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Mindhunter and the change of a system

The central theme of the first season of Mindhunter is change. In the season, change is exemplified by highlighting the clashing between the old and the new guard.

Spoiler-alert for seasons one and two of Mindhunter!

The many arguments Holden has with his supervisor Robert Shepard are characteristic for the entire first season of Mindhunter. Shepard, with his rigid and conservative personality, represents the old guard within the FBI. Holden on the other hand is his complete opposite. Young, cheeky, rebellious, and academic, Holden represents a new way of doing things that will change the foundations of a system. However, Holden doesn’t only encounter the old guard within the bureaucratic structure of the FBI as others have their opinions about his new ideas and ways of investigating. Nonetheless, Holden knows how to find the right people to follow him. For example, Bill, and through Bill, Shepard. But also local cops on the ground, such as detective Ocasek.

The central theme of the clashing between the old and the new guard is in my opinion the strongest aspect of the first season. At the same time, Holden has to convince Shepard that interviewing serial killers can lead to some useful insights, but he also has to communicate these insights to local cops who are in the middle of solving some gruesome murders. Our main character will find out that this shall be harder than he expected.

In the first episode of the first season, Holden and Bill travel to Fairfield, Iowa. The local police have great difficulties solving the murder of Ada Jeffries and her boy. It's up to Holden and Bill to instruct them with their new insights. When they try to convince the police that they might be dealing with a suspect who doesn’t have a motive and just kills for sport, they are met with comments such as “He is just crazy.” Of course, these coppers make a valid point, but it won’t help them to catch the killer. You cannot arrest someone because he simply acts crazy. It is interesting to witness Holden not being able to communicate these ideas, there is a distance between him and the people he tries to convince.

This gap is also exemplified during the case involving the murder of Beverly Jean in Altoona, Pennsylvania. A local detective called Mark Ocasek involves Holden and Bill into the case as he hopes their new insights might lead to a breakthrough. The team discover that Beverly’s fiancée - Benjamin - has something to do with the murder. Furthermore, not only Benjamin but also his sister, Rose, and her husband, Frank, are responsible for her death. The team bases this conclusion not on “hard” evidence but on an analysis of the behaviour and psyche of the suspects. However, the District Attorney is wondering how he can prove this to a jury. That’s why he decides to ignore Holden's results and to focus on the evidence from which he can make a conviction. Only this leads him to a wrong conclusion. Holden then rightly wonders to himself and Bill what difference any of this makes if they can’t communicate it to the people who matter.

Lastly, the investigation of the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) in response to the interview that was conducted with Richard Speck. In this interview, Holden asked Speck what right he had to take "eight ripe cunts" out of the world. While this question got Speck finally talking, Holden and Bill were afraid Dr Carr, Shepard, and the financiers of their research would find the question too unorthodox, which is why they removed it from the transcript. This is a great example of the clashing of the old and the new guard because Holden felt the need to self-censorship himself, even though his method showed results. However, this doesn’t have an effect because Holden’s question does reach the OPR due to the betrayal of a colleague. In the second season, this investigation leads to the end of Shepard's career. He is being replaced by Ted Gunn. In contrast to Shepard, Gunn is a great admirer of Holden’s “intuition”. Symbolically this means that the old guard had to make way for the new guard.

Shepard's resignation also partly means that season II allows less room for the concept of change. This concept, what in my opinion made season I so great, is almost absent from the second season. Apart from the political and racial situation in the Atlanta Child Murders (1979-1981), the team has no professional difficulties. While season II is still very enjoyable, I found it the lesser of the two because of these reasons. It feels as if Holden and his team have nothing left to prove.
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