i was a teenage true crime enjoyer. i'll admit it. drilling through episodes of my favorite murder and the like. it even accounted for a sizable portion of the few books i managed to read for fun. i usually got my kicks out of the banal procedure of crime-solving and its eventual satisfaction (on the occasion that it was available). i wish i could say that my interest was simply as clinical as that, but i still can't deny the morbid fascination of it all. the beats from the stranger beside me that still rattle around in my head: that they missed ted bundy by mere seconds when he was escaping from his second-to-last set of murders, and that they only caught him because a random cop happened to check his tags and pull him over. and also, this anecdote from the author's afterword that i think is pretty funny.

Mark Harmon (People Magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive”) played [Ted Bundy] as Ted was portrayed in Richard Larsen’s book, The Deliberate Stranger ... Harmon’s Ted was so charming and sexy that he sometimes seemed almost heroic.
And that was the Ted that a whole new generation of teenage girls fell in love with. I was appalled at the letters and phone calls I got from young girls who wanted to rush to Florida to “save Ted Bundy.”
Finally, I said — or wrote — firmly to each one: “You are not in love with Ted Bundy. You are in love with Mark Harmon.”
I was gratified when several girls responded, “You know, you're right. I got carried away seeing Mark Harmon.”

i liked to think i was picky about how exploitative the material was, but it didn't fundamentally change the ethos of building myself an exciting little paranoia playground in my suburban home. i thought of hyperawareness as overcompensation for my airheadedness-- settling into the city is teaching me that it's really just a small effort to process my surroundings and, hopefully, a bit of luck.

but in my recent discussion of gone girl, i was reminded of another true crime-adjacent david fincher-adjacent production, mindhunter. (i love zodiac too, for the record.) a netflix series (hear me out) fictionalized from the nonfiction novel of the same name, about the beginnings of forensic pathology at the FBI, and the serial killer interviews that lay the groundwork. its release coincided with that teenage true crime phase,1 but the show stuck with me long enough that i've now watched the first season for the third time. and for the second time, i still haven't gotten around to the second season. i will, for real this time, i swear. but i wanted to gush a little first.

too obsessed with the way this show uses these articulated desk lamps to spice up its blocking. i've bought a good portion of my wardrobe based on things i've watched, i don't see why the same can't go for my decor.

as with gone girl and zodiac, i recommend mindhunter to anyone that has ever liked true crime, and especially anyone that has ever resented it. and also to anyone that likes good tv shows. like, please. in my meager sampling of the media form, this is my personal hill to die on. perfectly constructed, but not in the drab, (earlier-)nolan-esque sense that i associate with that descriptor. it's more like a perfect rhythm with the way it hits all its marks, to the point that i'd genuinely laugh aloud at some of the dialogue beats.

i'd also tried reading the non-fiction book it was based on, back when the show came out, and failed to finish it. going back for a refresher, i can confirm why: even if the subject matter was interesting, it was just too damn smug. the protagonists are framed (in both versions) as trailblazers, which i guess isn't inaccurate, but i have my limits to listening to a member of the united states federal bureau of investigation talking about what a great job they've been doing.2

TENCH: It's schtick. [Ed Kemper] learned the vernacular in the institution. He's sophisticated enough to use it.
FORD: No, that's not my instinct.
TENCH: Is it your instinct he was choosing words carefully or did he just spew it out?
FORD: Very carefully.
TENCH: He's got you pegged. He's telling you what he's guessed you want to hear.
FORD: But why would I want to hear that?
TENCH: Because you're you.

contrast mindhunter the show, which, from the first interview with ed kemper, has a constant throughline of uncertainty. naturally-- the characters are groping blindly through an unexplored field of study (in a soft science, no less). there's no way to know that the protagonists have their interviewees where they want them (both serial killer and suspect). angering or flattering them can either drive or derail the conversation. the world's worst dating sim.

that's one of many marks against true crime culture that could be drawn from this show; where's the point where fascination becomes utterly unproductive, and simply for the sake of itself?3 do the documents and docuseries that purport to take you "inside the mind of a killer" really teach you any greater truths about psychology? let alone about the killer themselves?

the three investigator-protagonists are loosely based on real-life counterparts, and are impressively constructed as fictional characters. i think the arc of holden ford (the main protagonist) is worth outlining a bit here. he has an enthusiasm about forensic pathology that most of his FBI contemporaries find pointless, if not intolerable. even compared to his research unit colleagues, holden never seems to mind crossing personal boundaries for the sake of a successful interview, particularly in creating camaraderie between himself and the subject. said colleagues, and the show, regard his emotional invulnerability less like a talent and more like a liability.

i find it kind of patronizing when people say an actor's queerness is integral their performance (e.g. much discussion of anton walbrook in the red shoes), as if a gay actor suddenly lacks control of their screen presence. that being said: i think it's very crucial to jonathan groff's portrayal of holden ford that he comes off as a little gay.

the thing is, despite holden's nonchalance, the work is affecting him, and the way he sees the world. and as he faces friction in his life, holden's reaction is to become more obsessive over his work, exponentiating a feedback loop. holden frames his eagerness like a means to an end-- for the sake of understanding-- but it often has more to do with indulgence. (see where i'm going with this?) and what begins as a well-intentioned curiosity becomes a smug self-assuredness that is, in large part, unearned.

see also this running gag where everyone clocks holden as a midwesterner-- he is, but he always protests he was born in new york.

"The suburbs dream of violence. Asleep in their drowsy villas, sheltered by benevolent shopping malls, they wait patiently for the nightmares that will wake them into a more passionate world."

(i saw this quote on tumblr.)

i could gush more about metaphor-visuals and their relation to the other two protagonists (wendy carr and bill tench), but i've done enough clumsy summarizing of what the show does a better job of showing. so i'll just leave it to a short sizzle reel again.

wendy's (soon-to-be-ex-)girlfriend holding her hand, where the shot's POV goes from a gesture of affection to an act of supression. my teenage mind was so blown by the effectiveness and simplicity of this image that it's been stuck to the walls of my mind for almost 10 years now.
not to mention this image, when wendy's peaceful solitude-- and supposed acquaintance with an unseen cat-- gives way to a sudden vertigo and crawling horror at how alone she really is.
TENCH: I didn't see [the car] coming, Holden. You could've been killed, and I didn't see it coming. It's one thing if it's the job. But some fucking Pinto comes shooting out of nowhere...
You know, we adopted a boy... three years ago. He's six now. Nancy always wanted a family. And I guess I did, too. But we can't have kids of our own, so...
At first, I thought he was just quiet, you know, a quiet baby, nothing wrong with that. He can speak, he just won't. I feel like we're failing him somehow.
When the car was spinning out, I just... You have no idea what I'm trying to say, do you?

just fuck my shit up.

i also watched a beautiful mind. speaking of minds! ha ha! this is the heavily-fictionalized biopic and academy-award winner about mathematician john nash and (spoilers...?) his struggles with schizophrenia. went in expecting very little, which i moreorless left with, but bits of it stuck in my teeth.

empirical observers of this website might have deduced why i even bothered with this one in the first place. the wife asked me to choose between her and ed harris... sometimes i still miss her!!

as someone with social anxiety, i am qualified to speak on this film's depiction of schizophrenia. genuinely, though, i feel like there's some juice to how it depicts the general experience of mental illness. for one part, the constant tug of war between isolation and companionship: how the latter can save you, but the former is difficult to escape, and simply easier to give in to. and, for another, the inability to trust yourself: it's a very movie-ified depiction, but there is something nauseatingly resonant in the way the hallucinations scream and wail in nash's face. it's very difficult to disbelieve what every nerve in your brain and body is telling you.

so, several moments made my heart sink in a way that i neither expected, nor do i think was entirely earned. in most instances, this movie is so hilariously blunt in the way it depicts The Beauty And Tragedy of nash's condition. (apparently the mathematical community loved the mind palaces or whatever, but you should know not to trust STEM majors about these things.) i think the moments when it does stumble into something poignant have more to do with my projection than any proper soul-scraping. stretching my life experiences as taut as a drumskin over a hollow thing, in order to make it play at all. i preferred ron howard's sensibilities more in apollo 13, where the didactic qualities of the drama complimented this kind of crowd-pleasing story telling, and where ed harris's billing order was less misleading.

to be more abstract about it, i wish this movie had more to do with its feelings. (at best, this is harnessed in russell crowe's performance; i found it heartwarming to see his youthful awkwardness develop into that of the older nash, who is more self-assuredly quirky.) in comparison, there's another "tortured great man" film4 i watched about a week later, the aviator, about howard hughes. probably an unfair comparison, but it is much more emotionally potent for a figure with much less reason for sympathy. if there was any movie for thelma schoonmaker's quote about how scorsese's films "aren't violent until after she's edited them", it's this one. (i can't speak with authority to scorsese's experiences with addiction, but is there something to be said for the way hughes's visual "pangs" of OCD aren't dissimilar to violent, painful cravings? an artist's best work often comes from what they know.)

P.S. (Personal Stuff):

missed almost two months! my bad! but i did warn you. i was visiting home for a few weeks and i managed the surrounding time poorly. the final mission: impossible post will come eventually, i hope. (did you know they're putting holt mccallany in the next one? it's all coming together.)

i'm now at two-three months in the city, been spending time with friends or just exploring, which i've got a strange amount of energy for, so far. (though the summer is getting to me.) i even downloaded one of those apps for making friends, mainly so i didn't forget how to do that. and i had my first friend "date" recently; we went to see a movie called blue jean, about a lesbian gym teacher in 80s britain, living between her gay personal life and her heteronormative work life, and the ensuing turmoil of having those worlds collide. i don't know why i hesitate to watch queer dramas like this, assuming i'll be bored, when they're so often successful at cutting to my core. this kind of compartmentalization became an instinctual, integral part of my life as soon as i thought a little too hard about anime women at the age of 13.

after the movie, me and the other party were discussing the film and other matters over dinner when i heard my name called on the street. i turned to see three-- THREE!-- college friends i hadn't seen in three years. turned out only one of them lived in town and the other two happened to be visiting. "of all the gin joints in all the world," but it was more like me screaming "this is so fucked up" over and over.

about a week ago i returned from visiting home; i report all of this on a website that i haven't shown anyone i know in real life.

snack report!!

i was gonna restock on hide-and-seek, the thinking man's non-digestive biscuit, but they were out, so i finally tried dark fantasy (specifically these big coffee-flavored ones). holy crap!! like a giant piece of double chocolate krave cereal, and a bit of a smoky finish. i wonder if the regular-sized/regular-flavor variety compares, but we've really cooked the brits at their own game here.

you might be better off with your own spices and a fresh bag of microwave popcorn (these run just a bit stale), but if you don't have the pantry for that, these deep brand popcorn are pretty munchable. the turmeric variety is less spicy, but it did have a odd tongue-numbing affect that was apparently not an allergic reaction. i love masala popcorn but i'll be honest and admit this purchase was 60% based on the packaging. come on.

1 this period also coincided with the release of detroit become human, which i never played, nor considered myself a fan of. (yes, i do think i'm better than everyone who enjoyed it. kiss my sandals.) but i did watch the two best friends playthrough, and inevitably found myself endeared to connor and hank. my buddy cop affection always undoes me. (besides, historically speaking, clumsy racial commentary is practically a genre staple.) but i found that holden ford and bill tench were a free-range, grass-fed alternative to characters from a quantic dream game, and i wish the public had had the fortune to realize that as well. "so you'd rather see mountains of RPF for two semi-fictionalized FBI detectives??" nothing's free in this world.

2 here is my footnote review of killers of the flower moon, which could have also easily been another feeb victory lap, but is impressively sober. it does celebrate the efforts of the central FBI detective, tom white (the "white savior" joke is right there, yeah), but there's sizeable emphasis on the impact to the osage community, past and present. not to mention an engrossing historiography of the period (recently finished re-reading the devil in the white city because this reminded me of its portraiture). best to go into blind, though there might be something questionable about its decision to structure real, terrible events as a murder mystery. the upcoming movie appears to have the right idea by instead centering on the emotional impact upon a central figure, mollie burkhart. her story is the soul of the whole thing, and absolutely broke my heart.

3 as i wrote this part of this draft, i heard an argument in the apartment hallway and stepped away to put my ear against the wall. hey, i'm only human.

4 speaking of "great men movies", i watched air in between these two; totally missable, but relatively inoffensive. the movie closes with epilogue cards (sick to death of mainstream 80s pastiche in 2023, but this is admittedly a pitch-perfect aesthetic choice) and i was a little touched by the specific descriptor of an event that happened "before production on this film". this kind of subtle fourth-wall break (for lack of a less reddit term) i've never witnessed in this form; found it to be kind of sweetly humble. "hey, man, we're just a movie! the real heroes are the corporate advertising execs."