If Holden Ford, Bill Tench, and Wendy Carr were to form their own superhero team, they’d probably just call themselves “The Mindhunters.” It’s a catchy moniker, and then more you think about it, this trio really is a group of superheroes tracking down bad guys and trying to stop them from doing more horrible things.
Way back when there wasn’t such a thing as psychological profiling which makes Netflix’s Mindhunter (now in season 2) — a series that examines the early days of the Behavioral Science Unit in the FBI — wildly impressive. Watching this group be able to get their operation off the ground, and secure funding for it, is nothing less than a major feat. And sure, the show is fictionalized but it’s very much based on true events and dotted with real-life people, both criminal and non-criminal. Season 1 of Mindhunter, which premiered in the fall of 2017, became a sleeper hit and most certainly was at the forefront in this (somewhat concerning) boom when it comes to our fascination with serial killers. The show itself is kind of like the people it’s depicting.
Season 1 revolved around Ford (Jonathan Groff), Tench (Holt McCallany), and Carr (Anna Torv) starting this unit and working together, through good and bad, to make sure their research and findings are heard and accepted. It also doesn’t hurt that Ford and Tench assist in capturing a few criminals as they travel around the country teaching FBI techniques to local law enforcement while also interviewing already incarcerated mass murderers.
The first season of Mindhunter ends on a sour note for everyone as it’s revealed that Ford has omitted some details of a recording and an OPA (Office of Public Affairs) inquiry into the group is launched. Instead of sitting through the questioning, Ford storms out of the room and gets on a plane to go meet with convicted killer Ed Kemper (a.k.a. the co-ed killer). After a hug from Ed, Ford has an intense panic attack and that’s where the season ends.
While it was rumored that the series was jumping a few years into the future, that’s not the case. Season 2 picks up a few days after Ford’s panic attack as things really fall apart before they come back together for our Mindhunters.
Bill Tench is working 65 hours this week, but his wife Nancy is still insisting he put on a good face for a cookout she’s throwing. She’s trying to get in good with another couple in the area, and also has real estate aspirations and is using this cookout as a network time. Tench just wants to use it for some peace and quiet. After some pushing from Nancy, Tench eventually starts talking to some of the other parents there and it isn’t long before he’s being asked questions about his job. Even back in the 1970s, people were fascinated with the idea of serial killers.
At Quantico the next day, Tench is called before Chief Shepard (Cotter Smith) and upon entering his office finds moving boxes. Tench point-blank asks if he should be packing too, but Shepard is quick to reassure him that no, he’s just retiring. Shepard takes him over to meet with their new Chief, Ted Gunn (Michael Cerveris). The guy is soft spoken and excited about what the Behavioral Sciences Unit can do, and is eager to talk to Tench about everything (he’s already been listening to some of their audio recordings).
But, Gunn’s also got to address Holden Ford’s misstep at the end of season 1. Ford instructed for some information to be omitted from a transcript that new agent Gregg Smith did. Eventually, the real transcript was revealed and an inquiry into the BSU was called and the team ended up in hot water with the Office of Public Affairs (OPA). Gunn is able to look past all of that and make it go away — as long as Tench looks after Ford. He asks the same thing of Dr. Wendy Carr, too. They can keep doing what they’re doing, but these two have to essentially babysit Ford.
Speaking of Ford, he’s in the hospital. Season 2 picks up a mere days after Ford’s panic attack after Kemper hugged him, and he’s still there for observation. He’s also still experiencing panic episodes and is tied down to the bed for his own safety. With no one else to turn to (remember, he and Debbie broke up at the end of season 1), he calls Tench to come and retrieve him. Yeah, Ford definitely needs a babysitter. His doctors advise him to try and stay out of stressful situations, and okay, sure. He’s only talking to serial killers for a living.
When he finally returns to work, Ford’s first stop is to meet Gunn, who is incredibly welcoming to the agent who has just repeatedly, and majorly, messed up. Ford also takes full responsibility for the missing dialogue in the audiotape, and once again, Gunn says it’s water under the bridge. He’s looking to move forward and asks Ford what he wants. That’s an easy answer: Charles Manson.
Ford is thrilled to share the good news with Tench and Carr (and also Smith), but Carr has her reservations about Manson. They’re studying serial killers and Manson never technically killed anyone himself. It’s still a big get for the team, but before they can celebrate Ford wants to clear the air: Who actually revealed the unaltered audio? Eventually, Smith confesses to being the one who sent it to OPA which makes everyone on the team trust him a little bit less. Before they really have time to pile on him Gunn arrives in their basement office and informs them he’s moving the team to a brand new office space where they can spread out and expand their team.
At a black-tie event to celebrate Shepard's retirement, Tench gives a very short and sweet speech about how much he’ll miss the former Chief and presents him with a new fishing spinning reel (yes, I looked that term up). As soon as he’s done, Ford gets up to give a speech and gets maybe 10 words into it before Shepard leaves the room. Ford, foolishly, goes chasing after him, promising that he meant everything he said in there.
And that’s where Shepard lays into Ford. No, he’s not willingly going into retirement. He’s being forced out for taking the fall for Ford’s OPA investigation and he’s furious about it, calling Ford some horrible (and funny) names. Remember when Ford’s doctors told him to stay out of “stressful situations”? This is definitely one of them, and Ford almost immediately has a panic attack.
Meanwhile in Kansas…
Oh, did you think the creepy ADT man (possibly BTK Killer) was going away for this season? Nope. He’s still here, and his vignette actually opens up the episode.
A woman returns home to a weird thumping noise in her house. After setting down her groceries, she goes to investigate and finds our unnamed ADT man essentially choking himself in the bathroom in order to masturbate. He’s also wearing a terrifying clown-like mask. This woman is so freaked out she goes running out of the house leaving everything behind. It’s hard to figure out what their relationship is, but just so you don’t have to google it yourself: Yes, this is the ADT man’s wife, because the BTK killer really had a wife during his murders.
Heading off on a solo mission to Kansas, Tench meets with agents there about the BTK killer. Yeah, we’ve been watching short snippets of this man for the past season, and his first confirmed kill was in 1974, so it was only a matter of time before the unnamed ADT man and the Behavioral Sciences Unit collided.
Tench asks to see the house where the Otero family was killed, which was the BTK killer’s first confirmed murder. Even though we’re now in the year 1977, the house still hasn’t found new owners because people are so scared to move in there. Four people were killed inside, after all. There aren’t any new clues or leads in the investigation into the killer, but Tench asks to talk to Kevin Bright. His sister was also murdered in 1974 by the BTK killer and he’s the only witness to all of these killings.
To meet, Kevin has a few conditions, like no one can look him in the face (because he was shot in the face by the BTK killer), and they have to meet somewhere secret, which in this case is a deserted parking garage. Tench’s conversation with Kevin is difficult to watch and beautifully shot with Kevin merely a shadow behind the looming FBI agent. Also now’s a great time to just talk about McCallany's voice and how it’s so soothing and I wish he would read children’s books to me? Even though he’s asking Kevin some difficult questions (you know, like what was it like to know your sister was being murdered in the next room), Tench is so calm and respectful and manages to get a few new tidbits out of the brother.
It’s time for Ford and Tench’s first killer interview (pun intended) and it’s with the Son of Sam, a.k.a. David Berkowitz. Berkowitz killed six people and wounded seven between 1976 and 1977 before he was finally captured. He claimed that he was possessed by demons and his neighbor’s dog needed blood. Yes, really. He tells this same story to Ford and Tench, with Tench taking the lead on the interrogation. However, Ford soon quickly jumps in with his own questions which gets Berkowitz to open up and finally drop his act.
No, he wasn’t really possessed. No, no one was telling him to kill others for a blood sacrifice. No, he wasn’t hearing voices in his head. According to the story, he tells Ford, he simply saw The Exorcist in theaters and started reading up on demons. Even though he’s now suffering from panic attacks, Ford’s still got it.
The episode ends on a sour note as a local detective shows up at the Tench house. A dead body was just discovered in the house that Nancy is currently showing (and her first house listing) and she’s pretty distraught about it. Tench reminds her that this kind of thing could happen anywhere.
Meanwhile in Kansas…
The ADT man is in the dog house, figuratively. He’s sitting on the couch watching TV as his wife (confirmed: It’s his wife), brings him pillows and blankets because he’s got to sleep on the couch for a while after what she witnessed. She also drops two books into his lap, but we only see one of them. It’s about sexual behavior and deviances.
Nancy is absolutely distraught about the dead body in the house she’s selling, and asks Tench go to over and take her name and phone number off the for sale sign. He reluctantly agrees (and calls to tell Holden that he won’t be joining him on their trip to Atlanta).
At the house, Tench is invited inside to take a look at the crime scene because the detective there is completely stumped. As he tells Tench, a child was reported missing and one of the police officers happened to notice that the back door of this abandoned house was open. This led them to investigate and inside, down in the basement, and they found the missing child.
The child was, apparently, tied to a cross and killed, and the detective asks if it might have been some sort of sacrifice. Tench doesn’t think so, because there would have been more candles. The police have no leads, and nothing to go on, and later the community demands answers at the local church. And not that I quickly did a quick search for missing children in the area around this time, but it appears as if this is a new crime, not one based on actual events. But, who knows, this is Mindhunter after all.
Down in Atlanta, Ford meets up with Agent Jim Barney (Albert Jones), who we learn Tench wanted to hire for Smith’s position. Ford’s down here to interview real-life criminals William “Junior” Pierce and William Henry Hance, but it’s easier said than done. Ford’s intellectual approach to criminals does not work on these two simpletons, and Barney steps in to assist with the interrogation (and coax Junior into talking with sweet treats). Barney’s like a second version of Ford, and the way he can talk to and connect to these prisoners and yes, it slowly becomes clear that Ford is upset they hired Smith instead.
That night when Ford checks into the hotel, the girl at the front desk, Tanya (Sierra McClain), takes an instant liking to him. She follows him up to the room, saying she’s just a call away if he needs anything, and moments after she’s left, Tanya’s back knocking on the door. Ford had mentioned he’s hungry, and she’s off in an hour. What about if they grab dinner?
Ford thinks he’s going to get lucky and what is possibly the funniest montage of Mindhunter plays out as he quickly showers and freshens up to meet Tanya for their date. She promises to take him to the best place in Atlanta, and instead, they show up at a closed diner. Ford is immediately suspicious, but he’s going along with it.
Inside, Tanya takes him over to meet three mothers who each have a photo album with them. While they tell Ford to eat his food before it’s cold, it’s not long until they launch into the real reason he’s there: Their children are missing and no one seems to care about it, because they are Black.
For those not up to date with mass killings of the 1970s, this is the beginning of the Atlanta Child Murders, where dozens of young black children went missing and were later discovered dead. Two of these mothers know that their children are gone, while one’s still missing. They’ve called the police again and again, but no one’s actually looking into what’s happening and how to stop it. When Tanya realized that Ford was someone who dealt with multiple murders, she realized he might be able to help.
Ford is obviously incredibly sympathetic as he listens to the mothers tell their story, and promises to look into it for them. He’s given an album of information the mothers have collected on their own since it’s clear the police aren’t doing it. Ford brings this up to Barney and, yeah, he’s heard of the murders and tells him that the police department is nervous every time the phone rings in case it’s one of the mothers demanding answers.
Barney takes Ford to meet with a semi-retired detective in Atlanta to shed some light on the child murders, and while he’s insightful he’s not really that helpful. He tells Ford that roughly 10 children are killed in Atlanta every year, so this isn’t exactly abnormal. He, unfortunately, tells Ford that if they were to look for a pattern here more children would need to be killed before they find any sort of connection. He relays this information to Tanya, who’s a hot second away from calling bullshit on him. Though he’s helping, Ford’s just another cog in this machine and he won’t be able to do anything about these murders either. He promises to keep looking into it once he’s back at Quantico, but Tanya isn’t hearing it. She storms away as Ford leaves for the airport.
You’re probably wondering what Carr is up to since she doesn’t have a ton of screen time so far. That’s a shame because if you have Anna Torv in your show you should use her in every scene.
Well, Carr, if you remember, is a closeted lesbian and her girlfriend back in Boston during season 1 advised her against letting her sexuality be known. It’s clear that Carr has broken up with her girlfriend because a bartender has caught her eye. After enjoying a wonderful candle-lit bubble bath, Carr decides to head to the bar where she talks to this woman, Kay (Lauren Glazier). Carr asks if there’s any place nearby the two of them could go, to which Kay asks if she’s looking for a tour guide or a date. Carr replies, “date,” and now we’re all excited to see where this goes.
Meanwhile in Kansas…
Mr. ADT man is sitting in the library drawing sketches of women in bondage. One of the librarians comes over to tell him that the library is closing soon, so he packs up his drawings and goes.
Ford is now, for lack of a better word, obsessed with the (true story) Atlanta Child Murders. He’s already got all of the information from Atlanta up on a big board in the BSU’s office and he’s briefing Carr and Smith on it when Tench walks in. Tench is quick to point out that they only work on cases they’re asked to consult on, and no one from law enforcement has asked for their help. The Deus ex Machina for this scene arrives in the form of Gunn, who just happens to be passing by and overhears what they’re talking about. He also reminds Ford that they just can’t investigate the disappearances because they want to... but Ford should continue to keep an interest in it, because you never know.
It’s not long after that that Ford, Tench, and Carr are called before Gunn because a child has just been kidnapped down in Atlanta, and the kidnapper has taken them over state lines — that means the jurisdiction falls with the FBI. This is Ford’s way into the murders, and he and Tench are to leave for Atlanta right away.
It’s clear that Carr knows she’s not getting the screen time she deserves, because she refuses to leave Gunn’s office before her presence is acknowledged, too. Gunn doesn’t have anything for her, besides a “you can run everything from here” line and she leaves, clearly a little miffed. The team was set to go and interview Elmer Wayne Henley Jr., and with Ford and Tench now heading to Atlanta they can’t.
But what about if Smith and Carr go to interview him? Carr doesn’t hate the idea and Smith is clearly waiting for an opportunity to impress his superiors. Unfortunately, it’s not gonna happen this time. As soon as the two are in the room with Henley, Smith freezes and Carr has to step in and save the interview. She relates to Henley by telling him a story about how she was once in a dominant/subordinate relationship (she’s clearly referring to the woman she left behind in Boston), and how she didn’t see how much sway they had over her until the relationship was over. (Quick sidenote: Henley killed “The Candy Man” Dean Corll, after serving as his accomplice during child rapes and murders for a year).
Carr is able to save this interview, and back in the car, Smith is impressed that she was able to come up with that story about the other woman so fast! Even though Carr literally just came out in front of him, he doesn’t believe it, so her secret remains intact for another day — even though the episode actually opens with her going on a date with bartender Kay to a bowling alley.
Down in Atlanta, Ford and Tench drive right into the investigation (alongside Agent Barney), and Ford heads over to talk to the mothers who have set up their own command center nearby. Ford explains that he’s now been invited to work on the case and he’s going to use the full resources of the FBI to find their missing children and stop this perpetrator. Uh huh. The mothers still aren’t buying Ford’s whole story, believing that the FBI isn’t doing enough.
And unfortunately, the plug is quickly pulled on their investigation. After it’s deemed that the child abduction is not a kidnapping, Atlanta’s Commissioner Brown tells Ford that he can head home since the FBI isn’t needed anymore. If this were any other show we’d be like, “Commissioner Brown is the killer!” But he is not because this is a real-life story and we already know that's probably not the case. The team’s still, unfortunately, going to have to wait for more murders before they can do anything.
While all of this is going on in Atlanta, Tench has to return home because Detective Spencer wants to question his son, Brian. Nancy is hysterical, and by the time Tench actually makes it home, Brian has already confessed to what part he had in the murder of the young child in Nancy’s house. He knew where the key to get inside was (because Nancy had taken him there), and the older boys he hangs out with took the child to the house. It was Brian’s idea to actually place the child on the cross.
Meanwhile in Kansas…
Actually, we don’t go to Kansas this episode. Instead, we go to what is apparently Atlanta and see whoever is behind the Atlanta Child Murders lure a small boy into his car with the promise of $2.
No one bothered to tell Gunn that the team was dismissed from Atlanta, and he’s furious (or his kind of furious, which for him just means he is talking very sternly). Tench had to rush home for his family emergency, and Ford clearly just didn’t think to call Gunn, which means he had to hear about it from someone else. This is not the time to make the Bureau look bad, and Tench promises to try and do better. Everything about the Atlanta Child Murders is out of their hands right now and they get back to business as usual.
And this is the Manson episode, so we might as well start with Manson.
Ford and Tench head off to talk to Manson, but first they pay a visit to Ed Kemper. This is the first time Ford and Kemper have seen each other since the incident, and you’d never know that one caused the other to have a panic attack. They talk about things like returning to crime scenes, and it’s normal business between the trip. Kemper also tells them that Manson is very small and they shouldn’t stare at him.
By this moment in Manson’s timeline, he’s been in prison for six years. When he enters the room, Ford stands up as if he’s awaiting the arrival of a dignitary, which clearly doesn’t sit well for Tench. Carr had instructed the two to try and talk to Manson about his family (the Manson family, not his real family), but that almost immediately goes off the rails. Manson starts claiming that the witnesses who testified against him were only looking to protect themselves, and that Helter Skelter wasn’t real (he later signs Ford’s Helter Skelter book — ”each night as you sleep I destroy the world”). Manson also claims that he didn’t hear messages in The Beatles White Album, but one of his Manson girls Sadie (real name: Susan Atkins), didn't and that she and Manson family member Tex Watson decided to plan some copycat murders to get another family member Bobby Boselie out of jail. Later, Tex wanted to start his own little “circle,” which pissed Manson off, but it was too late.
There’s so much to unpack here since Manson contradicts a lot of what we’ve come to know about him through history and pop culture. On top of that, Tench is just straight up fed up with his little song and dance. He’s the one who cuts the meeting short, telling Ford it’s time to go (but not before Manson asks Ford for his sunglasses, which he later tells other prisoners he stole from the agent). Tench believes Manson was a complete waste of time, and Ford suggests going to go meet with Watson who’s imprisoned nearby.
Ford goes to meet with Watson alone, where he contradicts much of Manson’s story while basically explaining that he probably would have killed even if he hadn’t been part of the “family.” He reiterates that, “Charlie never killed anyone,” but then continues, “He just removed our fear of doing it.” Tench still sees the whole thing as a failure, but back at the FBI, Carr believes they actually got some good stuff, that they can at least use to relate back to Henley.
Back at home, Tench’s family is starting to fall apart. Since Brian is a minor no one is going to charge him with the murder of the young boy, but he was certainly a witness, if not an accomplice. He’s going to have to start seeing some specialists to figure out if he knows how to differentiate between right and wrong, which deeply troubles Nancy. It only gets worse when at a meeting with a specialist, the specialist moves from asking questions about Brian to quizzing Tench about his recent meeting with Manson. This is exactly what Nancy doesn’t want to happen during any of these visits.
Gunn invites Tench, Ford, and Carr (none for you, Agent Gregg Smith), over to his house for a big party, where Gunn immediately tries to set up Carr with a colleague, Warren. Little does he know, Carr has just begun sleeping with Kay and she’s so not interested in Warren, even after he suggests they go somewhere “quieter” and offers to drive her home.
Back home, Ford gets a phone call from Agent Barney down in Atlanta where the thirteenth child has just turned up dead.
Meanwhile in Kansas…
The ATD man buries a box of his things (like the creepy mask he was wearing when his wife caught him) in his backyard under the cover of night.
All along, you’ve probably assumed that this show was slowly setting up for one of these characters to turn into a serial killer themselves. Well, that serial killer might be Brian Tench. The child is clearly going through some things, and he’s once again not really talking to his parents or his court assigned therapist. He’s still wetting the bed, something the therapist suggests the Tenches make him clean up going forward. One day, when called for lunch, Nancy instead finds Brian a few blocks away staring at a young girl swinging on the swings. Does he have a menacing look on his face? Sure does. Nancy wants Tench to take a few days off to spend time with his family, but he’s got to go to a retreat and then head back to Atlanta and join Ford, who’s already down there.
Carr is starting to feel pressure from inside and outside the team since everyone else is constantly flying to different places across the country. This means she and Agent Smith are responsible for continuing on with the interviews, and Smith is still... not great. Their latest interviewee, Paul Bateson, makes a lot of suggestive advances towards Smith which just makes him incredibly uncomfortable, leaving Carr to step in and handle everything, once again.
Down in Atlanta the task force has greatly expanded and Ford tries to get in good with the police chief there, Chief Redding. But it’s clear that Redding is tired, and Ford is just another pain in his side. They’ve got a suspected call from someone who called in a tip as to where a body might be found, but it leads them to nothing.
At the hotel, Ford has an awkward run-in with Tanya who can’t help but notice that Ford didn’t come right back down to Atlanta to help. She also suggests that these kids were doing anything to get by and to make money, and that might include selling themselves for a few dollars.
It’s decided that instead of sending out search teams to new areas, they’re going to go back and look at old ones. Just about every serial killer the team has talked to has said something about returning to the scene of the crime, and it’s suspected that whoever’s killing the children in Atlanta is doing the same thing. Chief Redding moves everyone back to an earlier crime scene. Might everyone finally be on the same page and working on their cooperation skills?
This move pays off, as they uncover three different remains on the site along with a few lingering pieces of evidence that clearly no one bothered to look at before (including a Penthouse magazine). They manage to get some fingerprints off the magazine and take a man, simply called “the plumber,” into custody. He’s white, and Ford isn’t sure convinced he’s the guy they’re looking for but they get a warrant for his arrest anyway. Ford complains that even though no one is talking to the press, the press always seems to know what’s going on. That’s funny, because Ford got in trouble last season for talking to the press so much.
Meanwhile in Kansas…
The ADT man is trying to make copies and when the machine jams he comes irate. He’s making copies of his symbol and when a young man comes over to help him he demands that he pull the jammed items out of the machine.
More episodes to come. You can expect the full season by Sunday, August 18.