“If what we’re doing doesn’t get under your skin, you’re either more messed up than I thought or you’re lying to yourself.”
Shouted by Bill Tench (Holt McCallany) in an episode primarily focused on the flat-topped agent himself, the above quote ended up defining the tragic arc of his partner, the confounding, stubborn, and all-too-proud Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff). By the end of 10 episodes, if not long before, it became frustratingly apparent just how deeply Holden had been lying to himself. Not only
Played out with an attention to detail Dr. Wendy Carr (Anna Torv) would admire, Holden’s arc came to define the best and worst of “Mindhunter’s” engrossing and occasionally overwhelming first season. His home life was a mess, both over-talkative and uninventive, but work is where he earned his money.
Holden’s Transformation From Man to Monster
Well before Debbie (Hannah Gross) tells Holden he’s changed, his inner demons have started to peek out. When Holden first starts on the job, his interview technique is inquisitive. He’s nervous. He’s not sure what he’s asking.
“Is this helping? Are you getting what you came for?” Kemper asks him, early in their first interview. “I think so,” Holden says. He then presses on, but the interview ends similarly: “What do you want from me?” Kemper asks. “I have no idea,” Holden says.
Obviously, even Kemper notices Holden’s rather scurried, unorganized questioning. But Holden quickly accepts his each sequential interaction with a monster as more than relevant: They’re definitive. These killers represent every other one out there. He’s so proud of himself for having the idea to talk to them (he repeatedly reminds his colleagues was his idea) and sitting in the room with these men (notice how he hangs Kemper’s letters inside the doorframe of Tench’s office) that he accepts his limited experience as fact.
Toward season’s end, Wendy reminds Holden he’s met with four men, emphasizing the number as a low, statistically irrelevant sampling. Holden takes it as the opposite. His confidence grows and grows, becoming “unbecoming” as Kemper would describe it, and it starts to affect his personal life. The last time Debbie tries to be adventurous with him — notably, the couple’s last sex scene — he notices her heels, and instead of explaining why they’re not a turn on (he just watched a psychopath masturbate into a stiletto shoe), he blames her. “This just isn’t you,” he says. “Yeah, Holden, that’s the point,” Debbie says back.
But what solidifies Holden’s shift from eager experimentalist to a mad scientist run amok is one casually captured moment during his interrogation of Gene Devier (Adam Zastrow). As Holden presses on with the questions he warned might make the locals “uncomfortable,” he utters an unforgettable phrase. “You gotta make it with that young pussy before it turns into mom,” he says.
David Fincher, who directed Episode 10 (as well as the first two and penultimate episodes), pivots to a straight-on over-the-shoulder shot for this line, closely examining Holden’s delivery, but the moment otherwise goes unremarked upon by the series itself. There’s no overt attention drawn to it, other than the two local cops shifting “uncomfortably.” But viewers certainly recognize his nearly word-for-word recitation of Edmund Kemper’s line from Episode 2: “You gotta make it with that young pussy real quick before it turns into mom,” Kemper says then to Holden.
Now, it’s unlikely Holden is saying this unconsciously. He meticulously prepares for the interview, placing everything from the evidence to the file folder exactly how he wants it. So he likely knew what he was going to say, too. But does that make it OK? What sets Chief Shepard off about Holden’s vulgar interview technique is that he “can’t tell the difference between one of my agents and an incarcerated low-life.” Holden thinks that’s the point, and it is — that’s how he forges a connection in the room. His plan to learn how they think has worked, but at a cost Holden fails to realize until Kemper’s hug sends him into a panic attack.
This arc is carried out very, very well. Though one could argue Debbie’s line about Holden changing is a bit on-the-nose, almost everything leading up to that moment is done via incremental choices. Groff, for his part, maintains the stiff, goodie-two-shoes poise and presence he established from the start. He draws out Holden’s change with a stern tone and a boisterous pride, like the way Holden tells Agent Smith (Joe Tuttle) to lie for him, a lot of Holden’s newfound authority comes from his eyes.