The unique forms of isolation imposed by the modern world have given us a rich tradition of films and shows that steadily push their loner protagonists to a climactic point of catharsis. The explosive finale in Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver still sets the standard. David Fincher brings us close to Scorsese’s chaotic intensity in Mindhunter’s final episode. After a failed suicide attempt lands the 6’9” Kemper in the hospital with thick bandages on his thick wrists, Ford gets a call informing him that he’s listed as the man’s sole medical dependent.
Without hesitation, Ford races to the airport and soon finds himself sitting by Kemper’s side in the hospital. Size is very difficult to convey onscreen, but Fincher ingeniously centers his lens on Kemper’s massive feet, which the covers simply can’t contain. We also see a thick metal chain fastening Kemper’s legs together, a stark reminder of the patient’s lethal capabilities. All of these disparate qualities—the bed, the bandages, the room’s sedate lighting, the giant feet, the chain—combine to create a scene of nearly impeccable menace.
When his subject leaps from the bed with the prowess of a predator in the jungle, Ford finally understands that he’s not the one in control—that he’s not some kind of exotic sociopath-whisperer. “I could kill you right now if I wanted to,” Kemper intones. We then watch as Kemper enfolds Ford in his mammoth arms, whispering sinister possibilities in his ear.
Ford breaks loose and staggers from the room in a blind panic, his legs melting beneath him. The full weight of his own radical empathy exams comes crashing down on his head all at once, and it arrives with the force of a revelation. It’s a masterful conclusion to the first outing of a very promising show. (Word has it that Fincher wants five more seasons of Mindhunter. It’s a testament to Season One’s success that this ambition doesn’t sound presumptuous.)
Though Christian audiences may be appalled by its subject matter, Mindhunter shouldn’t prove too shocking. In his short story “Genesis and Catastrophe,” Roald Dahl recounts a conventional childbirth. The tale is initially straightforward, if a little melodramatic. Like a chemist adding a volatile compound to a beaker, however, Dahl instantly transforms the narrative with one explosive detail: the baby is Adolf Hitler.
Dahl’s little conceit would garner the same results if it were applied to any of Mindhunter’s killers. Every hardened criminal was once a squirming infant. With its uncompromising depiction of aberrant behavior, Mindhunter is definitely not for everyone—but Christians can affirm the show’s somber reminder that the gravest danger always involves underestimating one’s own capacity for evil. We don’t have to travel as far as we think we do to see the darkness in others.
Cameron McAllister is a speaker and writer with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM). He lives in the Atlanta area with his wife, Heather. You can find him online @cammcallister7 on Twitter, and listen to him talk about signs of life in today's culture on the Vital Signs podcast.