Previously on The Alienist: A Fruitful Partnership
In another guise, The Alienist could be True Detective’s season three. It has all the hallmarks. Aside from this episode being written by True Detective’s director Cary Fukunaga (also one of the show’s executive producers), The Alienist is not your standard police procedural. While there is a crime to be solved, the show is as much concerned with what’s going on under the hood as it is with clues and red herrings. “These Bloody Thoughts” is True Detective Gilded Age, and I don’t mean that as a slight to anyone involved in this complex production. Jakob Verbruggen, the director of the first three episodes, has passed the baton to James Hawes (Genius, Black Mirror, Penny Dreadful), resulting in a seamless handover of responsibilities. While there are no fresh murders to uncover, and very little in the way of action, tensions remain high and the suspense is clearly psychological. These characters have so much going on in their lives that if they all make it out alive at the end of the season, they’re going to need some serious therapy, including – ironically – the alienist himself, Laszlo Kreizler.
The dead boy from last week is identified as Ollie Benghazi, a young Syrian immigrant. His death is the final nail in the coffin of Paresis Hall – the cops have closed it down. Only squatters, under the watchful eye of Scotch Annie (Game of Throne’s Kate Dickie), remain behind. Still, Moore and Marcus Isaacson (when he’s not having sex with fellow Jewish activists) procure vital information from Bernadette/Joseph, who calls the killer they’re looking for a saint because he promises to take the boys away to a castle in the sky. My heart breaks for these poor children. Treated as pariahs by the very system that should be caring for them, they have few on their side. So it’s no surprise, really, when they place their trust in a madman who at least attempts some sort of intimate contact.
Following on from last time, Kreizler persists in getting beneath the skin of Moore and Sarah. His meeting in the park with the police secretary is revealing in its audacity. He points out to her a woman seated opposite them who’s minding a pram. He tells Sarah that the woman only six months previous drowned both her young children and only escaped prison or a mental institution because of her wealthy family. When Sarah asks how this could happen, Kreizler replies that society created this woman’s condition. Post-natal depression and its symptoms had yet to reach the desks of this era’s medical practitioners. Everyone, Kreizler maintains, has within themselves the capacity to commit acts of cruelty and evil, even Sarah. So, we wonder what lies behind Sarah’s steadfast devotion to truth and justice, and her implacable desire to rise above her perceived station as just a woman.
Captain Connor sees her as little else, and indeed makes a show of her in front of her boss, Commissioner Roosevelt. Connor has somehow got his hands on the book of drawings Moore left behind at Ollie’s murder scene. Sarah returns the book to Kreizler, who in turn hands it back to Moore later in the episode in another tense scene where we learn that the alienist is unable to move his right arm and needs Mary to button up his boots for him. He’s angry when he finds out Moore has taken her on a date.
Connor and Byrnes keep Roosevelt out of the loop when they meet clandestinely in a bar. In a scene which makes sense of the opening to last week’s episode, the two men approach Mrs Van Berger (Sean Young) and order her to keep her son Willem in check. Do they presume him to be the killer? And if so, why are they covering up for him?
Roosevelt explains to Sarah that when he in college with Kreizler, the alienist challenged him to a duel, with fists as the weapon of choice. Roosevelt couldn’t go ahead with the bout when he saw the nature of Kreizler’s disability. We don’t as yet know the full scale of his injury, whether it’s congenital or recent, self-inflicted or otherwise. What we do know is, it could be a weakness come the end of the story. Another thing we are made aware of this week is the level of jealousy Mary has for Sarah’s friendly relationship with Kreizler, which prompts a level of jealousy between Kreizler and Moore, when the newspaperman takes Mary away from the house without him knowing. The back-and-forth between the two men leads to Moore going all detective and landing at this local dentist to find out how a man can get a simple smile. The answer: syphilis.
Mrs Van Berger’s son may very well be the killer, but there could be other forces at play here. The original victim’s mother, Mrs Santorelli, receives a mocking letter from her son’s killer. She brings it to the police station to show it to Sarah. In the midst of all this, each of the team is contacted by someone pertaining to be either Kreizler or Moore to meet for dinner. Sarah brings the letter. When Kreizler reads it aloud, it becomes clear the killer is playing with them and watching their every move. Meanwhile, a man with a silver smile happens upon some young boys at a soda fountain.
The momentum from the first three episodes goes up a notch, with revelations around every corner. This superb show keeps on giving what we want and the standard so far is magnificent.