After making us wait for excruciating two years that felt like twenty, ‘Mindhunter’ returns with a strong season that delivers the chills and the excitement that its crisp, gloomy teasers had promised. It gives the audience exactly what they wanted in the form of Manson and Berkowitz interviews while steering the series in a pleasantly unexpected direction which might determine the course of the future seasons. The Atlanta Child Murders are the highlight, but there are a lot of other things with which David Fincher continues to engage the imagination of his audience. If you haven’t yet seen the series, catch it on Netflix.
Proceed with caution. SPOILERS AHEAD
Summary of the Plot
The first season of ‘Mindhunter’ had Special Agents Holden Ford and Bill Tench interviewing serial killers, a term they later coin, with the help of Dr Wendy Carr. Some big names become their subjects and their study gains momentum and finds a proper direction. It ends on an unnerving note when Holden flies too close to the sun and ends up with a panic attack. The second season picks up immediately after that. Tench has to get him out of the hospital while Robert Shepard has to pay the price for his arrogant behaviour that got the team in murky waters earlier. With a new head, the unit expands and finds a breakthrough moment with the Atlanta case. Meanwhile, Tench’s relationship with his wife deteriorates and Wendy tests new waters, both professionally and personally.
The Atlanta Child Murders Case
The second season of ‘Mindhunter’ took a considerable turn from its approach in the first season. Previously, the focus was on learning. There were more interviews with various killers. There were some here and there cases, but they were more of side projects. This time, after the fifth episode, the narrative is completely taken over by the Atlanta case where the practicality of the Behavioural Science Unit gets tested.
Holden, as always, seems to have grasped the situation. He has a clear-cut picture of the killer’s profile and comes up with some ideas to catch him. He knows what he is doing, and all the cases that he had worked in the previous season had yielded great results. He had been hailed for his ability to profile the culprits. He goes to Atlanta believing something similar to happen. Instead, he gets a completely different picture. This case isn’t like the others. This one is not marred just with brutality, but also with politics, race relations and a lot of red tapes.
The profile that he comes up with instantly receives backlash, and for a long time isn’t even actively considered. The reason behind this is that the previous cases weren’t complicated by the race of the victims. The speculated involvement of KKK was a major factor and Holden’s theory was totally disregarding that. Another thing that Holden hadn’t experienced before was “paralysis analysis”. He comes with the idea of the cross and the volunteer service for the concert. But none of those schemes materialises because before he can get the job done, he gets stuck in red tapes. The part where there is conflict in the FBI over who will get to make the crosses was borrowed directly from real life. Incompetence and seemingly irrelevant things wasted a lot of time and resources, and Holden didn’t hold back from expressing his disappointment on any of that. He is also frustrated when his team wastes time on people who he knows had nothing to do with the murders.
Mindhunter Season 2 Ending: Did Wayne Commit Atlanta Child Murders?
A break comes in the case when they find Wayne Williams. After the detail about fibers is leaked to the press, the killer changes his MO for disposing of the bodies. Now, he throws them in rivers, so there is no chance of fingerprints or hair or fibers. Holden comes with the plan to man all the bridges in Atlanta, but nothing happens for weeks. On the last day of the job, an officer hears a splash in the water after which Williams’ car is spotted on the road. The case builds up from there and he is finally arrested for two out of twenty-nine murders, with prosecution ready to tie at least twelve more cases with him. With him tagged as Atlanta Monster, the investigation soon goes “inactive” and everyone moves on with their life.
The question now is that even if he had been caught for two or even fourteen murders, what about the rest? More importantly, was he even responsible for any of those, or did the law enforcement just find their scapegoat in him? Wayne Williams’s innocence continues to be a matter of major dispute even now. A lot of people didn’t agree with the fact that a black man could murder black children. They were sure that KKK was involved but the cops weren’t looking into it because they were affiliated with the Klan. Does that mean that an innocent man paid for twenty-nine crimes that he did not commit?
So, here’s what happened in real life. John Douglas, the FBI agent on whom the character of Holden Ford is based, had come up with a preliminary profile of the killer when the case files were sent to him. He made twenty-one points about the personality of the killer. When Wayne was caught, he fit twenty of those. Douglas believes that while Wayne might not be responsible for ALL of the murders, he was definitely involved in a good percentage of them. The matching of carpet and dog fibers, which were found on the bodies of a number of victims, gave enough evidence against him. His shady behaviour was another trigger for the red flags. The night of the bridge incident, the police officer in charge noticed the ropes and other stuff in his car, which wasn’t taken for evidence due to the negligence of another cop. Williams also led the cops following him on a wild goose chase and was also seen burning pictures and stuff in his backyard before a warrant could be filed for him. He did pass the polygraph and he did have the preparation book before that. He ate up the media coverage and even drove the media circus to the house of the Safety Commissioner, similar to how it happened in the show.
In reality, Douglas didn’t get the chance to interrogate him and he believes that is where things went south for law enforcement. Had it been done in an organized, pre-meditated manner, they might have got the confession out of Williams while they still had time. But after he passed the polygraph, he grew confident and never admitted his part in the murders. When his case went to trial, for a good time, the prosecutors were worried that his calm personality and soft demeanour would lead the jury to declare him “not guilty”. But the turn came when Douglas advised the prosecutor to let him stew for a while and then ask if he had panicked while killing the children.
“And in a weak voice of his own, William says, ‘No’.”
Douglas wasn’t the only one who had profiled Williams’s personality. The defence had a psychologist brought on the case to testify for him, to tell the jury that a man like him couldn’t hurt a fly. However, the psychologist never showed up, and Douglas admits to having talked with him before that. He told him that he too believed that Williams was a psychopath. So, could Wayne have been involved in the Atlanta Child Murders? Most probably. He did fit the profile and the forensic findings strengthen the case against him. However, was he responsible for all of the killings? Most probably not.
Wayne Williams was officially convicted for only two murders and that too of adults. None of the twenty-seven cases was pursued again (Until recently. The case has been reopened.) Could KKK have been involved? Perhaps. Though they did make a show out of their executions, we can’t scrap the possibility that none of those racist hooligans thought about killing African-Americans and getting away with it. With the massive media coverage that the case received, there is also a chance that a copycat would have added to the body count. The manner in which the remaining cases were blindsided after Williams’s conviction, some have even speculated that the case was covered up by the government. A bunch of other theories have circulated and everyone accepts that whether or not Williams actually did it will forever be shrouded in mystery, until he accepts it or until substantial evidence is found.
Now, coming back to the show. Before catching Wayne, Holden admits to Tench that he had been myopic about his approach with the case, and it seems like there could be other killers. The MO wasn’t the same for all the victims and had they categorised them more vigorously, they would have had different profiles for different groups. The gaping example of that are the two girls in the pool of twenty-seven boys. LaTonya Wilson was abducted from her house and there were other markers in the case that suggested that it was done by someone close to her. Angel Lanier’s cause of death (i.e., asphyxiation) might have been similar to a bunch of others, but the treatment of her corpse was completely different from the rest. It seemed much more in line with the cases that Holden had handled in the previous season. In the end, ‘Mindhunter’ makes its peace with what actually happened and leaves a disappointed Holden with no choice but to move on.
Is Brian a Psychopath (in making)?
Bill Tench’s family was introduced to us in the first season where we get to meet his shy son. He is adopted and doesn’t talk much. While he does have a softer response to his mother, Bill can’t even get a hug out of him. Bill is alarmed when he discovers that Brian had stolen a picture from one of his case files. While not much is said about it later, we did get the idea that Brian’s psychology will be explored at some point. The second season delivers on that.
The Macdonald triad for identifying psychopathic tendencies at an early age gives bed-wetting, cruelty to animals and obsession with fire as the major indicators. Brian exhibits one of them after the murder of toddler Daniel. Much like other subjects of his father’s study, Daniel doesn’t have many friends. We also see that he has trouble talking to girls, and the way he was staring at the one in the park was menacing. We know that he is reserved, but we haven’t yet seen him killing animals or setting things on fire. But then, he did have that picture in his possession and he also bit his classmates, which was explained away as self-defence. Moreover, we don’t know about his past before he became a part of the Tench family. Both Bill and Nancy express their concern about the things he might have seen before they found him. What was that and how did it affect him?
There isn’t a solid case against Brian yet, but we do have a bunch of hints now. Also, he has been touched by a traumatic experience and that has the potential to play a great role in his future. He doesn’t actively kill Daniel, but he does participate in the posing of the body. His motivation is the Bible story he hears in the church, where the priest talks about Jesus’s resurrection. He thinks that crucifying Daniel would bring him back to life too. He is instigated by the desire of making things right rather than cruelty. He also regresses mentally and it points towards the guilt harbours but can’t talk about. The tragedy will affect him in some way. Though believing it to turn him into a serial killer isn’t so definitive.
Mindhunter Season 3: What to Expect?
The Behavioural Science Unit has come a long way since the first season. From not taken seriously to becoming the stars of FBI, Holden, Bill and Wendy have gone through a lot of ups and downs in the matter of two seasons. The season finale ends with the indication that things are only going to bigger now. Profiling is going to become a substantial tool in an investigation rather than being treated as a form of clairvoyance. The inconclusive end of Atlanta case also presents Holden with the truth that going forward, he is going to receive more hurdles from the government rather than the perpetrators. Further, Wendy goes through a pleasant time in her personal life, but before it can go any further, it is brought to an abrupt end. She also tries a hand at interviewing a couple of subjects but finds herself inept at it. Tench, on the other hand, loses his family. After a disturbing episode with his son, his wife asks to move and Bill keeps pushing the idea into the future. On returning from the victory lap of Atlanta case, he finds the house empty.
The next season of ‘Mindhunter’ might build on the tension of the relationships of the lead trio. Wendy’s insecurity with her job and the “taken for granted” attitude that she received this season was somewhat quelled by the end, but there is no guarantee that she has completely let go of it. How Bill handles his broken marriage is another thing that might turn into a sub-plot. Will he have to make a choice between his family and career? What will he choose? Holden, whose personal life took a complete backseat this season, might continue to stay married to his job. His panic attack episode promised an internal conflict, but it didn’t quite materialise. We think he might have healed from it, but who knows what the future brings for his mental health. The chances of him turning into a serial killer have also considerably dropped after the events of the second season.
As far as the core of the story goes, there is a lot of material from the books that haven’t been explored yet. While the big players like Manson, Berkowitz and Kemper have been interviewed, there is a legion of others that could come in handy. By 1983, the real BSU team had interviewed about thirty-six killers. ‘Mindhunter’ still has a lot to check off its list. Then there are the cases they handled or at least consulted in, like the Trailside Killer, David Carpenter, the Green River Killer. They had also consulted on the Yorkshire Ripper case, so if we are lucky, we might get to see that too. We also get a mention of collaborative serial killers, like Wayne Henley and Corll. There were a couple of similar cases that Douglas and his team had handled in real life, so they could get some screen time in the next turn.
The most important aspect, however, will be the BTK strangler. His story takes a stronger arc this season. Rather than his predatory prowls, we get an insight into his personal life and sexual fantasies. The case of Ada Jefferies, which was featured in the first episode of the first season, is also called back in the reference of BTK. Though Rader was never charged with the Jefferies case, the creative licence might allow to tie it with him one way or another. He wasn’t caught until 2005, but he did continue to kill till 1991. So, we still expect to see him in side-lines, but maybe with more screen space. Rest, what Fincher has in store will be revealed in time.