I don't generally like serial killer dramas, but I love Mindhunter. Watching it is like drinking fine wine - it doesn't stun you with sadistic murders, it lets the subtle undertones of the psychopathic rise up slowly on your palette. It's a mature piece of storytelling.
Directed (mostly) by David Fincher and streamed on Netflix, Mindhunter is based on the real life development of criminal profiling by the FBI in the 1970s.
The story centres on a young FBI agent, Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff), who sees the potential for psychology to help catch "sequence killers", as he quaintly calls them. He starts working with a gruff agent from the FBI behavioural science unit, Bill Tench (Holt McCallany). Together they interview convicted killers about their motives, and apply what they've learned to solve difficult and disturbing murders around the US.
Many have pointed out how little violence there is in Mindhunter. It contains graphic crime scene photographs - I had to look away from some - but that's it.
Instead, the focus is on the bit of violent psychopathy that's really interesting - the inner world of the killer. Fincher repeats that extraordinary moment in Zodiac when we first meet suspect Arthur Leigh Allen (John Carroll Lynch). Allen has a strange otherworldly climate around him that sends chills out beyond the screen, and so do the convicts interviewed by Ford and Tench. These people don't even have to do anything to be dangerous - damage leaches out of their minds.
Next, the series examines the effect of these encounters on Ford and Tench. And that's when it gets really fascinating.
I gather serial killers are less frequent nowadays. But Mindhunter's sense of historical context is precisely what makes it relevant. This is driven home when Dr Wendy Carr, an academic exploring narcissism in the public sphere, joins the team. She mentions that Richard Nixon, Andy Warhol and Jim Morrison are among her subjects, and suddenly the neat edges of Mindhunter's ostensible topic blow down, revealing a much bigger picture.
The series knows that deviance is a spectrum, one healthy people share with serial killers. Serial killing may be in abeyance, but the inner world of the psychopath is something we all need to understand. It's in our environment - our workplaces, our communities, even our families. It's also, from time to time, quite possibly inside us.
Fine wine indeed.