REVIEW: The Alienist, S1 Ep8 – Psychopathia Sexualis

alienist s1e8 moore kreizler barn

As we’re racing toward the conclusion of The Alienist with only a few episodes left, we expect to find danger closing in on our investigative team. And genre conventions being what they are, we can kind of catch the hint that one of them is going to meet a grisly end. “Psychopathia Sexualis,” The Alienist’s eighth installment of the series, reminds its audience that in the world of gruesome detective work, we’re not allowed to have nice things. It’s a well-paced hour of television, and it looks as if the case is finally coming together, but it ends on a heartbreaking parallel to last episode’s short-lived sweetness.

This week’s episode finds the team split up, chasing fragments of information and trying to piece them together while they’re apart. It also takes the audience to new locations away from the city for the better part of the hour, which allows us to explore the growing nation just before the turn of the century—from the stately buildings of Washington, D.C. to the heartland of North Dakota, and the wilderness in between.

Kreizler and Moore head off to D.C. in search of the files on Robert Bunzl while Sara stays behind in New York, unhappy to be made useless. Moore says nothing about his two black eyes, which is definitely a mistake (seriously, when are we going to let Moore talk about all of the trauma he’s been through??) because a crazed ex-captain Connor on the loose is something neither of them should ignore. But instead they have a chat about love, wherein Kreizler looks like he’s got his head in the clouds and asks Moore about what being in love is like. It’s a noticeable departure from Kreizler’s usual prying; he drifts through the majority of this episode in a lovesick haze, and it’s actually kind of nice that he’s being less of a jerk.

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After a visit to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, Kreizler learns that Bunzl’s been dead for several months, but another patient seems to tick a lot of the killer’s boxes. His name is John Beecham, a man with a severe facial tic who served in the army. Moore spends his afternoon looking at photographs supposedly attributed to “Indian Massacres,” but most are lazy cover ups by the government, using Native Americans as scapegoats. He comes across a particularly suspicious massacre in New Paltz, a reverend and his family killed, their youngest son allegedly kidnapped by the Native Americans who slaughtered them. The connection between this massacre and Beecham? Beecham was born in New Paltz—a glaring coincidence.

Moore calls Sara to inform them of this latest development because she and Kreizler still aren’t talking (and Kreizler still hasn’t apologized). As the two of them take a train to Newton, Massachusetts—the home of Adam Dury, the surviving member of the massacred family, and as Moore name-drops later, Fig Newtons—Sara dispatches the Isaacsons to North Dakota to talk with Beecham’s old army captain. Our Sara isn’t one to just sit around and wait, so she defies orders and travels to New Paltz to dig for information herself.

Even though the white-and-navy ensemble she wears is stunning, it’s a little impractical for traipsing around in the wilderness of Upstate New York. But if it’s to demonstrate how much of a fish out of water society girl Sara is, then it serves its purpose next to her escort, a woman named Eliza who looks every bit of the typical frontierswoman. Sara and Eliza feel like kindred spirits, two women with no time for nonsense, firmly planting their feet in a world built for men. For Sara, it’s her status as the first woman to work within the New York Police Department. For Eliza, it’s climbing the nearby Shawangunk Mountains for sport.

And it’s Eliza who offers more help than the local sheriff when the three go poking around the ruins of the Dury house. The sheriff provides no truthful information except for the fact that Reverend Dury was a massive racist who used to scare kids with photographs of “Injun massacres.” Eliza tells Sara that the youngest Dury son, Japheth, had a weird facial tic near his eye that made him look like he was always in pain. He was also an accomplished rock climber, scaling the nearby mountains with an older farmhand named George Beecham. This sets off alarm bells for Sara, who visibly looks shaken as the pieces begin to fit. Eliza then reveals that George Beecham was killed soon after the family was massacred and Japheth “disappeared.” Beecham was tossed off the mountain, found with his throat slit from “ear to ear” and his eyes gouged out. Sound familiar?

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What makes this episode compelling is how the audience is able to take the fragments uncovered by the team and put them together, even if the team isn’t able to meet up to compare their findings. We follow the Isaacsons to the grassy plains of North Dakota, where Marcus uses the rare opportunity to take photographs of his observations. (Lucius isn’t pleased with his playing tourist).

But Marcus’ photographs bear witness to the government encampment they find themselves in, as young Native American children are assimilated into white American culture and religion. (There’s an earlier exchange on the train that hits like a punch to the gut; Marcus asks his brother if they’ll see any “Indians” and Lucius replies in deadpan, “if they haven’t all been killed.” He says the same about the buffalo). It’s the Isaacsons who get a glimpse of the systematic genocide and oppression of the Native Americans as the nation moves west. They’re shown uncomfortably sharing seats across from two Native Americans on their trip, and the silence speaks volumes.

Beecham’s old army captain, meanwhile, sheds some light on the man’s odd (and memorable in the worst possible way) behavior. When the army was called in to assist during the Haymarket Riots in Chicago, he discovered Beecham naked, stabbing a corpse multiple times while sexually aroused. Sounds like our guy.

Well…sort of. Here’s where things get really interesting. As Adam Dury recounts his brother’s life to Kreizler and Moore, it paints a clear picture of their killer. Japheth endured abuse from a domineering mother who claimed he wasn’t her son, and then survived being sexually abused by the farmhand whom he had considered a friend. The farmhand is the same one who was brutally murdered around the time of the family’s massacre and Japheth’s alleged disappearance. Which means we finally, after eight episodes of red herrings and misdirection, have our killer. Japheth Dury killed George Beecham and assumed the last named Beecham before moving on to serve in the army, where his PTSD eventually led him to New York.

But, just as our team seems to be reaching their biggest break yet, the danger that’s lurked around the dark corners of the episode catches up to them. Kreizler and Moore, who’ve had a nondescript guy tailing them the whole time, are shot at while traveling in their carriage. The carriage takes a nasty tumble off a bridge into a creek; both men survive, though Kreizler’s leg is wounded. This gives them time to gossip like a pair of school boys, because maybe the fall gave Kreizler a bit of a sentimental streak.

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Soon he’s gushing about his feelings without mentioning names, and in the miscommunication, Moore thinks Kreizler and Sara still have a thing. (Even though Sara is avoiding Kreizler like the plague…?) Once Kreizler confirms he’s in love with Mary, Moore looks very relieved. Kreizler then mentions his shortcomings (finally, he realizes he’s not the most pleasant human being to be around) and that he’s attracted to Mary because she’s everything he isn’t.

This sweetness only lasts for like a minute. At home in New York, Mary and Cyrus hear the front door open thinking it’s Kreizler, but no, it’s much worse. Connor and his minions have descended upon them to stop the investigation. They can’t have the alienist and his crew solving the case before the police department does, because then their total incompetence and corruption and lack of empathy for this whole investigation would look worse than it already is. Cyrus and Stevie each get a dose of chloroform—how Cyrus keeps getting overpowered by pathetic goons is a mystery—but Mary isn’t going down without a fight.

Mary and Connor get into a scuffle on the balcony of the staircase, and she gets in one solid stab with the knife she grabbed from the kitchen. But instead of Connor taking the nosedive he rightfully deserves, it’s Mary—she hits the chandelier on the way down and breaks her neck on the bottom stair. And we’re left with the haunting image of her open, sightless eyes.

It’s heartbreaking for sure because Mary deserves better and her presence, though brief and quiet, is going to be sorely missed. But is her death necessary? If Mary was fridged to give Kreizler manpain and show how terrible Connor is, then it’s a completely useless addition to the plot, especially this close to the end. We know Connor is awful. And yet Moore has lived through each encounter with him and then some, but Mary (the same woman who burned her own father alive) doesn’t get the same privilege. It’s a gross trope that The Alienist shouldn’t have to pull from, and if it only serves to distract Kreizler from the case, then it’s a disappointing narrative route to take.