I watched all ten episodes of Mindhunter in less than a week, and I’m still not sure why. It’s a well constructed show, with a good cast, but it doesn’t shine, and I don’t know if it brought me pleasure. I just know I had to watch it whenever I had time to watch television, until there wasn’t anymore left.
The most interesting part of the show is the creation of taxonomy, the dramatization of categorization. We see them debate terminology, the decision to stop calling their subjects sequence killers, and try the phrase serial killer instead. So often this language is naturalized, so often psychoanalytical concepts are presented as fact, a truth that has been discovered, and not a schema that has been invented. Seeing the moment of invention is thrilling, and seems more charged then the violent crimes that are being investigated. Brutal murder is commonplace on television, the way brutal murders are solved is common on television. One summer I watched four or five seasons of Criminal Minds, and I don’t remember any of the specific cases, the jargon stuck with me — unsub, organized/disorganized, the language of profiling. Television makes us take that all for granted. And I think that’s terrible.
My argument is not that violence on television makes us numb, or more violent, or worse people. It probably isn’t good for our psyches, but I’m not interested in that argument. I think it’s terrible that we don’t see how there’s a power structure shaping how we understand the violence in our world.
Which brings us back to Mindhunter. Is it just another crime show, giving us a peak behind the curtain into something violent and forbidden? Or, by being set in the past, and taking us along as these new norms are developed, is it doing something more complex, possibly destabilizing, possibly very interesting? I’m not sure. I really can’t say with confidence that it’s anything more than a mediocre crime show with a good cast. But I know I couldn’t stop watching it. And I know that I don’t understand why it was so compelling.
The questions it left me with were not about things inside the show, but my response to the show. Why did I feel so compelled to watch all of it immediately? The characters aren’t staying with me, or the plot, and I can’t think about anything specific in the filmmaking? It was just there, and I started watching it, and I think I would have kept watching it, not really enjoying it, but utterly hypnotized. What the fuck?