Episode 205 of Netflix series Mindhunter looks at Charles Manson and Tex Watson. How much power did Manson have over his “family”?
As is often the case, this Mindhunter episode begins with BTK (Sonny Valicenti). This time we see him burying his “hit kit” somewhere in Park City, Kansas. However, much more focus is on FBI Agents Bill Tench (Holt McCallany) and Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff). Tench is undergoing an ordeal. His son, Brian (Zachary Scott Ross) was involved in a strange, possibly accidental death of a child.
While such things unfortunately happen, there’s concern about Brian having said nothing about it, and also that the child was arranged to appear crucified. Nancy Tench (Stacey Roca), Bill’s wife, feels like Brian did try to tell them, though in his own detached way (bed wedding, as an example). She also thinks Brian thought the crucifix would bring the infant back to life. In any case, Bill Tench wants to take the week off, but it won’t be easy.
The BSU’s overseer, Ted Gunn (Michael Cerveris), wonders what Holden said in Atlanta to get them booted from investigating their child murders. Quite simply, Ford made some unsupported conclusions, which Tench isn’t happy about, either. On the semi-bright side, Gunn has arranged an interview with the infamous Charles Manson (Damon Herriman). In a way, it’s a continuation of their look at killers who relied on others to help them. They previously interviewed Elmer Wayne Henley, Jr. (Robert Aramayo), an assistant to serial killer Dean Corll (basically, Henley helped procure the victims).
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There’s a debate between Tench, Ford and Wendy Carr (Anna Torv) about Henley’s role. He may have felt his crimes were beyond his control, and Corll may have exploited his need for acceptance. Meeting Manson can give additional insight into such relationships, as well as how Henley compartmentalized his life.
Significantly, this Mindhunter episode also examines cults. In a way, even Brian’s fictional case has some cultish possibilities, as unique group dynamics would result in Brian placing the child on the cross. Also, there’s a hypothetical reason he chose not to mention the crime, which may not just be shyness. It could be the fear of getting caught or fear of rejection or something stranger. Whatever the case, they will have a caseworker, Mavis Leland (Emily Bergl), determine his future.
Meanwhile, the Mindhunter BSU team spends time discussing Manson, particularly after Ford listens to Manson’s composition, “Cease to Exist.” They discuss how the so-called Manson family members were originally regular people. Susan Adkins was originally a church choir leader. Similarly, Patricia Krenwinkel had considered becoming a nun. Also, in addition to the Manson interview, Ford ends up interviewing Manson’s man, Tex Watson (Christopher Backus), who was an honor student and popular athlete.
We get reminders of Manson’s wrath, too. Not only were there the infamous Tate-Labianca murders, but the murder of Gary Hinman (the episode doesn’t mention a shootout in Hawthorne, California, which thwarted the plan of the Manson family to hijack a Boeing 747 and kill hostages until Manson and others were freed). Ford also mentions how Charles Manson was likely inspired by Krishna Venta, another ex-con who proclaimed himself the messiah and spoke of an ever-encroaching, apocalyptic race war. In other words, “Helter Skelter” wasn’t even Manson’s idea, although he claimed to be the prophet who envisioned it.
Interviewing Manson (and a Kemper moment)
At first, Manson refuses to come out of his cell for the interview, which leads Holden to return to interviewing serial killer Ed Kemper (Cameron Britton). They briefly discuss his revisiting kill sites, and also how he kept souvenirs to stave off impulses. He humorously refers to Charles Manson as “the charlatan.” When they do get to Manson, he tries to appear larger than life, saying things like “Now is the only thing that’s real” and the general threat, “These children who come at you with knives, they’re your children!” He also blames the other members for the murders, saying “Helter Skelter” was Susan Atkins’s story, and that the murders were an attempt to get Bobby Beausoleil out of prison. His evasive, cryptic mumbo jumbo continues, full of statements like “There are no rights and wrongs, only ises.”
Under stress, Tench calls Manson a coward, which Manson uses against him. He says, “I’m tired of being your reflection. What you want is a fiend because that’s what you are!” He adds that Tench is no freer than him: “You look like a composite of what someone told you you are.” As a last hurrah, Manson asks Holden for his sunglasses, and Holden hands them to him. Fascinated by what just happened, Holden Ford also schedules an interview with Tex Watson, who helped carry out the Manson family’s infamous murders.
Mindhunter has Ford sit with Tex Watson without Tench. Watson says “Charlie has a way of making you think things were your ideas.” He also mentions “creepy-crawlin’,” a barrier-breaking exercise in which Family members snuck into stranger’s houses to move their furniture. It was an ingenious way to make them less afraid to invade spaces while testing their loyalty to Manson. They also discuss the allure of apocalyptic beliefs; “If there’s no tomorrow, there’s no consequences.”
Tex is depicted as being fairly honest here. He indicates he felt nothing after shooting Steven Parent because death meant nothing to them (“those people were just shapes”). Apparently this was even true of the stabbings, which are more intimate. He also said Manson originally wanted more houses to be hit, but he couldn’t do it. He also says, “Charlie never killed anyone, he just removed our fear of doing it.” When discussing Watson’s conversion to Christianity, Wendy Carr says, “First Manson, now Jesus.”
At a party, Gunn introduces Dr. Carr to a man named Warren (Robert Farrior), who takes an immediate sexual interest in her. Of course, Carr is actually a lesbian with a burgeoning relationship with Kay (Lauren Glazier). His annoying, borderline threatening persistence inspires her to leave the party. Meanwhile, Ford bores the partygoers with his overly academic speaking style, which contrasts with Tench’s more “bar room” style. As the episode ends, Holden receives a call about another body in Atlanta
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