One of the immediate takeaways from David Fincher’s new Netflix series, “Mindhunter,” is that there are a lot of creepy characters. Between the convicted criminals FBI Agents Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) and Bill Tench (Holt McCallany) visit in prison and the suspects they try to send there, the list of people who give us the heebie-jeebies grows faster than Holden’s ego.
Behind these fascinating minds are a formidable ensemble of actors evoking the worst within us. Some of their faces may be familiar, others may be brand new, but each and every one offers a particularly striking performance — and not just because they talk about having sex with decapitated heads.
Below, IndieWire has listed each and every killer studied in Season 1, noting who played them, what they’ve done, and how each cast member found the humanity in monsters. (Or, in the case of the BTK Killer, hinted at.) Now then, without further ado, the best of the worst in “Mindhunter”:
[Editor’s Note: The following list contains spoilers for “Mindhunter” Season 1.]
Played by: Sam Strike
Crime(s): Between 1976 and 1977, Rissell murdered five women between the ages of 22 and 34 in Virginia.
Rissell’s love of Big Red pop — you know, like, soda — might be the most distinguishing thing about him. He had little remorse and was very upfront — annoyed, even — while recounting his first murder. “And that’s that,” he says, once he’s done succinctly discussing the rape. “No more drama.”
When he tried to be funny, Rissell’s casual but provocative attitude was markedly gross — especially when he slipped into an accent, mocking his victim — but Strike’s best moment as a performer came when he mentioned how his brother had cancer and that’s why he couldn’t kill a victim who told him her dad had cancer. He couldn’t fathom the concept of empathy, so he described the act as “showing mercy.” Strike really contemplated that, earning the offense taken by his character when Tench gets pissed off. It’s a pivotal moment for the character, but one that shouldn’t be overplayed, and Strike found that steady groove throughout.
Played By: Adam Zastrow
Crime(s): On November 30, 1979, Devier raped and beat a 12-year-old girl with a large rock in Georgia.
Most of what made Devier interesting came through context. He beat the lie detector test Ford and Tench didn’t want him to take, and that gave him a cocky, self-assured attitude when he was politely invited to talk to the agents. Watching it slowly build and then backfire makes for an effective interrogation scene, but Zastrow’s most telling moment came when the rock was revealed. That murder weapon was pivotal for the character, and he never recovered from the sight of it.
Both Zastrow and Strike emphasize the subtlety needed for these performances. Sure, there are a few particularly demented men with distinct and plentiful quirks, but these two are asked to portray killers differently. Strike is playing a convict who’s been living with who he is long enough to accept it, and Zastrow is asked to flip, in a quick turn, from an overconfident fella doing the cops a favor to a man whose life is literally over. If either performance is too big, “Mindhunter” turns into a melodrama. Their plight would overwhelm what’s going on with the main characters, and this series is always focused first and foremost on how these interviews change Holden and Tench, not what happens to the killers.
Played By: Joseph Cross
Crime(s): Hitting, stabbing, and possibly murdering his fiance along with his brother-in-law, Frank Janderman, and sister, Rose.
Whether or not Benji actually delivered the final blow to poor Beverly Jean is largely irrelevant to evaluating his disturbing behavior. It’s the crying. It’s all about the crying. Every time Benji is pushed into discussing his dead ex, he bursts into uncontrollable weeping. At first, the investigators debate how authentic his remorse actually is, and later they find out it’s a mix of actual regret, fear of being caught, and a false front. He knows what happened — he hit her, called his brother-in-law for help, and then allowed him to rape and humiliate Beverly Jean — and likely regrets it. But he’s also covering it up, and is such a timid fellow his tears are likely more due to being afraid of the consequences than anything else.
Cross captures this blend effectively, and makes Benji stand out for his hair-raising duplicity, but his turn still works as an object of (very slight) pity later on, when it’s made clear the D.A. is prosecuting the wrong person. Frank should be going to the chair. Benji should be going to an institution. One is more dangerous than the other, even if Benji is still clearly a very messed up dude.
Played By: Jack Erdie
Crime(s): On July 13 and 14, 1966, Erdie raped and murdered eight student nurses in Chicago, IL.
Speck is a vile piece of shit, but he also acts like a vile piece of shit. Considering what he’s in prison for, he’s obviously not all talk and no action, but that’s what he’s relegated to in prison. Hamstrung by his holdings, Speck doubles down on the vulgarities, and Erdie conveys an equal amount of frustration and delight in Speck’s dealing with the cops. He loves the attention, as evidenced by his fan club sending nude photographs to him in prison, but he wants to do something about it. And he can’t.
Continue reading for the top four creepiest killers and an answer to the question: “Who the heck is that ADT guy?” Hint: the acronym is a clue.
Played By: Sonny Valicenti
Crime(s): As of now? None that we know of.
“Who the heck is this ADT guy?” is perhaps the question most often asked as viewers binged “Mindhunter.” And even though the show didn’t tell us explicitly when Season 1 was all said and done, there is an answer to that question: The unnamed Kansas resident is likely Dennis Lynn Rader, a.k.a. the BTK Killer or BTK Strangler. Between 1974 and 1991, Rader bound, tortured, and killed (there’s your acronym) 10 people in Sedgwick County, Kansas.
What’s most notable from his depiction in the first season is that the ADT guy is shown mailing a letter in Episode 5. Rader sent letters describing his murders to police and local news outlets, and his first murders took place during the decade in which “Mindhunter” takes place. Holden Ford may not know he’s been killing people just yet, but this guy is active during the events of Season 1. And the real-life counterpart to Ford, FBI Agent John Douglas, eventually proves instrumental in Rader’s arrest.
But the show obviously won’t be addressing it until Season 2. Until then, all that buildup certainly makes him an ominous if not all-too-definitive character. Here’s all we really know: The ADT Serviceman, as he’s billed in the credits, takes offense when pushed to bend the rules at work. He’s always looking over his shoulder. He seems to be scouting locations. He drives around in an unmarked van. He practices knot-tying in front of the TV. And, finally, he draws and then burns some very messed up portraits of women being bound, tied, and presumably killed. This is, after all, a show about serial killers. This one just hasn’t been discovered yet.
Played By: Jesse C. Boyd
Crime(s): Janderman raped and possibly murdered Beverly Jean Barnwright along with his brother-in-law Benjamin and his wife, Rose.
Remember how we said Frank should be going to the chair? Well, aside from his intense interview sessions — in which Boyd quickly and efficiently defines the ugly side of this seemingly Average Joe Citizen — Janderman elevated his menace in a single look. After the FBI Agents fail to plead their case for Frank being sent to the chair over Benji, the man of the hour is escorted past them in the halls of (in)justice. He stares at them, saying all he needs to say without a single word: They know he did it. He knows he did it. And he’s walking out of there while Benji gets sent to his death. It’s a haunting moment built on an excellent turn from Boyd as well as the fear instilled in the audience, who knows this guy is still out in the world.
Played By: Happy Anderson
Crime(s): Between 1968 and 1969, Brudos killed at least four women in Oregon.
Two killers became instant icons in Season 1 of “Mindhunter”: Edward Kemper, who we’ll get to in a second, and the show-lusting necrophiliac Jerry Brudos. The most notable difference between the two killers was Kemper admitted to doing what he did, but Brudos never would. He claimed innocence, even when he would speak “hypothetically” about what the “real murderer” might have thought or done.
That line provided additional tension to his interrogation scenes. Even though Brudos was happy, polite, and talkative, it always felt like if he was pushed the wrong way by Ford or Tench, he might snap. Anderson really brought out the crucial elements of the character: When Brudos and Ford are alone for the first time, viewers can see the killer consider how to respond when Ford first asks a hypothetical question. Anderson squints, looks down, and playfully feigns ignorance, turning Brudos into a knowing participant in Ford’s little play.
His answers are so blunt, so telling, and so twisted, but Anderson never pretends to be disgusted. He readily engages with the conversation because Brudos — like Kemper — wants to talk about this stuff. He just needs an avenue to do so. Ford provides it, and Brudos relishes the opportunity.
Played By: Cameron Britton
Crime(s): In the early ’70s, Kemper abducted and murdered several women. He had sex with their corpses, including their heads, before dissecting and dismembering their bodies. He also killed his paternal grandparents and his mother in the ’60s.
Edmund Kemper bookends Season 1 with good reason: Not only is the real-life killer a fascinating figure for his crimes and how he talks about them, but Britton’s performance is simply outstanding. Comparing Britton’s interpretation to existing documentary footage of Kemper shows how closely he recreated the murderer’s eeriest elements — including his easygoing physicality and frank descriptions of his horrific acts — but also how he twisted them ever so slightly to make the TV character even more absorbing.
Britton speaks in a slow, precise manner, with a lilt in his voice that emphasizes just the right words: In the final scene of the first season, he delivers the line “You said we were friends, Holden,” by elevating “friends” and dropping off on “Holden.” When Holden tells him about criminal profiling, he’s even louder when he says, “I love that.” But it’s the steady tone he keeps when describing what he can do to Holden when they’re standing opposite each other, no guard in sight, that brings out the best of Kemper’s character: There’s no way of telling if he’s about to kill Holden or hug him, or hug him and then kill him. Holden realizes it and flees, and the audience is right there with him because of Britton’s even delivery. He gives no indication which way Kemper will go in that moment, but he’s displayed enough emotion leading up to it that viewers know he’s not a robot. He has feelings. And he wants to talk about them.
Clearly, the “friendship” that forms between the hunter and the hunted is a major part of Season 1. The cards Kemper sends Holden indicate as much, but his importance is clear from the second Britton walks on screen. This guy is an unforgettable figure, and “Mindhunter” makes the most of him.
“Mindhunter” Season 1 is streaming now on Netflix.
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