satisfactory ending, but increased the tension in each viewer – makes sense, right? Each murder gives the serial killer the desire and lust to commit a more perfect murder than the last.
Mindhunter season two delivers another exceptional performance of mind-baffling dialogue, a narrative that seems entirely fictional but scarily, is not. Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) left us wondering at the end of season one whether he would ever be able to engage in the life consuming interviews of serial killers, specifically serial necrophile and murderer: Ed Kemper (Cameron Britton).
The start of season two sees the return of the ADT serviceman (Sonny Valicenti), who, despite not being part of the main storyline, we know is going to be crucial to the overall narrative of the FBI behavioural unit. The exposure of his wife finding him in a compromising situation in the bathroom (trust me you’re going to want to watch that bit) slowly gives way to his BTK (Blind, Torture, Kill) tendencies. We even see BTK’s first multiple murder. Throughout the show we get glimmers of the sexual sadism of this man. Who will he become? Will he be caught? Of course we know the BTK killer was not apprehended until 2005, so I hope the show continues to delve into the method and madness of this prolific serial killer.
This season brings an insight into the home life of Special Agent Bill Tench (Holt McCallany). Looking back, it’s really easy to follow the interviews of the killers and not concentrate on the future of Tench’s little boy: Brian, taking part in the murder of a baby boy in his neighbourhood, is a nudge to his son’s peculiarities we saw in season one. But Brian’s need to put the dead baby on a cross to ‘save him’, points to possible psychological and criminal intervention. I think the writers could really take that storyline in a direction that makes us question the evolution of Brian: is he a future serial killer?
Dr. Wendy Carr (Anna Torv), finally shows the audience her intelligence beyond the what she does at a desk. The not-so-subtle misogyny from Assistant Director Gunn (Michael Cerveris) towards Carr highlights the gender inequality in the late 70s and 80s that even she battles with, despite her professional background. We see struggles with her sexuality, her lack of confidence, and internal criticism of who she is as a psychologist and who she is outside of that; can she be both?
Excitingly, we get to see a fascinating portrayal of Charles Manson from actor Damon Herriman (who coincidently also portrays Manson in Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood). I think the visual identity of Herriman is phenomenal, and the language, the written exchange of conversation between him and Bill Tench is truly capturing. Ford’s adoration is alluring but confusing. Manson isn’t a serial killer, but he’s also not-not a criminal. Where does he stand in the show? How can he help profile the characteristics of what it takes to be a killer? He is used to find a balance between evil, control and how much you need of each to carry out the perfect crime. From an entirely narrow perspective, it seems at certain points in the Manson interview that Ford is entirely captivated by Manson’s story; is Ford blurring the lines between work and pleasure? Having the juxtaposition of Ford and Tench in the interview emphasises the difference in approach of the agents, but also how the topic of sadism and murder is relevant in each of their lives at the time. Tench is dealing with ‘what’ his son is and his wife’s breakdown. Ford is balancing the art of serial killers, but finding harmony to be able to hunt them down and convict them.
Amongst five or six new serial killers in season two, we meet Wayne Williams, played by Christopher Livingston, who embodies the character sensationally. He portrays the right amount of wit, playing the fool but submerging into the media frenzy he creates for himself. It’s best to let his story unfold if you watch it. There is something strangely appealing about his character, and I for one didn’t want him to be caught so soon.
My only criticism is that there was a lot of lost dialogue with the serial killer interviews this season. It’s clear the writers wanted to introduce more prolific killers, but the link from interview to profiling was lost. Wayne Williams being the sole focus, lost the potential for the introduction of another serial killer. A cat and mouse role play could have been written in here between the agents and another prolific serial killer that was imprisoned, like we saw of Ed Kemper in season one. I want to see more of Wayne Williams, and I hope if we see a season three we’ll get that. I want more profiling, I want the gore and perverse narrative. I want to see Brian’s behaviour unfold, and Tench battle between studying criminal behaviour and seeing it in his son. I think we all want to see another breakdown from Ford, but I don’t think it will be because he can’t face the barbarous reality of his work, but because he’s too close to it.
Season two ends with BTK, some female possessions, some polaroids and some rope. At this point we don’t know BTK like we know Williams or Kemper, we know and see an ADT Serviceman with a desire. Nevertheless, we feel like we have been bind, tortured, and hopefully next season, see the kill.
Words by Polly Dale