...and it’s not bowling. She put those whiskey shots back like a champ, though.
So far, the second season of Mindhunter has revolved around the twin suns of Bill Tench and Holden Ford, each of whom have already been on a solo sojourn as the show approaches its halfway mark. That’s fair, considering they’re the team’s original members. But I was beginning to wonder if Wendy Carr’s flirtation with cool-girl bartender Kay (Lauren Glazier) was going to develop into anything more substantial than glances and brief exchanges of dialogue. This episode answers that question by bringing Kay and Wendy’s romance into the real world with a stolen kiss in a bowling alley, as well as underlining the impossible choices the closeted Carr has been forced to make throughout her life.
As discussed in our last recap, compartmentalizing is a common coping tactic among FBI agents and other people whose work requires them to dive into the darkest depths of humanity. But Carr’s closet is another matter altogether; Tench doesn’t talk about his cases with his wife, but at least his colleagues know she exists. Furthermore, he’s not stigmatized as mentally ill for having that relationship, as Carr would be if she was open about her personal life—something that must be especially galling for a mental health professional like Carr. This all comes up as Mindhunter introduces its first sexual sadist whose crimes were homosexual in nature, Dean Corll. Corll himself was shot and killed by his accomplice Elmer Wayne Henley, Jr. (Robert Aramayo), but the fear he instilled in his victims is still very present when Carr and Gregg Smith go to interview Henley in prison while Tench and Ford are away.
I figured Gregg would fuck it up, and indeed he did. Less expected was Carr’s deadpan reveal of her own personal history with a controlling and manipulative ex-mentor/lover, a tactic that proves highly effective in getting Henley to talk. (She’s been paying attention to Ford’s tapes, naturally.) It’s a well-written scene, drawing its emotional impact from the larger context of the episode without hitting the viewer over the head with the theme. Torv’s performance in the scene, as subtle and as evocative as McCallany’s when he interviews a BTK survivor Kevin Bright in episode two, also deserves accolades: She effectively, wordlessly conveys both Carr’s elation at discovering that she’s pretty good at this “interviewing serial killers” stuff and her humiliation at being pelted with homophobic slurs. My empathy for her when an incredulous Gregg—fucking Gregg!—asks her how she “came up with” what he assumes was a torrid lie was off the charts.
This episode also deepened the already complex case of the Atlanta Child Murders, as Ford and Tench go down to Atlanta under the pretense of helping with a kidnapping case that’s really an excuse to delve deeper into Ford’s new pet project. I’m optimistic that the show is headed somewhere more nuanced than white savior tropes: Ford’s obsessions are always a little bit myopic and self-serving, and he’s got powerful foils in Agent Barney and Camille Bell—both of whom have their reasons to be suspicious of a white guy in a nice suit saying all the right things. (Speaking of, what was Ford up to in that cold open? Was he trying to prove that the killer would have to be Black in order to not draw attention to himself?) Further complicating the politics of the situation is Commissioner Lee Brown (Dohn Norwood), who Barney explains to Ford is more interested in supporting the mayor’s economic ambitions than getting justice for these poor kids.
But while Carr’s storyline was a win for me, and Ford’s and Tench’s promising, I didn’t like the big twist with Tench’s son at all. Obviously, the murder of children is the overarching theme of this season. But the idea that a gang of neighborhood kids was responsible for the murder, and Tench’s son was somehow involved, is just a little too much like something out of an exploitation movie for my tastes. Real life is very messy, and flipping “kids getting killed” into “killer kids” is a very neat (and blunt) inversion for this usually realistic show.
- The story of Dean Corll, the “Candy Man” of Huston’s Heights neighborhood, is one of the most fucked-up tales in the annals of true crime. Seriously, it’s disgusting. Last Podcast On The Left did a four-part series that goes into typically unflinching detail on Corll’s three-year reign of rape, torture, murder, and psychological and sexual abuse; this podcast isn’t for everyone anyway—and this episode especially so—so if you’ve never listened before, maybe just read Corll’s Murderpedia page instead. (I’m a LPOTL fan, for the record.)
- Speaking of, in a LPOTL Patreon exclusive interview John Douglas says that the only serial-killer interview he recorded was his first. Noticing the device made the subject cagey, he never recorded an interview again. So here’s a fun thought exercise for aspiring TV writers: What narrative purpose is served by fictionalizing this particular detail?
- Here’s an interesting tidbit: According to a new story in The Los Angeles Times, the families of the Atlanta Child Murder victims were not consulted for this season of Mindhunter. The reasons for that, I suspect, are rather spoilerly if you aren’t already familiar with the case.
- Welcome to Gloating Corner, where I pat myself on the back for noting the foreshadowing of Tench’s son exhibiting a MacDonald Triad warning sign last episode.
- As for exploitation movies about killer kids, I just watched an enjoyably bizarre entry into that particular subgenre last week. It’s called Devil Times Five, a.k.a. People Toys, and it’s on Amazon Prime. Leif Garrett kills his mom!