REVIEW: The Alienist, S1 Ep9 – Requiem

The Alienist has arrived at its penultimate episode, and things are getting gloomy. Well, more so than its usual amount of gloom, which is really saying something. “Requiem” is somewhat of a slow moving hour, but the team manages to cover a lot of ground in that time. The last act, though, is the episode’s most captivating with possibly one of the goriest scenes The Alienist has had so far. Which is, again, probably saying a lot for a series full of mutilated corpses.

“Requiem” opens over Mary Palmer’s funeral service where Kreizler is in sharp focus while those in attendance (namely Moore, Howard, Cyrus and Stevie, and Roosevelt) hover in the background as blurred silhouettes. They offer condolences and advice, but Kreizler is numb to it, calling the investigation off as he drowns in his guilt about Mary’s death. The blurred focus is an effective visual technique, trapping Kreizler in his own world where he’s free to wallow in his misery. And it’s in this world that Kreizler stays for the entire episode, blurred edges and all. The Alienist leaves their alienist on the sidelines for the second to last episode, so he can throw himself a pity party and drink in all that manpain.

Daniel Brühl sells every last second of it (without his enthralling presence, we’d probably doze off a bit otherwise) but it’s hard to pity Kreizler when the source of his pain stems from a trope that’s overstayed its welcome. And it takes Mary’s death for him to finally confront the demons of his past, as Kreizler hints at his abusive father while staring at an old family photo. He then resorts to self-harm, breaking a wine glass to stab his withered arm with the jagged stem. It’s the most interesting development to emerge out of Kreizler’s arc this week; a fragment of his past that’s been alluded to in previous episodes. This time, though, it gives an interesting parallel to the current murder case.

Yeah, there’s still a murder investigation happening here, Kreizler. You’d think he’d shove aside his grief long enough to make sure the kids on the street are safe, but nope.

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Mary’s death has immediate consequences elsewhere, too: grief-stricken Stevie has tailed Connor to find out where he lives, and Cyrus seems very eager to avenge her. Not that we can blame him one bit. Connor, meanwhile, isn’t facing any consequences for tossing Mary off the stairs. He claimed self-defense and of course the police won’t believe a word Cyrus or Stevie say against his…character, if we can call it that. And if you weren’t sure by now that he’s one of the worst humans to populate the world of The Alienist, we also get a scene of him making a rather explicit rape threat toward Sara later on, before she’s about to head home for the evening.

It’s not clear why The Alienist felt this scene was needed, since we know how awful and sleazy Connor is. The scene is made so much worse by the fact that he frames the threat as if it’s her fault. How dare she, a delicate woman, walk alone at night? And while we’re at it, why hasn’t Moore mentioned anything about Connor beating him up in some back alley? This guy just keeps getting away with more crap every week, somehow, and even though Cyrus does pay a visit with murder on his mind, Connor gets to live to see the finale. We hope this is only because he’ll meet some kind of justified, painful end. Maybe when Kreizler finally decides to crawl out of his Pit of Despair, he’ll jump into the deepest end of the investigation by becoming the very thing he’s been trying to profile.

Fortunately for everyone involved, Sara Howard takes charge of the investigation. As usual, she proves herself to be the most valuable member of the team, keeping whatever is left of it together. And she’s not doing it to level up within the police department—she wants to go to sleep at night knowing there won’t be any more kids in the sights of this murderer. So, the case moves forward without Kreizler, and Sara, Moore, and the Isaacsons gather in an abandoned saloon, turning it into their new headquarters. The Alienist has a knack for creating interesting interiors, and their makeshift HQ seems perfect for their ragtag group trying to hold it together—a cramped, dusty space with light pouring in through the patches where old newspapers have fallen away.

Kreizler seems to be with the team in spirit at least, because they employ a lot of his psychoanalytic tools to help them make connections to the killer and his victims. Sara establishes that they have a name, John Beecham. He’s actually Japheth Dury, and assumed the name John Beecham after killing another man, George Beecham. The name of the man who sexually abused him. Sara determines he took the man’s name so he could become the tormenter, no longer a victim. The Zweig murders took place in 1893, and Beecham was released from the hospital in 1890. So, what was he up to during that time?

The team’s search leads them to the Census Bureau, where hours of paging through handwritten books of names yields nothing until Sara—our observant detective—makes a startling discovery. John Beecham’s name isn’t in the census because he worked as an enumerator, counting and taking down the names himself. After flashing their badges and enduring some flippant anti-Semitism from the guy who hired Beecham, the Issacsons get an address to a boarding house. The sweet old cat lady who runs the place tells them Beecham doesn’t live there anymore, nor was he an enumerator when he lodged there. (The guy at the Census Bureau mentions he fired Beecham following a claim that he had an inappropriate relationship with a 12 year old girl, which he dismisses with casual sexism). Beecham was a charity worker…with one of the old lady’s cats decomposing under the floorboards of his now vacant room. But, she assures them the room is lovely and Beecham was a wonderful lodger…

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A brief visit to the girl Beecham befriended years ago gives enough information that Moore is able to make a connection. She claims there was nothing weird going on between her and Beecham and says that they often talked about how much she hated her parents. He just needed a friend, she claims; someone to talk to. (It’s still weird, no matter how bizarrely unconcerned her own attitude is toward their relationship). Moore determines that Beecham gains these boys’ trust because he can understand them—he shares the same hatred of his own father that the past victims did. And it’s here we find that interesting parallel to Kreizler confronting his feelings toward his father, a thread The Alienist might further unravel during the finale.

Another similarity tying all of the boys’ fathers together is their gambling debt, so the team is able to track down a debt collector who once employed Beecham. The debt collector leads them to one of Beecham’s seedy haunts, where the bartender finally, after nine long episodes, points them in the direction of Beecham’s house. “House” is a relatively loose term here, because this place is a shambling collection of narrow staircases and dark rooms, a prime spot for a murder lair. The man isn’t home, of course. He’s out stalking the night for his latest victim, a phantom on the edges of this entire episode, only shown in frenzied, blurred glimpses. But we see just enough of him to get the idea that this guy would have no problems scaling buildings or climbing mountains.

In Beecham’s room, Sara finds the calendar marked with the Holy Days, where the current date circled means there’s already a murder in progress. She also finds a human heart in a box while Marcus Issacson uncovers a large jar full of human eyeballs. If that wasn’t disturbing enough, there are more eyeballs in this jar than all of the victims in the current case, so…who else do they belong to?

The team needs to work fast in this upcoming finale, since Beecham has already claimed his latest victim. One of Joseph’s friends was lured by Beecham to meet after hours at the bathhouse, and Joseph becomes an accidental witness to the crime. We don’t see Beecham mutilating the body, but there’s enough gross squelching sounds and blood smeared all over the floor to give us a pretty gruesome picture. It’s one of The Alienist’s most tense, horrifying sequences, and arguably one of the more effective scenes to inspire just the right amount of terrifying dread. Joseph hides in one of the lockers, watching the killer drag his friend’s body across the tiled bathhouse floor, leaving a trail of blood absolutely everywhere. He tries to keep quiet, but the kid is scared out of his mind, so the sob he lets out is gut-wrenching—and it gives his location away.

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The last thing we see is the fear in Joseph’s eyes when Beecham opens the door. Considering how rarely The Alienist lets us have nice things (which is almost never), we shouldn’t hold our breath for a good outcome to this situation. But, until the finale airs, we can amuse ourselves with the thought of a happier ending where John adopts Joseph and the two of them finally get to live without a sense of constant paranoia.