I’m here to recommend two new Netflix shows crime fiction lovers need to be watching — Mindhunter, and Alias Grace!
Set in the late 1970s, before the term serial killer was coined, Mindhunter centers on two FBI agents, Holden Ford, and Bill Tench, who, along with Dr. Wendy Carr, a badass psych professor, launch the FBI’s first criminal profiling program. It’s the Bureau’s first attempt to use academic research to study, interview, and profile killers like Ed Kemper (shudder) and Charles Manson to see what makes them tick. It’s sort of mind boggling, considering how serials killers are so pervasive in pop culture (Jack the Ripper, for example), that the term wasn’t even coined until a few years before I was born.
Holden Ford, played by the charming Jonathan Groff, is young, ambitious, and driven by an insatiable need to understand human psychology and its relationship to criminal behavior. Bill, on the other hand, is a seasoned agent who knows how these killers can mess with the psyche. Whereas Holden views these killers as interesting subjects with something to offer their field of science, Bill never seems to forget that these men are sadistic killers who destroyed lives. It’s an interesting dynamic.
Next up…Alias Grace!
Alias Grace is a six-episode arc based off the Margaret Atwood novel of the same name. Set in the mid-1800s, the story centers on Grace Marks, a young Irish immigrant who is accused and tried for the murders of her employer and his housekeeper. But, the story is less about her alleged crimes and more about the struggles of women, particularly immigrant and poor women, in 19th century Toronto.
Grace Marks was a real woman who emigrated to Canada with her abusive, alcoholic father, her mother (who died on the ship), and her younger brothers and sisters. Not much is known about her except that she was found guilty of murdering her employer and his housekeeper. She spent 30 years in prison before she was released and moved to New York where she was never heard from again. Atwood fictionalizes Marks’s life — her harrowing voyage across the Atlantic when she was 12 years old, the abuse she suffered by her father, her employment as a maid in an upperclass home where she makes her first true friend, Mary Whitney — and does so by having her recount her life in detail to an American doctor who has come to evaluate her for release. Dr. Jordan’s job is to judge whether she is guilty or sane, but he finds himself becoming obsessed with Grace instead.
This isn’t a Downton Abbey type historical portrayal. This is a gritty, harrowing, and chilling examination of a period when women had few rights and almost no agency.
Have you seen these shows? What do you think?