Previously on The Alienist: “Psychopathia Sexualis”
Often when characters die in television shows, the episode which follows can take on one of two forms. One road writers take is to spend much of the story ruminating on events, which can lead to the main thrust of the plot losing focus. Of course, it’s important to reflect on how a character’s death can affect the people around her, but some shows can beat viewers over the head with this approach to the point that they can forget about why the characters are there in the first place. Another road is to pay lip service to the sacrifice and move on as if nothing of any import happened. The Alienist continues to successfully bend tropes and solves this conundrum by basically breaking up the band. Well, kind of.
Kreizler is done. His heart is broken, and he feels that Mary’s murder is his fault alone. No matter how hard Roosevelt, Moore, and Howard urge him to take some time out, the alienist wants nothing more to do with it. Significantly, he ignores Sarah’s words of comfort completely, while he at least acknowledges his male colleagues’ condolences. Even now, at such a tragic time, he resents Sarah’s persistent interference in his personal life. It’s only later in the episode that we realise why.
Realising that there will be no justice for Mary’s death, Sarah persuades Moore to continue the investigation. They will get no help from the department; Byrnes has seen to that. Connor, Mary’s murderer, is in the clear because no one will believe Cyrus and Stevie’s account of what happened. Connor’s accomplice, Sergeant Doyle, jeers the Isaacson’s attempt to interrogate them. But Sarah won’t let that stop her from rallying the troops. After all, they have a name, and a suspect. Clearing up much of the confusion from the last episode, Sarah theorises that the man they’re looking for, Jacob Dury, has taken the name John Beecham. Dury killed his parents and a man called George Beecham and for reasons yet to be determined is now living under a false identity. It’s time for the detectives to do their job. Setting up shop in a closed-up saloon, they run through some ideas. Sarah’s the clear leader here, and Dakota Fanning is given plenty of quality material to convince her team – it is her team now – and us that she’s the right person for the job. The local census office provides what seems to be the final clue as to who John Beecham is and where he might be. Time is against them – the Feast of St Barnabus is mere days away. The killer will strike again. The task facing them is immense. They have to pore through a huge amount of census records, but Sarah spots something that makes their job a lot easier. The enumerator of these records is the suspect himself – John Beecham. They get the suspect’s address and talk to the landlady. Beecham no longer lives there, but they do find the decomposed body of the lady’s missing cat. Connor catches Sarah unawares and threatens her if she continues to be a problem for him and Byrnes. The scene is a menacing one, and Sarah’s terror is real.
Cyrus, driven by revenge, seeks Connor out. He’s so close to killing the man who murdered his friend, but Connor’s son inadvertently saves his father by turning up at the right time. It’s only a matter of time before Cyrus gets another chance.
At Paresis Hall, closed since the murders began, the boys remain squatting. In a tense scene where they play Hide and Seek, one of the boys hides in a wardrobe, unaware that the killer has entered the building and is eyeing him up as his next victim. However, he’s saved when the police come in and clear the boys out for good. They’ve been forced to live on the streets. Moore takes the picture he drew of Stevie’s would-be attacker and shows it to as many boys as he can. The team then get another vital clue to the killer’s motivation. He’s targeting boys that hate their parents as much as he does. Beecham is also, we find out, a debt collector who hangs around the seediest bar in New York. Cash up front nearly always gets you the answer you’re looking for. The bartender points the team in the right direction and what they find freezes their blood. Beecham’s room is a veritable charnel house of pickled eyeballs and heart-shaped boxes that contain actual hearts. A gas stove reveals remains of previous victims. The killer has been eating parts of his victims’ bodies.
A word or two about Kreizler before we continue. Daniel Bruhl has been brilliant throughout this show. Portraying the pent-up and reserved alienist isn’t as easy as it looks, but the German actor has been extraordinary in how he’s been able to display the many conflicts going on inside this damaged man. Losing a loved one is never easy, but it’s now apparent that Kreisler deals with his negative emotions by hurting himself. His arm is mutilated and useless because Kreizler has self-harmed. We see him stabbing his arm with a broken wine glass in a fit of anger and grief. It’s no wonder he pushed Sarah away when her questions hit too close to home. This is the one truth that Kreizler never wants to come out into the open.
The episode ends in a truly terrifying way. Joseph, the boy who’s built up something of a friendship with Moore, is in the bathhouse with his pal Maxie. They’re separated for a time, and the killer pounces, butchering Maxie while Joseph hides, terrified for his life. The killer hears his whimpers, however, and now Joseph is in mortal danger. Will Moore and his friends find him in time? There’s one more episode left and there’s so much to resolve. I’ve little doubt The Alienist will nail its finale.