Warning: contains spoilers for Mindhunter season two.
Netflix‘s Mindhunter season two continues the story of Holden Ford, Bill Tench, and Wendy Carr as they establish what will come to be known as the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit. Like in the show’s first season, however, there is another story operating alongside the detectives’ work – mostly unbeknownst to them.
Both Mindhunter season one and Mindhunter season two have presented little vignettes from days in the life of one of America’s most infamous and terrifying serial killers: Dennis Rader a.k.a The Bind-Torture-Kill (BTK) killer. What’s interesting and novel about the show’s approach to BTK’s story is how disconnected it is from the main narrative Holden, Bill, and Wendy operate in.
Mindhunter‘s behavioral science trio is no stranger to infamous serial killers. Throughout the show’s now 19 episodes, they speak with the likes of David Berkowtiz, Edmund Kemper, Jerry Brudos, Charles Manson, and more. Still, it’s the mild-mannered and relatively anonymous BTK who seems set up to be series’ “big bad.” In real life, the FBI did not discover and capture Dennis Rader until 2005. So that means, barring any fictionalised accounting of events, Holden and Bill are unlikely to come face to face with the man as the show takes place in 1979.
That also means that Mindhunter, for two seasons now, is telling the story of a serial killer without any intention of depicting the satisfying payoff in which that serial killer is captured. As it stands, the story of BTK on Mindhunter exists on a separate, yet parallel path from the show’s real narrative. With that in mind, it’s worth examining the BTK story as Mindhunter cares to tell it. When placed in chronological order and back-to-back, do BTK’s activities have any strong thematic ties to the rest of the Mindhunter narrative?
Gathered here is every appearance of BTK on Mindhunter from season one, episode two through season two, episode nine.
Mindhunter season 1 episode 2
The BTK killer’s story begins innocuously enough. In fact, he’s never identified onscreen as BTK or even Dennis Rader. The only clues that we have to the identity of the man in this unexpected cold open is that we’re in Wichita, Kansas, the guy has a mustache, and we just so happen to be watching a TV series that deals with infamous serial killers.
Here we see BTK briefly in an office environment, likely during his time as an assembler for the Coleman company or with ADT security. He returns to his desk to find a coworker rifling through a shelf behind it. The coworker needs a new roll of tape but BTK tells him he can’t have one without producing the cardboard roll from the depleted one.
“Are you kidding me?” the coworker asks.
“That’s the way we do it,” BTK responds.
Mindhunter season 1 episode 3
BTK is casing a house, likely that of the Otero family. After he’s had his fill, he hears a dog barking inside and returns to his white panelled ADT-branded van – the creepiest of all vehicles.
Mindhunter season 1 episode 4
BTK walks into a home and sees an iron on the ironing board. He checks the windows and doorknob to make sure they’re secure. It seems as though he’s inside someone’s home ready to kill but as it turns out, he is just inspecting a client’s home as part of his ADT work. He enters the kitchen and startles the homeowner.
“My husband wanted to know: would you ever just sell us stickers and a sign for the front lawn?” the woman asks.
“Signs come with the sensors I’m afraid,” he responds.
Mindhunter season 1 episode 5
In this very brief vignette, BTK walks down the street, deposits a letter in the mailbox and keeps on going. Perhaps he has already committed the Otero murders and is sending his mocking letter to the local police department. BTK sent the letter in October of 1974. The thermometer reading 32 degrees suggests this could be the fall.
Mindhunter season 1 episode 6
BTK watches TV in the living room with his wife and son. He works on his binding techniques with a strand of rope.
Mindhunter season 1 episode 7
BTK assembles the tools of his trade in his bedroom. These include plastic gloves, a roll of tape, and a revolver. All are laid out on a winter coat.
Mindhunter season 1 episode 9
Wearing a winter coat and a pair of stockings over his head, BTK sits impatiently at a kitchen table, drinking a glass of water. As the clock strikes midnight, he gets up and looks out the window. He breathes heavily and pours himself some more water. He stamps his feet with his pent up energy, opens the door and walks out. BTK is likely at the home of Anna Williams, who he intended to kill but lost his nerve when she took longer to arrive home than expected.
Mindhunter season 1 episode 10
This is the first BTK appearance that serves as an episode’s epilogue rather than a prologue. BTK is outside his house and burning his drawings of bound women in a metal barrel trashcan.
Mindhunter season 2 episode 1
Just as Mindhunter season two opens up, we’re right back in Park City, Kansas where we left off. A woman, who we will soon come to realise is BTK’s wife, Paula, arrives home from grocery shopping. As she’s putting the milk away, she hears a noise emanating from the hallway. The door to the bathroom is being yanked over and over again from the inside.
She opens the door to find her husband tied to a rope at the end of the doorknob, wearing a creepy female mask and masturbating. Paula runs off in horror and Dennis ambles after her, saying “Don’t be scared! I was just goofing around.”
Later on in the episode, the BTK case finally makes its way to Bill Tench’s desk.
Mindhunter season 2 episode 2
BTK is watching TV in the living room. His wife brings him out some sheets, kisses him and wishes him goodnight. She leaves a book on the table: “Therapeutic Approaches to Sexual Deviances.”
The BTK case and the Behavioral Science Unit finally intersect in a major way in Mindhunter season two episode two. Bill Tench makes his way to Kansas to learn more about the killer who calls himself BTK. He discovers that local police have no active leads but are trying to find a way to track down the Xerox machine he is using. Bill decides to start from the beginning by examining the Otero house. There he hears in detail the terrifying way that most of the Otero family met their end.
Bill talks to Kevin Bright, the only individual to have encountered BTK and lived to tell the tale. BTK shot Kevin in the face and killed his sister, Kathy. Kevin says he needs to leave town as he’s afraid he’ll encounter BTK somewhere one day … like at church maybe. “This guy does not go to church,” Tench says, wrongly.
Later Holden correctly surmises that the Otero murders were BTK’s first. Unfortunately, Holden and Bill draw some incorrect conclusions about BTK after speaking with David Berkowitz. They believe the man is unlikely to be able to hold down a job or develop relationships.
Mindhunter season 2 episode 3
BTK is at the Park City, Kansas library listening to classical music and tracing women in magazines. He is told the library is closing and carefully packs up his tracings.
Mindhunter season 2 episode 5
This episode’s cold open finds BTK digging a hole in his front yard in his front yard. He drops a box containing his mask and several other incriminating materials into the hole and covers it up with dirt.
Mindhunter season 2 episode 6
It turns out that identifying a Xerox machine could be a useful practice for the police. As BTK is copying his latest letter to the police, the machine jams.
“This thing has been acting up all day,” a nearby employee says as he comes over to help.
“Then you shouldn’t let people use it.”
BTK is adamant about getting both torn pieces of his letter from the machine and quickly goes on his way.
Mindhunter season 2 episode 8
BTK follows who is sure to be his latest victim in his ADT truck. He sees her remove groceries from the back of her car, with the help of her boyfriend or husband and then drives off. It’s unknown who BTK is casing as this season takes place in 1979 and his next victim won’t be killed until 1986.
Mindhunter season 2 episode 9
BTK gets the epilogue for the second season finale in a row. This time he’s in a motel in Junction City, Kansas. BTK puts on a woman’s blouse and his creepy mask. He then arranges items from all of his victims on the bed in front of a camera. He puts a rope around his neck and once again pulls it taut.