What is evil? Like any philosophical argument, the question of what evil is, how it manifests itself and how it is best dealt with can descend quickly into abstraction. That said, no matter your views on good and evil, it can be objectively agreed upon that within the darkest corners of our society there exist men and women who personify the concept. Men like Adolf Hitler confound us with their propensity for committing evil. ISIS, the North Korean government and white nationalist terrorists are boogeymen haunting the newsrooms of CNN and MSNBC.
But there is something relieving to the human psyche in knowing that the violence inflicted by these people or groups is not without reason. Their motives are clearly flawed, their ideologies stained by hatred and greed, but at the end of the day, our overriding belief as people is that if we can understand our enemy, we can defeat them.
But what about the men and women for whom evil is the cause of, rather than the result of, their actions and ideologies? What about the Ted Bundys and Jeffrey Dahmers of the world? What about the Dennis Raders? The Ed Kempers?
The human mind craves logic. If no reason exists for something happening to or around us, we invent a reason. So how does a rational human mind conceptualize an irrational one? Can someone born without emotion, remorse or even the slightest capacity for empathy ever find a place in our society? Would they want to?
For the sake of fairness, I have included both men and women in these statements, however it is no secret that deadly women are the exception rather than the rule when it comes to “those types of people.” This isn’t to say that there are no female serial killers, but they are admittedly few and far between, making up only 15 percent of serial murderers by the most liberal estimates. “Mindhunter,” the original Netflix series and brainchild of David Fincher, is much less concerned about the inclusivity of the term that its real-life FBI counterparts pioneered. When defining “serial killer,” “Mindhunter’s” protagonist Holden Ford (played by Jonathan Groff) is as formulaic as they come, solving the riddle of the deranged human mind like he would a Rubik’s Cube.
When entering a taped conversation with a convicted serial murderer (known in the mid-1970s as sequence killers) it is important to keep your cool, trust in your abilities and remember that no matter how low you may have to go, the person across from you has gone infinitely lower.
You introduce yourself to the man sitting across from you. As you know, a serial killer is always a man; twist the Rubik’s Cube once. You know that a serial killer is almost always a social outcast, a reject or a screw-up of some form. Ask the killer guiding questions, speak to him the way that he speaks to you; continue to twist until one side of the Rubik’s Cube snaps into place. Ask the killer about his relationship with his mother. He might not immediately break, but dig deep enough and he’s almost certain to give you a glimpse into a strange, perverted past. Once you see the quiver of a lip, or a slow gloss-over of the eyes, twist the cube like your life depends on it.
The algorithm will sort itself out from here, assuming, of course, that you have done enough to gain his trust. He might deflect, he might tighten up, he might even tell you the most revolting story you’ve ever heard, a smug look on his face, with the expectation that you will be so horrified by his madness that you’ll give up. Don’t be phased. He isn’t the mindhunter here, you are. All he wants is to interact with someone who speaks the same fucked up language as he does. So that’s what you must do. Get in the mind of the man, give it right back to him in such a way as to make him feel the revulsion that he makes the rest of the world feel. If you can offend his sensibilities, then you’ve done your job. He’ll begin to lose his composure once he sees that you’re not playing games. Snap . . . each side homogenized. Set the Rubik’s Cube down and exit as professionally as you entered, tell your colleague to stop the recording and head back to Quantico. Your job is done.
Holden, based on the real-life FBI agent John E. Douglas, is successful at solving the puzzle because he looks for logic where others see chaos. A crazy person isn’t someone who doesn’t utilize logic, but rather, someone who utilizes a logic so foreign that it appears to the average Joe that they don’t abide by any logic at all. While every other criminal pathologist is attempting to translate the killers’ language into their own, Holden is learning the language of the killers themselves straight from the horses’ mouths. It’s what makes him successful, but it not without cost to his own sanity.
With the BTK killer still stalking the shadows of suburban Kansas at the first season’s finale, the only thing certain going into season two is that Holden’s salad days are long gone, and his most arduous tests still lie ahead of him.