If you yearn for some dark, but heady entertainment to brighten extra time spent inside these days, look no further than “Freud,” “Mindhunter” and “Zodiac.”
Better known for probing the mysteries inside our minds, Sigmund Freud here explores the more tangible problem of murder. Set in 1880s Vienna, the German-language “Freud” follows the young Dr. Freud as he struggles to gain acceptance for his psychoanalytic techniques, while also investigating a bizarre series of killings.
“Freud” succeeds by combining campy alternative history with psychological thrills. The show works because it commits fully to its fantasy about Freud’s early career, spinning its bizarre tale in ways that explain how Freud developed his understanding of the unconscious.
With excellent directing, Marvin Kren creates a compelling world where middle-class medicine mixes with high-society intrigue. Dark threats linger everywhere in this Vienna – whether it is in fancy séances, on shadowy cobblestone streets or in an eerie canal underworld.
Robert Finster is spectacular as Freud, conveying both an obsessive thinker’s urgency and a young man’s nervous energy. Showing great range, Finster is as believable projecting the subtle rebellion of a son taking off his yarmulke at a Jewish family dinner as he is at fighting a battle of wills with a cultist who can hypnotize him with one touch.
Georg Friedrich is fantastic as Alfred Kiss, a hyper-masculine policeman whose unflinching demeanor conceals his suffering from war-time trauma. Convinced by Freud’s abilities, Kiss draws the doctor into an increasingly complex murder investigation.
Ella Rumpf is mesmerizing as Fleur Salomé, a powerful spiritual medium controlled by the icy Hungarian noblewoman Sophia von Szápáry (Anja Kling) and her disturbingly charming husband Viktor (Philipp Hochmair).
Rumpf brings visceral power to a wild role. Fleur’s erotic energy makes Freud temporarily forget his much tamer fiancée, Martha Bernays (Mercedes Müller), while her savage outbursts channel rage about the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s mistreatment of Hungarians.
Many will critique “Freud” for being historically inaccurate. However, “Freud” offers a powerfully imaginative vision of the dark and seductive side of psychoanalysis. Whether it is through subtle symbolism, such as a sometimes feral woman stroking a horse, or through stark depictions of entranced Viennese acting out bloody fantasies, “Freud” offers thought-provoking imagery along with much macabre fun.
For another historical show featuring a brainy hero fighting evil, watch “Mindhunter.” Set in the 1970s, “Mindhunter” is modeled on the work of John E. Douglas, who used his practical psychological experience to launch the FBI’s Criminal Profiling Program. “Mindhunter” explores the analytical side of crime fighting, as its investigative team convinces a conservative bureaucracy of the value of studying serial killers.
Jonathan Groff anchors the show with his riveting performance as the cerebral Agent Holden Ford, an earnest, confident and socially awkward innovator. After forming an unexpectedly effective partnership with his no-nonsense colleague at the Behavioral Science Unit, Holt McCallany (Bill Tench), Ford gains another co-worker when psychology professor Wendy Carr (Anna Torv) is lured out of academia. Ford and McCallany systematically speak with incarcerated serial killers, while also assisting with active local cases. “Mindhunter” features some unsettlingly good portrayals of notorious killers, such as Cameron Britton’s calmly conversational Ed Kemper and Christopher Livingston’s creepily casual Wayne Williams.
“Zodiac” (Amazon Prime)
For a film focused on serial-killer analysis, watch “Zodiac.” Directed by David Fincher (who directed seven episodes of “Mindhunter”), “Zodiac” focuses on the still-unsolved case of the Zodiac Killer who terrorized 1970s Northern California. Jake Gyllenhaal powerfully portrays Robert Graysmith, a mild-mannered political cartoonist whose life unravels as his paranoid quest to track down clues about the serial killer poisons his marriage to Melanie Graysmith (Chloë Sevigny), derails his newspaper career and leads to tense relations with the alcoholic crime-reporter Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr.). As police detectives (Mark Ruffalo and Anthony Edwards) hunt the Zodiac Killer, the obsessed Graysmith writes a book about trying to solve this grisliest of puzzles.