From the moment she was brought into the BSU, Wendy Carr has been narrowly focused on the team’s core mission, which is to compile interviews and evidentiary materials into a cohesive study of serial killers and their behavioral similarities. At the end of the process, the goal is to have enough data to reach conclusions that will be useful in understanding this seemingly inexplicable violence and then applying that knowledge to work in the field. And with Ted Gunn pressing to make this study the standard — to shift from cold cases to active ones — Wendy has the opportunity to, in the words echoed by her colleagues, “make a difference.”
Yet there’s always this tension in Mindhunter between instinct and empiricism — a key source of Wendy’s frustration with Holden. She’s a scientist and an academic, and she pushes for consistency in the prison interrogations, which will keep all the individual case studies in collective alignment. Discipline and rigor are defining principles in other aspects of her life, too, including her impeccable sense of style, her sturdy posture, and the measured tones of her voice. While she recognizes Holden’s gift for drawing out intimate details from his prison interviews, she’s rankled by his wavering commitment to the larger mission. He’s too quick to throw away the playbook to indulge his vaunted instincts, and his lack of consistent methodology colors the data — to say nothing of his eagerness to solve whatever case happens to intrigue him at a given time.
In “Episode 4,” Wendy spends a little time in Holden’s loafers and quickly learns the limits of the academic thinking in the field. With Holden and Bill in Atlanta on a federal kidnapping case — or ostensibly there for it, anyway — Wendy and Gregg head to Huntsville, Texas, to interview Elmer Wayne Henley Jr., a young man who assisted Dean “Candy Man” Corll in abducting, raping, torturing, and killing at least 28 young men and boys in early-’70s Houston. The spree ended when Henley shot and killed Corll. With typical fastidiousness, Wendy and Gregg have prepared an extensive, carefully structured list of questions for Henley, but the live person in front of them has no interest in engaging with them. Inexperienced interviewers tend to cling to pre-written questions without listening or reacting to their subjects. (Speaking personally, it took many years for me to break that particular habit.) Gregg’s robotic queries get nothing but hostility out of Henley, who’s bored by them, and it’s up to Wendy to step in and salvage the interview.
Turns out she has instincts too. She picks up on the notion of Corll as mentor and father figure, the only adult in Henley’s life to afford him respect and interest. To hear Henley talk about his participation in the horrific crimes is a fascinating lesson in disassociation: The fact that he was delivering young men and boys — some of them his trusted peers — to a man he knew would rape, torture, and kill them doesn’t register as much as his role in what felt like a legitimate partnership. The Wendy who sits behind a desk at Quantico would surely look askance at the Wendy who takes control of the interview, but she seizes on an insight about her own romantic past that applies to him. She too had a dysfunctional relationship with an older adult who used her power as a mentor to lock her into an abusive cycle. She — gasp! — identifies with a monster, and the insight opens him up.
There’s a superb thematic syncopation in this episode between Wendy, Henley, and Bill’s adopted son, Brian, who is revealed to have had a role in orchestrating the death of a 22-month-old on one of his mother’s real-estate properties. All the threads are about lonely misfits who finally get attention and respect: Wendy from her mentor and early lover, Henley from a serial rapist and murderer, Brian from a group of older boys. Wendy and Henley both realize the toxicity of their relationships eventually, but the effects linger. In a particularly chilling line, Henley describes killing Corll as if he were a kid still yearning for approval: “He’d have been proud of the way I did it,” he says. “I think he was proud right before he died.” We’ll surely learn more about Brian’s mental state in later episodes, but clearly his rudimentary thirst for approval has led him shockingly astray.
Meanwhile, the Atlanta murders have continued apace, but the FBI is hamstrung by jurisdiction issues. A kidnapping across state lines gives Holden and Bill the chance to backdoor their way into the larger investigation — they can work a federal ransom case while getting up to speed on the predator — but once the kidnapping turns out not to be a kidnapping, as Holden correctly predicted, they have no home in the city anymore. City officials have the contrary mission of solving the case while hiding the case, so the dragnet is much narrower than it should be. Bringing the FBI into the picture could invite national attention, which would in turn invite headlines the city doesn’t want. In the previous episode, one of the mothers, Camille Bell, warned Holden not to make any promises. For now, such promises are not in his power to keep.
• After three straight David Fincher–directed episodes, the fourth falls into Andrew Dominik’s supremely capable hands. Dominik is an Australian director who made Eric Bana’s career with the lacerating crime drama Chopper, and he parlayed that success into The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford, a sophisticated and beautiful anti-Western that never got the respect (or the audience) it deserved. Though Dominik’s Killing Them Softly was an out-and-out bomb, it’s got a great sense of place, and the heist sequence that sets the film into motion is a corker. His style suits Mindhunter perfectly.
• A little social experimentation makes it obvious that abducting black children from their neighborhoods in broad daylight is not something a white guy can pull off without getting noticed. Then again, Gregg doesn’t make a very persuasive creep. A creep, yes. Just not persuasive.
• Wendy’s bowling date with the bartender is a counterintuitive love connection: she, the buttoned-down professional in formal bowling-alley attire; the bartender, a restless bohemian type who takes pride in her candor. Their chemistry has a quick-burn quality, but it’s there.
• With Gregg referring to homosexuality as a deviance, Wendy will be inclined to stay in the closet. Fortunately, he’s clueless enough to believe that Wendy was making up her story to Henley just to get a reaction.