(cont.) Coon which I agree she has a similar vibe. But the gal playing Debbie reminds me very much of Alexa Davalos who stars in Man In the High Castle. Kind of cool yet weird experience watching Mindhunter while also thinking of two characters from other show. (Carrie Coon – The Leftovers.)
Holden being simultaneously right and wrong is one of the hallmarks of good drama. Which is why I’m going to say categorically that I do not think he’s psychopathic in the least, and, the couple of critics I’ve seen advancing that argument drive me up the wall.
Firstly because…critics are not doctors, and even highly trained doctors struggle to diagnose personality disorders of that kind with any degree of precision. So, most of the critics who use that terminology are really abusing it – they don’t mean someone who meets the diagnostic criteria for Anti-Social Personality Disorder, they mean someone who unnerves them and is kind of a dick.
It’s sloppy use of language, but not only that, I think it obscures several of the things the show is doing in a really unhelpful way.
One of the things the show captures, quite neatly, and without a lot of fanfare, is how much more unnerved men are by that kind of sexualised violence than women. Both Holden and Bill are far more horrified and…disgusted by the killers’ violence than Wendy is, and that is entirely to do with sex. Wendy, like so many women, has grown up navigating a constant, low-level threat of sexual violence, and so she isn’t particularly surprised by the brutal attitude the murderers have to women or to sex.
As infuriating as all that “as a father of daughters” stuff that comes out every time there’s some horrendous instance of sexism, it captures something fundamental about male experience. For a lot of men – especially the less imaginative or empathetic ones – the first time they are really confronted with how precarious women’s safety is and how impossible it is to navigate those risks with any degree of certainty is when they have a daughter. Their daughters are vulnerable in a way their wives and sisters and friends have spent a lifetime learning not to be. It’s inexcusable, and more than anything it speaks to an…intellectual failure on the part of many men, an inability to conceptualise anything outside their own experience.
But almost every woman I know went through a phase of being fascinated with true crime stories – and as Bela Lugosi said “It is women who love horror. Gloat over it. Feed on it. Are nourished by it. Shudder and cling and cry out-and come back for more.” What is Dracula but a serial killer, after all, right down to the sexualised nature of the violence? Better to learn how to face the monster in a book or a film or a Wikipedia article than in reality.
It’s a subtle thread, but it is there – for both Holden and Bill, confronting that level of violence is deeply disturbing, in a way it isn’t for Wendy because, like all women, she has lived with that threat her entire life. They haven’t.
More importantly than that, one of the things Mindhunter (and Fincher’s film Zodiac) is fascinated by is fear of the unknown and the unknowable. Think of all of those scenes at the beginning where Holden has to deal with the angry cops who say the killers are ‘just’ evil. Calling them – or calling Holden – psychopaths is just a more modern version of the same thing. It contains a certain truth, but it allows us to dismiss the thing that disturbs us, put a label on it and forget it, rather than confront the frightening truth.
Because it seems to me that Holden’s most fundamental realisation is that he DOESN’T think like the killers, he DOESN’T understand them the way he thinks he does – even after letting them into his head, even after studying them and gaining all his insights, when face to face with a person who would murder and violate another human being just because he can…Holden doesn’t understand it. Holden can’t understand it. There is a vicious, spiteful emptiness where Kemper’s conscience should be, and it defies all of Holden’s attempts to rationalise it. And that realisation terrifies him (understandably).
Note how Bill says, correctly, that the reason they caught the murderer in episode 8 (or 9, maybe, I’m not sure which) was good old-fashioned detective work. He’s right. Holden is helping them craft…new tricks, new kinds of thinking about crimes, but does it bring him any closer to actually UNDERSTANDING the mindset of a man who could rape and murder a twelve year old? I have my doubts – I think in many ways, despite all of Holden’s intellectual arrogance, it remains as big a mystery at the end of the show as he beginning.
That’s not to say that dealing with those men and that violence doesn’t take a toll on him – it very obviously does – but when I saw a critic say Holden was “becoming as psychopathic as the killers” I saw red (I know that’s not what you mean btw). Firstly, because…that’s not how that works – if anything, the show makes it clear that it takes a lot of bad luck AND bad choices to create a human being bat stunted – and secondly because…honestly, I think it’s the realisation both that recognisably ordinary people are capable of traits demonstrated by the killers (Debbie mentions similarly manipulative behaviours many times, and then there’s Holden’s reaction to her in the show’s and underwear), and that the killers are beyond his understanding that drives his breakdown.
In which case, while his increased arrogance is obnoxious, it’s really a case of whistling by the graveyard. Now, it’s not only that of course – Holden is clearly extremely intelligent, and that drives his insight into the killers – but the more frightened he is by them, the more he HAS to believe in his own ability to understand them. Nothing is more frightening than what we don’t understand and for an intellectual, developing understanding of something is how they exert control over it.
Note that Bill, who is more emotionally balanced and more experienced than Holden, ultimately accepts that there are things he doesn’t understand and they upset him on a deep level. Holden, being immature, can’t accept the idea that there are things outside his control or understanding, and so he INSISTS that he can understand everything…right up until the stress builds to the point where he cracks.
At its most basic, I think Mindhunter is about how we process our fear of the unknown, when that unknown is the hearts of our fellow human beings and their capacity for extravagant cruelty. So I think to dismiss them or Holden as a specific, defined, KNOWN thing, is to…dodge the complexities the show wants us to grapple with.