Arriving nearly two years after the series' debut, Mindhunter season 2 thankfully doesn't take as long to ease you back into the world of the budding FBI Behavioural Science Unit (BSU), although it's less of an easing than a wading straight into what will be the focus for the season – The BTK Stranger. Not only is the opening scene dedicated to a woman finding her husband engaging in some erotic asphyxiation in the bathroom, but another agent comes to bring all the BTK files to Bill Tench (Holt McCallany) as he arrives in the office after a summer barbeque with the family, which neatly reminds you of the turmoil of his home life vs his choice of work. Mindhunter, then, isn’t playing games with its audience: the heavy stuff is here from the get-go.
The first episode picks neatly up from where season 1 left off, reminding us that we last saw agent Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) literally in the clutches of serial killer Ed Kemper (Cameron Britton), although Kemper did go in for the hug rather than the kill. That didn't stop Ford from reeling from an almost near-death experience though, as we pick things up with the agent and he's restrained in a hospital bed. Thankfully, he's fine, or fine-ish anyway, but it's clear there are going to be issues with Ford that will persist through the season.
Things are about to get bigger, better, and probably more complicated for Ford's team too, which will no doubt put pressure on Ford's already tumultuous psyche. There's a new boss at Quantico, Ted Gunn (Michael Cerveris), who's establishing his new reign by giving Ford, Tench and the team more resources, support, and manpower to expedite the establishment of the formal Behavioural Science process so it can be rolled out to teams countrywide. He quickly makes the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) investigation disappear, and, irritatingly, the little snitch within the BSU seems to get off without any repercussions for sending the OPR the tape of Ford's interview with serial killer Richard Speck (Jack Erdie).
Gunn has already promised to secure a meeting with Charles Manson, which dangles like a glorious promise for later in the series, but along with BTK, another serial killer focus is also established in this first episode, which I assume will become the Atlanta Child Murders. They come at the murders with a sensitivity that's not really been seen before in the series, particularly around the ideas of whether the murders were racially motivated, and it'll be interesting to see how the show tackles the intersection of race and law enforcement as the season unfolds.
But, it's clear that tensions are already running high within the team, even though we're only on episode 1. Some of the intricacies around the OPR investigation and Ford's behaviour are still palpable and clearly affecting the small team. A lot of the episode is spent watching Gunn interact with Ford, Tench, and Dr. Wendy Carr (Anna Torv). He has an air of unease around him, and although he seems supportive of the crew, there's a tension that makes me feel uneasy as he talks.
The tension is something that pervades the entire episode though. I'm not sure who is in charge of decorating at Quantico, but the drab browns and muted yellows definitely don't help lift the mood. There's friction for each of the characters: Ford swings between his illness and conflict within the BSU and FBI; Tench tries to blur the lines between home and work, only to find his friends fascinated by the macabre and his wife mortified; while Carr is obviously feeling the pressure at work, and starts to seek distraction by leering at a pretty waitress.
As the frictions begin to emerge – or re-emerge in Tench's case – I'm still not entirely convinced by the huge swings in Ford's temperament. Although Jonathan Groff handles the character incredibly well, I think I might be more in the camp of the former-FBI boss who describes him as an "arrogant, self-serving twerp". Even in this opening 48 minutes, it's Holt McCallany that once again shines in his role as Tench. His character's split between home and work continues to evolve that more endearing, fatherly side of his personality that was hidden until the closing episodes of the first season. Through all that though he still has the no-nonsense approach to Ford but also to the BSU, manoeuvring a move away from Ford tactfully, but in a way that suggests permanent fractures and fissures might be starting to appear in their relationship.
It already feels like the series is evolving and maturing, becoming more complex as the relationships start to change, both professionally and personally. I'm excited to see where this goes, and what dimensions are added by new serial killers working on Ford's mind, and he on theirs. Bring on the Manson.