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‘Mindhunter’ Review: Season 2 Is a Magnum Opus on White Guilt

In a powerful new season, David Fincher's Netflix drama studies the tragic consequences of an ignorant white patriarchy.

"Mindhunter" Season 2 Netflix

“Mindhunter”

Courtesy of Netflix

For as much as the events in Atlanta circles around Holden, he’s more of an access point into the situation than the focus of the drama. He’s a living, breathing analysis, walking and talking merely to make sure his experiment is implemented. Writers Joshua Donen and Courtenay Miles wield Holden better this year, dodging the problematic issues of his personal life in favor of exposing guilt in his professional one. When he’s confronted by Camille at the march, there’s a glimpse of shame that cracks through, but it’s not until the end that you really feel for Holden.

Yes, he finds his culprit — Wayne Williamson, played with a perfect lack of creepiness by Christopher Livingston, contrasting the overtly spooky serial killers we’ve seen before — but there’s no confession and only two of the 29 murders are pinned on Wayne. There’s evidence to support going after other suspects — including evidence hidden by the local police, and suspects who are part of the KKK — but the city, the country, and the FBI need a win. They need to close the case to avoid further embarrassment, and, as Camille says in her last words to Holden, “You’ve gone and found yourselves a black man [as a scapegoat] — Wayne might just be Atlanta’s 30th victim.”

The Tragedy Behind Tench

Courtesy of Netflix

Holden found justice for his methodology, not the victims, and worse yet, he’s leaving town having reinforced the validity of racial profiling. It’s a tragedy, and as preferable as it would be to solely blame the system (and Holden), Tench isn’t exempt. Torn between investigating the murders and taking care of his family, the man is half of himself no matter where he lands. He’s too distracted with his son’s traumatic ordeal — which, frankly, deserves a longer discussion than I have words to spare here — to be his best self on the case. Both his wife, Nancy (Stacey Roca), and Holden tell him he has to pick a side, and he refuses. Over his many plane trips back-and-forth from Atlanta and Virginia, the audience witnesses each relationship, each part of Tench, deteriorate. It’s never more affecting than when he asks his son, over ice cream, just to talk to him and gets no response, but coming home to an empty house at season’s end is no surprise (or picnic) either.

Meanwhile, Tench still enjoys the fruits of his privilege. As a white authority figure and a good ol’ boy who knows how to get along with people, he’s the life of every party; he’s invited to a retreat to help his boss show off, and he’s never short of someone ready to buy him a drink. His home life is a mess, his primary case is going nowhere, and yet he’s still looking out for No. 1. By trying to have it all, Tench tires himself out but isn’t serving anyone other than himself. Quite literally, he’s putting the needs of one over the lives of 30 kids — the 29 dead in Atlanta, and his own little one suffering at home. In the end, he gets to keep his good name and job because, well, of course he does — but the core of what he values, of what really matters, is lost.

For a follow-up that Netflix didn’t want critics to see, “Mindhunter” Season 2 sure responded to a lot of criticisms. Holden was downshifted from lead to supporting and made into a deliberate point of mockery instead of an accidental one. Tench was pushed into the limelight, and McCallany rose to the challenge. There’s still quite a bit of exposition — with analysts analyzing their interview sessions more to confirm the audience’s understanding than affirm their own — but the pursuit of an active investigation helps alleviate a sense of repetition. Wendy, the sole woman in a man’s show, functions like a sole woman in a man’s world. She’s still lonely, still emotionally muted, and still struggling to find her place in this story — those first two descriptions fit Holden and Tench, too, while the third does not. It would be nice to see her rounded out, challenged, or otherwise well-utilized in Season 3, but the changes to Season 2 certainly give us hope that could happen.

“Mindhunter” is deeper, richer, and more affecting this go round, even as it steers away from studying proven killers. There’s a reason its ultimate bad guy doesn’t fit the mold of an Ed Kemper or Darrell Gene Devier — those killers confessed, and Williams never did. He maintains his innocence to this day, and even “Mindhunter” author John E. Douglas stated the evidence only linked Williams to 11 of the killings. Doubt turns into guilt, as Holden and Tench see what they sacrificed in pursuit of their study, and as Marianne Faithfull’s prog rock song “Guilt” plays over the closing shots, it’s clear just how much danger these men have wrought — and who’s already suffering for it.

Grade: A-

“Mindhunter” Season 2 is streaming now on Netflix.

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