The sixth episode of Mindhunter is 34 minutes long. Let us not allow this rare occurrence to pass unmentioned. Network shows routinely have to hit their marks to fit a half-hour or hour-long format with commercials, which enforces a ruthless discipline on how much a given episode can accomplish. There are no such limits on premium cable networks like HBO and Showtime, or on streaming platforms like Netflix and Hulu, and the bloat has been conspicuous, with premieres yawning to feature-length and episodes routinely filling every second of an hour-long bloc. For Mindhunter, ostensibly a 60-minute show, to get the job done in barely over half the time doesn’t happen often. And it signals a commitment to delivering a taut procedural at whatever length is necessary.
That said, we need to amend that praise with a big fat asterisk. The story primarily covered in “Episode 6” is the murder and post-mortem mutilation of a woman from Altoona, Pennsylvania — an arc that was introduced in the fourth episode, took up virtually all of the fifth, and now wraps up here — so Mindhunter isn’t a model of concision in that respect. It has, however, gained in focus and purposefulness as Bill and Holden seize the opportunity to move beyond the theoretical and academic and use a little bit of applied knowledge in cracking the case. And when they fail to get the full conviction they want from the District Attorney in the end, they have to come to terms with a fresh dilemma about the applicability of their research: “What difference does any of this make if we can’t communicate it to the people who matter?”
It’s a good question, especially given how much Bill and Holden — and now, on a permanent basis, Dr. Carr — have struggled to institute a culture change at the FBI. If it’s hard to convince peers who specialize in sussing out criminal behavior to accept the validity of their research, it’s a bigger stretch to ask ordinary people to follow a killer’s twisted internal logic. Bill, Holden, and Detective Ocasek leave the D.A.’s office furious that Frank, an eager participant in Beverly Jean’s violation and murder, was offered a plea arrangement that keeps him off the streets for as little as five years. But in the absence of all but circumstantial evidence, the D.A. would have to account for a confusing scenario in which Benji, Frank, and Rose each played a role in beating, stabbing, raping, and mutilating Beverly Jean, and then staging her body in the city dump. He would have to explain a fractured jaw, two black eyes, 14 stab wounds to the torso with a kitchen knife, a blow to the end, and the amputation of her breasts. It’s much easier — and not wholly unreasonable — to pin the crime primarily on Benji and leave it at that.
Having Dr. Carr as a permanent fixture in the Quantico basement may help change all that, because she’s a clearer, more disciplined thinker than Bill and Holden. “Episode 6” is the first to devote time to her life outside their collaboration and it’s revelatory to see the secret she’s been keeping from them — and from us — and how she’s had to construct her life around that secret. The low-level flirtation between Carr and Holden, which added tension to her meeting Debbie for drinks, turns out to be a red herring. But it may also be a defense mechanism, Carr’s way of feigning interest in the opposite sex in order to protect her relationship with a female administrator. (Casting Lena Olin as her girlfriend is a masterstroke, if only for bringing back memories of Olin’s role in The Unbearable Lightness of Being.)
Carr’s decision to leave her life in Boston and take up full-time residence at Quantico is fascinating because she feels the impulse to liberate herself, but can only go so far. She bristles at her girlfriend’s vice grip on her hand over dinner with other intellectuals and pointedly excuses herself to head out the door. But she also can’t be herself at Quantico, either. She cannot go into detail with Shepard about why she doesn’t have kids or why she isn’t in a committed relationship. And the apartment she takes is appealing for its privacy and impermanence: The other residents are mostly single people on the go who won’t pry into her affairs, and she’s entering a month-to-month lease in a furnished apartment, which will allow her to disappear at a moment’s notice.
Mindhunter was always going to be a show about how the inner lives of serial murderers influence or relate to the thinking of their inquisitors, but it’s rarely been on-the-nose about it. Bill, Holden, and Carr each have a public and a private face, all masking secrets of one kind or another, and the show’s writers have been deliberate in giving us a window into those things they’d rather not discuss. When Bill and his wife invite Holden and Debbie over for dinner, Holden can see the disappointment and frustration their hosts feel over their adopted son and how it’s eating away at their marriage, which simmers with passive-aggressive swipes. They don’t know who they’ve adopted. They don’t know the horrors he may have experienced. And they don’t know how to recalibrate their marriage around him. For the major characters, cases may close, but mysteries outside the office are ongoing.
• The BTK Killer looks like a delightful domestic companion. As his wife tends to their fussy baby, he glowers menacingly on the couch, practicing the “bind” part of “bind, torture, kill.”
• The use of Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street” in the scene where Holden and Debbie get ready for dinner could be read as sly reference to Holden being likened to Sherlock Holmes, who lived on that street in Arthur Conan Doyle’s novels. But really, the vibe of the song is more about domestic discontent, which primes us for the evening to come.
• “Did anyone hold him when he cried?” A haunting thought as Bill’s wife looks down on her sleeping child and wonders if their love can salve or reverse the damage that’s already been done.