REVIEW: The Alienist, S1 Ep10 – Castle in the Sky

alienist s1e10 kreizler

Well, we’ve finally made it to the finale of The Alienist. Whether it’s the season or series finale, though, remains to be seen. Either way, “Castle in the Sky” gave us a visually gorgeous and emotionally compelling conclusion to TNT’s twisted, historical crime drama. Although some of the plot points get a little rushed in the race to the finish line, it’s a reasonably satisfying end, equal parts thriller and horror. And it’s a lot more hopeful than The Alienist has been in the course of its season, a bright sendoff amongst all of the rich, Gothic gloom that has suffused its atmosphere for the better part of its ten episodes.

Last episode’s gruesome events fuel the plot for the show’s conclusion, where first we find Moore worried over Joseph. He’s so panicked for Joseph’s well-being that he’s visibly relieved to get confirmation that the boy they pulled out of the public bath isn’t him. Though Moore’s likely not unaffected by the sight of yet another murdered boy, he’s far from the man we first met in the beginning of the series who could barely so much as glance at the mutilated corpses. Worse still, he feels guilt for not doing more for Joseph, for not keeping him off the streets by taking him in. His worry is completely understandable, since the killer is poised to strike soon, on the Feast of St. John the Baptist.

Moore admits all this to Sara in the dusty, sun-soaked room of their new headquarters. It’s there that his feelings start to tumble out and he declares his love for her. It’s a quiet, tender scene; Moore never asks Sara to return his feelings, only telling her that she can’t deny his feelings for her. They share a gentle, soft kiss, and while Sara’s still trying to come to terms with showing her own emotions, she doesn’t exactly find the kiss terrible. As sensual and gorgeous as the scene is, it’s nice that Moore acknowledges Sara’s independent spirit and never once makes her feel like she needs to reciprocate if it’s not what she wants.

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Meanwhile, Kreizler has decided to crawl out of his Pit of Despair, realizing he’s not useful to anyone (not even himself) if all he’s doing is wallowing in grief. In the shadowy gloom of his stately parlor, he apologizes to Sara. After they’ve been doing everything they can to avoid each other for the past couple of episodes, it’s good that they’re finally working through their issues (and Kreizler’s apology was long overdue). It’s going to take their shared observational prowess to catch the killer in time.

Instead, Kreizler finds himself confronting his past, his secrets confessed to Sara even though he can’t quite look at her. The two of them trade memories about their fathers, as Sara recognizes Kreizler’s pain. Her father, it turns out, had a deep, lifelong struggle with depression (then called “melancholia”) and died as a result of a botched suicide. When Sara discovered him with half his face blown off, her father held the gun to her hand and they pulled the trigger together. It’s no wonder that Sara was so messed up by the ordeal that she had to be institutionalized.

It’s arguably one of the best scenes—if not one of the best performances—in The Alienist’s ten episode run. Kreizler and Sara both tearfully recount the demons of their pasts, and realize that they share a pain that maybe no one else in their lives can understand. Brühl and Fanning give raw, honest performances, and it feels like the genuine emotional payoff we’ve been waiting for. And while Kreizler views this pain as something that can’t be stopped, Sara tells him she disagrees—they can use it to help others.

And that’s enough to drive Kreizler to catch Beecham, at least. He goes into full Will Graham mode, tracing the killer’s path through the bathhouse while we get flashbacks of Joseph trying to flee the scene. The worker who found the victim imparts some useful information; the same mutilations occurred on the boy’s body, except for one striking detail: his eyes weren’t taken. Kreizler’s trail leads him to Beecham’s murder planning lair/house, where he discusses a map of the city’s sewer systems with the Isaacsons. Instead of moving about New York from the rooftops, he’s been navigating beneath the city through the labyrinth of the sewers.

After making himself comfy in Beecham’s bed, Kreizler ends up waiting for Moore at his home and chatting about murder with his grandmother. As you do. He’s up to something, clearly, when he and Moore exchange coded dialogue about going out to the opera on the night of the Feast Day. Kreizler’s trying to be discreet with Moore’s grandmother present, but Moore’s exasperated at the very idea—the 24th is Murder Time, after all, so what the hell is Kreizler thinking?

Apparently Byrnes and his goons are still interested in strong-arming Kreizler out of the investigation to make the police department look good. It’s not that great of a motivation now that Van Bergen is out of the picture. (By the way, did his body ever get recovered from the river? Did his weirdo mother find out he’s super dead? We don’t know). But appearances are everything, maybe, and Byrnes is overstaying his welcome anyway. Whatever—it’s totally worth the intimidating stare Ted Levine’s Byrnes levels Kreizler and Moore with the entire time they’re at the opera.

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Kreizler and Moore are able to sneak away when Byrnes is distracted by the opera’s showy pyrotechnics, but once they’re in the carriage, Moore notices they’re not sticking to the plan. The Isaacsons and Sara are waiting for the killer at one location, Roosevelt and the police at another. But Kreizler says Beecham’s ritual has changed, and it won’t be about heights this time, it’ll be focused on water. (Sara surmises earlier that Beecham took the name John as in John the Baptist). If they led the police to Beecham, they would never let him live.

It’s quite a leap in guesswork, and we don’t get all the details about how exactly Kreizler managed to track down Beecham’s new murder lair, but he leads them to Croton reservoir. Moore and Kreizler maneuver through the cavernous, dimly lit tunnels, following the echo of Joseph’s screams. It’s a frantic, claustrophobic chase—and Kreizler really should have thought this crazed plan of his through just a little better. Of everyone on the investigative team, Kreizler and everyone’s favorite Gothic heroine Moore are the least qualified to take down someone who’s built like a brick house. Beecham is two steps ahead of them, as usual, creeping around the tunnel system by clinging to the pipes above like he’s Batman. It’s effectively frightening in that horror movie kind of way, and it goes about as well as you’d expect for Moore and Kreizler.

Moore is waylaid early on, another tally if anyone’s been keeping track of how many times he’s been rendered unconscious throughout The Alienist. Kreizler goes down, too, but regains consciousness in enough time to make an attempt to psychoanalyze his way out of this situation while held at knifepoint. He calls Beecham by his real name, Japheth. (We finally see Japheth’s infamous facial tic, and the CGI involved is…bizarre).

Kreizler insists that killing these boys won’t fix what his mother did to him, but Beecham gives a derisive laugh. “You think that’s why?”

Desperate to save Joseph, Kreizler tries to physically stop Beecham when a shot rings out. Beecham falls, and Kreizler comes face-to-face with Connor, who followed behind him and Moore when they left the opera. This meeting should mean something considering Connor is responsible for Mary’s death (and there’s no way he couldn’t have known, if both Stevie and Cyrus knew), but it doesn’t amount to anything. Not even redemption, which for a fleeting second might’ve been possible if Connor wasn’t the worst. Instead, Connor wants all the glory for himself, and that includes putting a bullet in Kreizler and Moore (and probably Joseph…which…yikes).

Connor doesn’t get the chance, because Sara shows up just when she’s needed—she made some of her own guesswork to get here, too, and her timing is awfully convenient. Connor starts to strangle her, but another shot echoes, and Connor falls, revealing the gun in Sara’s hand. At least Connor got what he finally deserved, and it’s extremely satisfying that Sara is the one to do it. (An act that Commissioner Roosevelt commends her for later). Moore, now fully conscious, reunites with Joseph, playing every part of a relieved father.

But Kreizler isn’t finished. He chases Beecham up to the roof where he’s chosen to die (presumably for the artfully murderous aesthetic; he has to stay on brand) and holds Beecham in his final moments. Pleading, he asks Japheth to tell him why he’s done all this, but unfortunately for Kreizler, the motive for his killings will follow him to the grave. All of that work and Kreizler is left without the answer to his most desperate question: “What compels a man to do evil?”

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It’s a bittersweet end, especially for Kreizler. Roosevelt is pleased that they caught the killer, to which Kreizler disagrees, “All we found was a wounded child.” There’s still a lot of work to be done.

For Roosevelt, too, it seems—to placate Byrnes, Roosevelt makes a whole thing out of giving a commendation to Connor’s surviving family, plus the credit for catching the killer. So while Roosevelt’s tried his hardest in the midst of corruption, it’s not going away anytime soon.

One last time, we get to revel in The Alienist’s beautiful cinematography, lush historical details, and lavish interiors. The team assembles for a celebratory dinner at Delmonico’s, wherein Kreizler praises their work and admits that they’ve found more than just a fruitful partnership, but a true friendship. He even slips a box containing an engagement ring (intended for Mary) to Moore, trusting that he’ll find someone to give it to. Cue the gross sobbing.

Predictably, that person is Sara, but she’s not saying yes to any proposals just yet. And that’s fine with Moore, who proclaims that he’ll wait until she becomes “chief of detectives” if he has to. The playful, flirty banter they share while hailing a cab on the street is one of the cutest scenes they’ve had together. “John Moore you stole my cab!” she hollers, giggling, as Moore leans out the door to give her one last smile. Could they get any more adorable?

The Alienist closes out its finale with the titular character making what we can assume is a long overdue visit. He settles into the garden of a sanatorium, in front of the father who once broke his arm as a boy, leaving him permanently disfigured. Kreizler’s father is an old man now, unable to speak or even recognize his son. But that doesn’t matter. Kreizler lingers on the choices his father made, the things he’s learned, and says that people have the capacity to be better than he could’ve thought.

“You did the best you could,” Kreizler tells him, offering forgiveness. He walks away, the demons of his past finally at peace, moving on toward whatever the future may bring.

Though there aren’t any plans to continue The Alienist for a second season, the series leaves the door open while bringing its story to a satisfying end. There’s threads that could be picked up, questions left unanswered (Did Moore adopt Joseph? This is important information!). We wouldn’t exactly mind joining these characters again and spending a little more time in this fascinating, richly detailed time period. If not, though, for all its faults and missteps, The Alienist was a thrilling ride.