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Mindhunter: Why Season 2's Best Character Wasn't a Killer

You can take your Manson and your BTK, the portrayal of a victims advocate was the heart and soul of this story.
  • June Carryl as Camille Bell in Mindhunter (Netflix)
    June Carryl as Camille Bell in Mindhunter (Netflix)

    Spoiler alert: This post contains spoilers from Season 2 of Mindhunter.

    We talk about the Emmys too much when advocating for the TV shows and actors that we like. Great performances are Emmy-worthy. Great performances that don't get nominated get "Justice for [fill in the blank]" proclamations. It's a natural impulse. If Succession is your favorite show, then the lack of acting nominations for its stellar cast warrants a loud cry of support. Justice for Sarah Snook! (No, but for real, though.)

    Which puts us in an interesting position with a show like Netflix's Mindhunters, which premieres out of season — a summer show will have to wait until next summer to get any kind of Emmy accolades — and whose first season already proved that Emmy voters don't have it on their radar. So rather than just jump right in all "JUNE CARRYL'S PERFORMANCE AS CAMILLE BELL ON SEASON 2 OF MINDHUNTERS DESERVES ALL THE EMMYS," know that a) it does, b) it won't matter, unfortunately, but c) that's fine because this isn't about Emmys. This is about attention. And name recognition. It's about how Season 2 of Mindhunters once again plunges down the rabbit hole of true-crime's most notorious killers, from Charles Manson to the Son of Sam,to BTK, but the one name you'll emerge from the season repeating again and again is "Camille Bell."

    Season 2 of Mindhunter points the Behavioral Science Unit and its young wunderkind Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) to the case of the Atlanta Child Murders. As with everything in this series, it's based on real events, and by the time Ford shows up, the local black population is both frightened and furious. Ford is brought to a clandestine diner meeting with a group of mothers of the abducted children, none more formidable than Camille Bell, whose son Yusuf was the fourth child abducted. Ford, superstar explorer of the serial killer mind, pledges to find the killer, and the bulk of the season is spent on his efforts to do just that.

    Complications arise when Ford's criminal profile — a practice that was new and viewed with skepticism among the law enforcement of the time, much less the citizenry — determines that the killer is most likely a 20-something black man. Ford's rigorous and fastidiously neutral research tells him that serial killers very rarely murder outside their own race. Of course, the experiences of Camille Bell and everyone in Atlanta's black community tells them that white folks (particularly the Klan) kill outside their own race all the time. What Ford sees as an unprejudiced scientific profile, the activists in Atlanta see as merely an attempt to blame the black community for their own children's murders.

    The clash between law enforcement and the local black population is a huge part of the season, and that clash is personified in a series of tense stand-offs between Ford and Bell. What's impressive about these scenes is that they don't cast Ford as the bad guy. He hasn't become drunk with authority or maniacally obsessed with his own window into the minds of killers. He believes in the profiling work he's doing, he believes he's found the best way to catch the killer, and he's trying his hardest to catch the man who abducted and killed these people's children. The show doesn't portray Ford as ill-intentioned or even wrong, but it's also not fully on Ford's side either. His adherence to his profile of the killer as a black man never gives him pause, and he's terrible at empathizing with how decades of racist Klan violence would lead the community to place blame on the KKK. He's tone-deaf in only the way that a handsome young white boy experiencing a flush of professional success can be. Which is why June Carryl's Camille is the perfect opponent for him.

    Camille's defining characteristic is "unimpressed." While Ford may harbor secret hopes that sweeping into town with the FBI and solving the case with this revolutionary behavioral science might make the victims' families grateful, Camille Bell is the unimpressed face staring back at him. She's heard all these promises before, and moreover, she's seen way too much to put any faith in law enforcement. Sometimes she warily sees Ford as an ally in her community's struggle to uncover their children's killer, but more often she sees him as yet another impending disappointment. She'll tell him not to leave without taking some cornbread, but she'll make sure he pays a dollar for it.

    So much of Mindhunters is about Ford squaring off against the worst of the worst serial killers. But his most formidable scene partner in Season 2 is Camille, whose anger seems to acquire another layer of steel-plating every time we see her. Utterly unmoved behind her big glasses and stone-faced stare, Camille's mere presence is a challenge to Ford. When he gets a brilliant idea to erect crosses at a memorial to the victims in order to draw the killer out of the crowd, he has to scramble to get the crosses set up in time, and by the time he does, the Camille-led daytime vigil march of friends and family of the victims has marched to the steps of the church already. Camille's stare practically bores a hole straight through Ford's forehead, not needing any words to accuse him of once again trampling on the local community to serve his own investigation's ends.

    By the end of the season, this show about serial killers and the men who hunt them has found a most unlikely center. In the end, it's not Ford's profile, nor the killer that profile catches that resonate most strongly. It's Camille Bell — a real-life woman who worked tirelessly to help catch the man or men who killed her son and the sons of so many others in her community — whose unflinching stare sticks in your memory.

    "We will show the world who is the real strength of Atlanta!" Camille thunders as she rails against the local politicians. We already know who the real strength of this season of television is.

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    Joe Reid is the Managing Editor at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, The Herald Sun, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.

    TOPICS: Mindhunter, Netflix, Jonathan Groff, June Carryl