When Mindhunter dropped on Netflix, the show was an instant hit. It was created by Joe Penhall and is directed by David Fincher. It was based on the famous book Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit, by John E. Douglas and Mark Olshaker. Douglas was an FBI agent who inspired characters in The Silence of the Lambs and Criminal Minds.
The 19 episodes of Mindhunter have taken liberties with the book, which is probably why the main character Holden Ford is not directly named Douglas. The show has been an enormous hit for Netflix. Here we rank the five best and five worst episodes from the first two seasons.
10 Worst: S1E3 (8.3/10)
Yes, you read that right: one of the worst episodes of Mindhunter still gets over 8 stars out of 10 on IMDb. The fans who rated it less than 10 stars (which were few), reasonably point out that the episode is a little slow. Holden Ford and Bill Tench’s ongoing interviews with Ed Kemper show the less glamorous side of working for the FBI, so are less exciting to watch than explosions—though no less intense.
In this episode, Dr. Wendy Carr celebrates with Agent Holden Ford and Agent Bill Tench when their insights lead to an arrest for the first time. In the background, we’re reminded of the menacing ADT Service Man.
9 Best: S1E5 (8.7/10)
The twists and turns in the story of the murder of Beverly Jean are what all the best police procedurals are made of: the taciturn suspects, the charming liars, the differing theories between officers, witnesses too scared to come forward, and the ultimate denouement when the killer—and the true motive—are revealed.
Beverly Jean's story actually spreads over two episodes, but this is the episode that focuses most on her. It’s a sad and confusing tale where every woman seems to be the victim of some kind of violence. The personal drama is also interesting: Holden argues with his girlfriend Debbie and Dr. Wendy Carr’s interest in the casework side of their research deepens.
8 Worst: S2E1 (8.2/10)
The season opens on the newly-minted Behavior Science Unit reeling from the internal review they suffered through at the close of season 1. Bill covers for Holden’s untimely and mysterious disappearance, while we learn that Holden has been hospitalized after his conversation with Ed Kemper caused him to collapse. Holden continues to deal with the consequences of his work for the rest of the season, but never are they worse than this episode.
The episode is obviously still very well-liked and not a bad episode of television by any means. The people who didn’t like it point out that this episode is even more slow-paced than usual.
7 Best: S2E2 (8.8/10)
After several episodes of internal problems at the Bureau, and personal storylines taking the forefront, this episode is when there is a clear return to the main premise of the show: mind hunting. The team decides to interview David Richard Berkowitz, better known as Son of Sam, the killer who plead guilty to eight separate shooting attacks in the mid-1970s. The team wants insight into the BTK killer, as well as more data for the set Wendy was brought in to build.
People especially compliment the atmospheric quality of these episodes—not only are we confronted with Son of Sam, but with the larger realities of life in jail as well.
6 Worst: S1E8 (8.2/10)
In this episode, Bill and Wendy interview people in the Bureau to bring on to their team. Meanwhile, Holden is intrigued by the strange and uncomfortable behavior of an elementary school principal—is the tickling just a friendly parental act, or something more sinister?
In what has clearly become the classic Holden Ford modus operandi, Holden inserts himself into a situation that no one has asked him to join and alienates everyone around him. He’s absolutely right in his actions (why is this teacher tickling children then paying them?) but the point stands that he’s breezing right past a line. Wendy and Bill get increasingly worried about Holden’s tendency to go off the rails and fixate.
5 Best: S2E9 (8.9/10)
The season finale of Mindhunter zeroes in on a suspect in the Atlanta Child Murders who is very skilled in manipulating a volatile situation for his own fame and gain. Holden and Agent Barney are working diligently to solve this case, but are struggling with pushback in every corner of the Atlanta local government. The mothers who Holden promised to help are increasingly frustrated over the slow pace of the investigation, begging the question: What if the children going missing were white?
Overall, it’s a fast-paced episode that ends the season in a satisfying way. There are still many open questions, especially around the future of Bill and his family, that set up season three really well.
4 Worst: S1E6 (8.0/10)
This episode is a continuation of the investigation into Beverly Jean’s murder. Holden, Bill, and Wendy need to explain how the murder actually happened to the District Attorney. Of course, the DA doesn’t believe them (or just doesn’t think he can sell it) and so he lets Frank and Benjamin off relatively easily just to ensure a conviction.
On the personal side of the characters, we learn that Wendy is a lesbian. She is struggling to choose between staying at the university in Boston and going full-time with the Bureau. Holden’s relationship with Debbie continues to deteriorate while Bill continues to struggle with the realities of adopting a child.
3 Best: S2E5 (9.1/10)
Holden and Bill finally interview one of the most famous criminals in US history: Charles Manson. They go back and forth about whether or not Manson is actually at fault for the murders. He did not, after all, actually deal a death blow. Of course, this brilliantly mirrors Bill’s tragic and horrifying home situation, where his young son was witness to a murder and did nothing. Bill has to cope with the limits of responsibility and integrate what he has long studied into his own home life.
Meanwhile, Holden has turned his too-honest attentions toward Atlanta, where he continues to make enemies. Wendy has begun seeing a woman who seems better for her than her last girlfriend, but to those carefully watching there are red flags being raised already.
2 Worst: S1E1 (7.9/10)
The first few episodes (sometimes even the first full season) of a show are generally a struggle as the show tries to get on its feet. So it’s hardly surprising to find the very first episode of Mindhunter as the worst-rated episode on the list. That said, to be the worst of the show and still have a rating of 7.9 is very impressive. It speaks to how good the show is at its core.
This episode opens the story: Holden Ford, a frustrated FBI hostage negotiator, begins studying a new type of murderer with Agent Bill Tench, a long-time FBI veteran. There’s nothing wrong with the episode, exactly, it simply a backstory and set up episode; the show needed to settle into itself more.
1 Best: S1E10 (9.2/10)
What the team at the Behavioral Sciences Unit is reaping what they have sowed: An internal review is cracking them; Holden has made more enemies than ever; and Holden’s own behavioral and moral issues are finally being made very clear. The question starts to become: Is Holden fascinated by these sociopathic killers because he himself is a sociopath? This highly-rated episode is beloved in the Mindhunter series. It sparked thousands of online threads, discussions, and late night conversations theorizing about what could possibly happen next. It was an interesting outcome for a show that is based on historical fact.
Here, creators David Fincher and Joe Penhall proved that they could take a story full circle and leave clues that would pay off in a big way. No wonder the show was so quickly renewed and immediately set up to continue on past season 2.