Berkowitz's scene is pivotal
The stand-out actor who made headlines in Mindhunter season 1 turned out not to be one of the leads but relative unknown Cameron Britton, who hypnotised audiences with his version of “Co-ed Killer” Ed Kemper. Kemper may well pop up in the show again, but the writers clearly knew it would come across as lazy or fan service to rely on the character too much in season 2.
A new serial killer arrived on the scene in episode 2 of the show’s new batch, however: David Berkowitz aka Son of Sam. Mindhunter’s Berkowitz (still from the show and real-world mugshot below) appears to have been made to look like the man himself through prosthetics, though Netflix has, at time of writing, yet to reveal the actor in the role.
His scene was pivotal in the episode, and saw Holden Ford draw the confession from Berkowitz that his crimes weren’t inspired by demons and that this was simply a motive he invented in order to draw press. This was the case with the real Berkowitz, who pleaded guilty to shooting eight people with a .44 caliber Bulldog revolver in New York City during the summer of 1976, and revealed the demonic possession hoax at a press conference three years later.
The twist was a smart way of showing that Holden is apparently back on top of his game, Ford calling bullshit on the very lucid Berkowitz’s tales of a neighbour’s dog being possessed by Satan. The scene was wisely shot too, Berkowitz’s close-ups always coming from Holden’s side of the table, highlighting the strange rapport the agent seems to strike up with killers and how they’re often drawn to him.
These prison interviews are always enjoyable set-pieces in Mindhunter, though their psychological profiling link back to the cases being investigated can sometimes feel a little contrived. On this occasion, it was the BTK Killer who Holden and Ford were concurrently tracking, an apparent Son of Sam copycat with a contradictory M.O. It seems that each episode we’re going to get a little vignette from the BTK Killer’s life, serving to explain (as much as explanation is possible) his psychosexual motives.
Memorable though Berkowitz’s interrogation/casual chat was, it was Bill Tench’s trip to Wichita, Kansas that was the most compelling element of episode 2 (that and his shiny new trench coat, hereby christened the ‘Tench Trench’). Bill’s interview with Kevin, a survivor of the BTK Killer, was beautifully shot and lit, dusk falling under the bridge as the two men conversed without looking at each other. This scene so easily could have been orientated around the victim, and yet we never really saw his face, Bill always being the one in focus, which somehow made Kevin’s recounting of the killer’s attack all the more uncomfortable.
A cliffhanger of sorts came at the end of this episode, a local detective informing Bill’s wife there had been a dead body found in a property she was selling. Whenever a squirrely man in a button-up coat comes on the screen in Mindhunter the feeling is always “that’s the killer!”, and boy are there a lot of squirrely men in button-up coats in this show. It remains to be seen whether this apparent homicide is a coincidence or tied up in Bill’s work, but there was plenty of intrigue in this episode, and the show wasted little time in getting straight back into its groove after the opening episode reset the playing field.
Oh, and thank God Holden seems to be back on form. Given his confidence and resilience in season 1, it would have made zero sense if every serial killer interview post-Kemper turned him into a quivering wreck.