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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Mindhunter's golden boy gets put in his place as the FBI runs out of options

Illustration for article titled iMindhunter/is golden boy gets put in his place as the FBI runs out of options
Screenshot: Netflix
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It’s always tempting, when someone asks how you’ve been, to tell them the truth. It’s something I think about a lot, and it’s what Agent Tench does to Agent Ford when Ford presumes to lecture the older agent during their investigation of the Atlanta Child Murders. To be fair, Tench is popping in and out of the investigation like Steve Urkel at the Winslows’ at this point. But, as Tench bluntly reminds him, Tench can’t take time off to attend to his serious family issues because their boss sent him to Atlanta to make sure Ford doesn’t fuck things up any worse than he already has. So maybe Ford can keep his self-righteous bullshit to himself, yeah? This confrontation has been brewing all season, and it seems to have cleared the blockage that’s been stifling communication between the agents, who are now sticking up for and listening to each other in ways they weren’t before. In a cosmic sort of way, it also seems to have unclogged the investigation itself, which has a major breakthrough at the very end of the episode.

And the frustrated banging of heads against psychological walls isn’t limited to Holden and Ford’s spat by the riverbank. Tench tries to get through to his son Brian, now fully engrossed in method preparation for his The Boy 2 audition, with fishing stories and swear words. He gets nothing but morbid interest in the fish’s ultimate fate—remember that animal cruelty is another warning sign of the MacDonald Triad—in return. (This storyline continues to be the opposite of what I want to see on a show like Mindhunter.) And Carr engages in a bit of self-sabotage by dumping Kay in the entrance to her apartment building—she doesn’t even let her in the lobby, which is ice cold—after hearing Kay’s voice and demeanor change when talking to her ex-husband. To me, this seems a bit unfair; after all, Carr compartmentalizes, too. But Kay’s gentle nudging for Carr to come out of the closet in suburban Virginia, and not just back in Boston, definitely seems to have scared Carr. So sadly I’m not surprised she took the first out she could find, even though she told Kay she wanted to be together for real. (Guess she and Tench aren’t going to have that heart-to-heart anytime soon, either.)


This episode had a running theme of mothers being forced to make tough choices, from Kay’s hesitant proposal that she “might introduce” her son Nick “to a friend this weekend” to Tanya Clifton giving her sons $20 to go to the arcade in hopes that they might avoid becoming victims number 29 and 30 of the Atlanta Child Murders. Women worked long before the ‘70s, but the expectation to excel in romance, in the workplace, and as a parent was especially intense around the time of Mindhunter season two: Helen Gurley Brown’s Having It All: Love, Success, Sex, Money . . . Even if You’re Starting With Nothing, the book that invented the phrase, came out in 1982. Neither Kay nor Tanya fit in with the white, middle-class, heterosexual audience Brown addressed in her book, of course. But the discrimination they face as LGBTQ and as Black women must only compound the pressure on them. Even Nancy Tench, a housewife who ticks all the demographic boxes above, is having her own personal Feminine Mystique moment, refusing to do the dishes and leaving Bill to watch their spooky kid.

Compared to the ham-handed cross imagery in episode 7, the motherhood theme in this episode was refreshingly subtle. The majority of the episode focused on nuts-and-bolts investigation procedure, and director Carl Franklin’s relatively flashy style made a good pairing with potentially tedious scenes of sitting under a bridge all night, every night, waiting for someone to throw something off of it. The detail of the agents spraying themselves with bug spray and continually slapping away ‘skeeters was very amusing to me, and I also enjoyed the bold stylization of the montage set to Gary Numan’s “M.E.” (I haven’t watched The Americans yet—I know, I know—so I’ll leave it to you all to debate its merits relative to that show’s fabled needle drops.) Franklin also has a talent for a suspenseful car chase; I know I was holding my breath as the cops swarmed around Wayne Williams’ (Christopher Livingston) car.

Williams—spoiler alert, as much as there is such a thing for history—was eventually convicted of the Atlanta Child Murders, so expect more from him next episode.

Stray Observations

  • Digging into the replies of You Must Remember This host Karina Longworth’s thirst tweet about Holt McCallany (don’t judge me) led me to discover that McCallany is the son of late cabaret legend Julie Wilson, which led me to this video of McCallany and Jonathan Groff performing Sinatra together at legendary NYC cabaret bar Don’t Tell Mama. You’re welcome.
  • Another thing I think about a lot is the principle demonstrated in truly bone-chilling fashion by this episode’s cold open: That a lot of the time, the only thing separating you from unimaginable violence is luck. I’m fun at parties, I swear.
  • Ford’s obsession with drawing out the killer reminds me of a truly terrifying bit of serial-killer campfire lore: Although the timeline is iffy, there’s an oft-repeated story about a man in Sacramento who stood up at a 1977 town hall meeting about the East Area Rapist (later the Golden State Killer) who was terrorizing the city and asked how a woman could be sexually assaulted with her husband in the house. (EAR’s modus operandi was to attack couples.) That same couple was targeted a few weeks later, meaning that the killer was probably at that meeting and heard the man’s comments.
  • Okay, so Ford has no life outside of work. Fair enough.
  • The Sammy Davis Jr. and Frank Sinatra concert offering “moral support” to the people of Atlanta was a real, really pointless thing that actually happened on March 11, 1981. At least Burt Reynolds, who was in town shooting Sharky’s Machine, donated $10,000 to the investigation.
  • The Gary Numan needle drop discussed above was my favorite this episode, but Patti Smith’s “Dancing Barefoot” and Pat Benatar’s “Hell Is For Children” are both apt choices, too.
  • Apologies for the delay, folks, but we’ll talk about the Mindhunter season two finale tomorrow. What can I say? The pop-culture world refuses to stop turning.

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