And if you feel that you can’t go on
And your will’s sinking low
Just believe, and you can’t go wrong
In the light, you will find the road
You will find the road —Led Zeppelin, “In the Light”
The soundtrack for Mindhunter has been candid all season — a serial-killer show that uses the song “Psycho Killer” isn’t afraid to talk directly to the audience — and the Led Zeppelin track that’s threaded through this tenth and final episode underlines Holden’s mind-set in permanent marker. Between the aural assault of Jimmy Page’s “bowed guitar” (an electric guitar played with a violin bow) and John Paul Jones’s synthesizers, “In the Light” is a profoundly muscular, nerve-jangling song before the lyrics are even under consideration. That contrast between lyrics that reassure — “Just believe, and you can’t go wrong” — and music that suggests inner turbulence gets at Holden’s precarious state of the end of Mindhunter’s first season. He’s arrogant enough to believe he’s in the right under any circumstances, but falling apart on the inside.
“Episode 10” kicks off with Bill and Holden traveling down to Georgia to question a tree-trimmer for the rape and murder of a 12-year-old girl, which involves Holden abandoning protocol once again and speaking to the suspect at a base level about his possible attraction to the victim and how things might have gotten out of hand. I’ll discuss that more later, but it’s the stagecraft of the scene that makes it particularly compelling: Holden wants the interview done after-hours. He wants the suspect to marinate alone for at least an hour before they show up. He wants the file’s pages on him to look as thick as a phone book, even if it’s filled with blank paper. He grabs the victim’s majorette boots and hat out of evidence and orders a cop to buy a baton and weather the price tag. And he wants the murder weapon, a giant rock, to serve as “the shoe,” eliciting a response from the suspect much as the high heels did from Jerry Brudos.
When Holden later brags about his gambit to Debbie at the grocery store, she has an insight that put this superb episode in context: Holden is directing. Suddenly, the character and the series starts to feel like a much more personal project for David Fincher than slapping his name on someone else’s show and lending it his signature gray-black, ominous visual template. Fincher is a notorious perfectionist, known for multiple takes that can edge into triple figures, and here he’s calling attention to himself — not just the marshaling of effects necessary to stage an effective scene, but the obsessive impulse that animates it. “Episode 10” is about being an artist, about the blinding confidence of believing you’re right all the time, but also feeling isolated and scared about it. And perhaps a little crazy.
In an homage to himself, Fincher opens “Episode 10” as he opened Zodiac, with a mail cart carrying a letter from a serial killer. Here it’s Ed Kemper, who hasn’t heard from Holden in a while and is writing him in the tone of a jilted lover, someone who once commanded his attention and is now cruelly deprived of it. Kemper returns in this stunning finale, but a generous chunk of the episode is devoted to the rape and murder of the 12-year-old majorette in Georgia and the fallout from Holden’s behavior in the box. In an astonishing rebuke of his boss’s (and Dr. Carr’s) scolding over the Richard Speck interview and the redacted transcript, Holden not only continues to provoke the suspect with base language, but works the redaction into the taping itself. And he essentially holds his own partner hostage to do it.
Holden slips all too easily into the role of a dude who’s into young girls and scoffs off the sexual aberrance of lusting after a 12-year-old. The victim looks older, right? Fourteen is the age of consent in Georgia. (“I guess Georgia’s kind of forward-thinking in that respect,” he says.) And he’s been trying to convince his girlfriend to shave her private area “before it turns into mom.” (Note how he’s mimicking the exact language Kemper used earlier in the season.) The line of questioning makes Bill and the local officers uncomfortable, but Holden is undeterred, and eventually they get their man. Holden feels validated and brags about his methods over drinks; Bill makes the sound point that merely putting the murder weapon in front of the killer was enough to get the job done.
Holden’s braggadocio winds up surfacing in an anonymously sourced piece in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which causes yet another crisis in the BSU because his techniques are being used to press for a death-penalty conviction, which could discourage future subjects from helping them with the study.
His blithe dismissal of these concerns about his techniques — and about their impact on the larger study, which is sending Carr into a panic — walls him up in arrogance, shutting out the voices of those closest to him. He scoffs at Carr’s persnickety mission to Rome, Georgia to talk the locally elected D.A. out of pursuing the death penalty. He doesn’t allow Debbie the courtesy of breaking up with him, not when he can come to that conclusion himself in a bravura display of Holmesian sleuthing. He laughs off his inquisitors from the Office of Professional Responsibility. The first season of Mindhunter ends with Holden as lone wolf, hewing closer to the misogyny and “organized killer” methodology of his serial-killer subjects than the collaborative effort of his peers. Even Bill, who’s inclined to indulge his excesses and close rank when necessary, puts his concerns on the record.
Yet that last, masterful scene with Kemper is a splash of cold water. Holden has gotten so used to relating to serial killers that he’s forgotten the threat a man like Kemper poses. When this immense monster gets up from his hospital bed and embraces him, Holden’s feelings of superiority and control melt away in such a rush that he’s seized by panic, fear, and childlike vulnerability. He encouraged this intimacy with evil, and now he suddenly has to come to terms with the consequences of his actions. Perhaps that will break the fever and lead to a new, more responsible Holden in season two, someone who’s ready to humble himself and recommit to the mission. Or, more likely, he could become like one of the men in Zodiac, condemned to chase the elusive ghosts that obsess him.
• Bill again seems only at a half-distance from Holden. He does believe that going off the procedural script is necessary to get results. He’s just not willing to go as far as his partner. So in interrogation situations like the one with the tree-trimmer in Atlanta, Holden’s provocations dominate, but Bill still includes himself in the battery of questions.
• If this is the end for Debbie on the show, I think on balance the character has been underused. Her field of study gives her insight into Holden’s job, enough to pick apart his coercive interrogation in Georgia. (“Perry Mason never got off on it.”) But the narrative relegated her to the sidelines. The fact that she could make meaningful contributions to criminal profiling made it more disappointing that she rarely got the chance.
• A quick shot of (former) Principal Wade leaving the grocery store in a tattered sweater is still long enough to trigger some guilt over how Holden handled that situation.
• “I’d say making furniture from human remains qualifies as organized.” No context or follow-through on this line. Just business as usual for the BSU.
• Holden taking the elevator down to the basement is the “[sadly go-karts]” of Mindhunter.
• Don’t miss Jonathan Groff’s delightful pitch for Mindhunter: The Musical on Colbert. There’s good banter between Groff and Colbert leading up to it, and the number itself starts around the six-minute mark.