MASTERMIND: TO THINK LIKE A KILLER (Tribeca 2024) – Review by Beth Accomando

0 Flares 0 Flares ×

As a fan of David Fincher’s Mindhunter series, I was eager to check out the first episode of Abby Fuller’s new docuseries Mastermind: To Think Like A Killer (series premieres July 11 on Hulu) since it profiles Dr. Ann Burgess, the woman who inspired the character of Wendy Carr (played by actress Anna Torv). The two series are brilliant companion pieces. Episode one of Mastermind premiered at Tribeca and it is riveting. It is also fascinating to see how the real woman differs from her onscreen alter ego.

Although I would change nothing about Mindhunter, it is interesting to see what Fincher changed. I would have been curious to have Fuller ask Burgess what she thought of the series. But the notable difference is how quiet and unassuming Burgess is, and how she absolutely seems like she could have been the mom next door. Fincher’s character has all of Burgess’ intelligence, eagerness for data, and ferocious determination to create a profiling system that works but also gives her a secret life with personal conflicts (which of course play better in a dramatic series).

But Burgess has a very supportive husband and family, and managed, it appears, to juggle a demanding career with raising a family with amazing grace. The docuseries is inspired by the 2021 book A Killer by Design: Murders, Mindhunters, and My Quest to Decipher Criminal Minds, co-written by Burgess and CSON Associate Director of Marketing and Communications Steven Constantine.

Mastermind reveals that Burgess’ background was in nursing and early on she began to focus on patients who had experienced some sort of trauma. She eventually began to focus on rape victims, and on forcing our culture to stop blaming the victims. She wrote a number of books exploring what victims went through and how a rape could be both physically and emotionally scarring. What’s fascinating is how her focus on victims would ultimately lead to her helping the FBI profile killers.

In 1978, the FBI contacted her about teaching agents about rape, trauma, and sexual assault. She agreed but faced a wall of essentially white males who had no interest in how the victim felt. But Burgess’ relentless but nonconfrontational style combined with her expertise won the respect of the FBI men. It also led to more work for the government agency.

John E. Douglas and Robert K. Ressler both did pioneering work in the FBI’s Behavioral Sciences Unit, and Burgess became a key addition, bringing an academic’s skill for data, research and organization. All three collaborated on the book Sexual Homicide: Patterns and Motives, a study of serial killers published in 1988.

While Fincher’s series does focus more on the men, Fuller’s docuseries lets us get an in depth look at Burgess’ contribution and her methodology. The docuseries also explores lesser-known cases than Mindhunter and that proves fascinating.

Fuller has access to some great archival images and material, but some of the re-enactment footage gets a little overused. But the chief draw of this series is Burgess herself. She is an amazing woman and we get insights into how she thinks and how her focus on victims provided a very different perspective on crime and behavior. This is an absolutely riveting show and it is about time the softspoken woman got her moment in the spotlight.

Mastermind: To Think Like a Killer is directed by Abby Fuller and produced for Hulu by Campfire Studios in association with Lewellen Pictures. Ross M. Dinerstein, Elle Fanning, Dakota Fanning, Rebecca Halpern, Lesley Chilcott, Dani Sloane, Rebecca Evans and Abby Fuller are executive producers. Co-executive producers are Ross Girard and Mark McCune. Dr. Ann Burgess is a consulting producer.

0 Flares Twitter 0 Facebook 0 0 Flares ×

Beth Accomando

Beth Accomando is host of KPBS Cinema Junkie Podcast and author of the blog Cinema Junkie. She also programs film series and events as part of Film Geeks SD at venues such as Museum of Photographic Arts and Digital Gym Cinema. She loves horror, zombies, kaiju and film noir.