REVIEW: The Alienist, S1 Ep2 – A Fruitful Partnership

alienist s1e2 kreizler knife

In The Alienist’s second episode, the story slows its pace a little, but covers a lot of ground to dig further into the murder case and the complexities of the time period. As a result, we get some much needed character development—of both the good and bad variety.

When we find Kreizler again, he’s visiting a morgue to ask about the human tongue that was left in his carriage at the end of the previous episode. We get up close and personal with the 19th century techniques of treating a corpse, where the gases from the decomposing body are released with a tube inserted in the torso and burned off with a flame that turns blue. Though it’s eerie to see the dark room lit by tiny blue flames, it’s kind of fascinating to learn about the methods used back then. Unfortunately, the bleak visit doesn’t offer up anything useful to Kreizler. The morgue keeper claims the Santorelli boy “had it coming,” and dislikes Kreizler, telling him that men of science like to play God.

At the police station, Sara Howard is approached by the sleazy Captain Connor (David Wilmot) who gets a little too close for comfort. He informs her that the Santorelli family doesn’t know anything about what happened to their son so the commissioner won’t find any leads on the case from them. When he reaches out to touch Sara’s face (she visibly recoils to try and get away, looking like she’d rather throw up or break his nose), she sees the dried blood on his hand and suspects he’s not being truthful.

And she has every reason to think so, aside from the fact that he’s a total creep. In the previous scene, he’s shown in the tenement house where the Santorelli family lives, beating the boy’s father within an inch of his life and making threats to the family to keep quiet. Connor is a good villain even when he skirts the edges of becoming a stereotype; he’s vile, corrupt, and has a very punchable face when he’s leering at Sara or stirring up trouble.

alienist s1e2 howard moore

Nevertheless, she persists. Determined, Sara seeks out Moore at his home with a request for him to escort her to the Santorelli family home. He’s reluctant to step into that part of town with what he deems “riffraff,” and even more reluctant to take Sara there. She doesn’t back down—Fanning seems to be growing into the role here, Sara seems less stiff—endearing us to Sara Howard who’s more than just a secretary, who wants to go above and beyond her duties even if it means breaking some rules. It’s easy to admire her perseverance and her genuine kindness; she doesn’t judge the family in their cramped, filthy tenement home. She wants to help them find justice for their son. This is an interesting contrast to Moore, who regards a lot of it with unease and doesn’t seem to know what his place is in the investigation.

Unlike Kreizler’s efforts to uncover information, the visit with the Santorelli family provides a shocking reveal: Giorgio Santorelli isn’t the first boy to be murdered, and the police have been actively working to cover everything up.

Back at Kreizler’s school, his personal quest to protect vulnerable children from the terrible adults around them continues while he’s seeing a patient. He calmly explains to the girl’s mother that all of her pearl-clutching is excessive, because her daughter is going through puberty like a normal human being. The priest accompanying them doesn’t exactly see eye-to-eye (not at all surprising) and calls out the poor girl for being lustful and perverted.

Kreizler shuts him down quickly and kicks him out, coming to the girl’s defense to tell the priest that what she’s experiencing is just a part of being human. It’s kind of extraordinary to see a man in this time period reassuring a frightened, embarrassed young girl that she’s perfectly fine to explore her own body, then go the extra mile to protect her against sexist religious ideologies. Kreizler can come off as a little eccentric and pretentious at times, but there’s something to be said about his integrity.

Fueled by their newest lead, Sara tracks down the files for the old unsolved cases, hoping to find ones about the murdered boys. When they’re suspiciously missing from the file cabinets, she sneaks into Captain Connor’s office. Any scene in a crime drama like this where a character goes snooping somewhere they shouldn’t is bound to have some great tension—and it does, despite its inherent trope-yness. In a locked desk drawer, Sara finds the missing files: two boys murdered previously in the same manner as Giorgio Santorelli. Captain Connor sees her leaving his office from a distance, a misstep that will likely put Sara in danger later on…

Gathered in Kreizler’s parlor, he, Sara, and Moore asses the new information and what direction it will lead them. Kreizler determines that the killer is like an addict, and will keep murdering boys to feed his addiction. Examining the boys’ remains is not an option afforded to them, but the gears are already turning in Kreizler’s head. He asks Sara if she can meet with him that night, an offer that provokes the jealousy of Mary Palmer (Q’orianka Kilcher), Kreizler’s housekeeper.

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The Alienist seems to be setting up the first of two (yes, two, and both of them involving Sara Howard) love triangles. The vibe that they’re trying to pit Mary and Sara against each other through some unnecessary jealousy over a man is worse. It’s a tired out trope that distracts from the narrative, so we can only hope things don’t get too messy.

Later that night, Kreizler and Moore share a carriage, both of them dressed for a white tie event. While Moore takes long pulls from his flask, the two discuss Sara and Moore’s intentions with her. Moore insists that he doesn’t have a romantic interest in her and they don’t have that sort of past. Kreizler doesn’t seem entirely convinced, and neither are we. Moore reveals a little about Sara’s past: her mother died when she was young, her father was killed in a “hunting accident” that may have been a suicide. Because of this, Sara spent time in a sanitarium, which might give insight into her previous interest in Kreizler’s work.

The two of them attend the opera, where The Alienist gets to show off its beautiful, flashy sets and period costumes. It certainly does feel immersive, down to the very last detail. The show does a bit of name-dropping here, too, with appearances by William Lafayette Strong (the Mayor of New York), J.P. Morgan, and Theodore Roosevelt. Kreizler tracks down Roosevelt at intermission, and while he’s uncomfortable discussing the gory details of the case in public, he gives Kreizler permission for a clandestine investigation with Sara as his go-between within the police department.

After a glimpse into the Isaacson brothers’ home (they speak Yiddish with their mother, another welcomed detail in a show that lets their characters speak exclusively in their native languages when the occasions arise), they head to Delmonico’s, the height of class for the privileged elite. It’s a far cry from the crumbling, rat-infested tenement homes, and the highlight of the episode. All glitz and gold, overflowing with champagne and meals that families like the Santorellis could only dream of. A world of excess and glamour.

Kreizler assembles his team in a private dining room: Moore, the Isaacson twins, and Sara, in a gorgeous teal evening gown. The gown is striking, easily a favorite of the series so far, and the object of some serious fashion envy. The group’s conversation is less-than-suitable for dinner, and Moore becomes concerned about Sara’s presence while the gruesome details are being discussed. Sara levels him with a stare and firmly tells him to stop assuming she’s some delicate flower, because Sara Howard is so very tired of the sexist crap being thrown at her from all sides.

alienist s1e2 howard dinner

The Isaacson brothers explain that they’ve managed to recreate the Zweig boy’s wounds, determining a possible murder weapon called the “Arkansas Toothpick,” a brutal-looking knife. They also explain a new investigative method in forensics, the beginnings of what we know today as fingerprinting. While they say that the science behind it has been “proven,” they don’t take the time to explain the history behind it or how they arrived at the findings, so much of the intrigue of having primitive forensics in its earliest stages kind of fizzles out. Maybe it’ll be explored as the case goes on.

Kreizler’s warning at dinner is ominous: as they trace the hints of the killer’s personality and habits, his addiction to violence may spill over onto them. Moore isn’t happy with Sara being dragged into this, but Kreizler needs her and her connections to the police. Kreizler then insinuates that Moore might not have a place on the team anymore, as his task has already been fulfilled, and Moore is so dejected that he looks as if he’s had the rug pulled from under his feet.

Moore refuses the offer of a ride home, leaving Kreizler and Sara to share his carriage. Though Roosevelt didn’t explicitly give him permission to use her as a liaison, he offers the task to Sara, assuming she has an interest in the case. Kreizler’s attraction to Sara is apparent as he flirts with her, compliments her gown, and grins like a giddy school boy once he’s alone in the carriage. Presumably, this sets up the second love triangle Sara’s been pushed into, but maybe things won’t stray too far that way. It would be more interesting to see Sara working alongside Moore and Kreizler without romantic entanglements.

Out to prove himself a valuable member of Kreizler’s investigation, Moore ventures into the city’s sordid underbelly in search of information about the Santorelli boy. He’s uncomfortable in the smoky, dimly lit rooms of the brothel, and it’s equally uncomfortable for the audience to watch. The young prostitutes take feminine names, dress in women’s clothing, and use female pronouns—and surprisingly Moore respects that, using the correct pronouns when speaking with Sally, an acquaintance of Giorgio (who went by Gloria).

alienist s1e2 howard isaacsons

Before Sally led Moore away, Moore was unknowingly drugged by the brothel’s bartender while trying to get information from him. While the room starts to spin and Moore feels the effects of whatever he was drugged with, he attempts to ask Sally about Gloria. Sally mentions a man she might have disappeared with, a man with a “silver smile.” And this would line up with a previous scene where we saw the young boy from the first episode held captive, the killer obscured by light, only hints of him shown. (It’s also a deeply uncomfortable scene, though it’s brief). The boy had asked what was wrong with the man’s mouth.

Unsatisfied with Sally’s answers, Moore claims she’s lying, but the drug renders him useless. Sally steals Moore’s wallet, then returns to the room with gangster/brothel owner Paul Kelly (Antonio Magro) and Captain Connor in tow. Moore blacks out after the two discuss what to do with him—looking smug while they loom over the bed—and one can only imagine what sort of awful things are going to happen to Moore’s unconscious body. Whatever happens, it probably won’t bode well for his reputation within society, or his connections to Kreizler’s team.