This THE ALIENIST review contains spoilers.
The Alienist Season 2 Episode 4
After two weeks, we’re already at the halfway point with The Alienist: Angel of Darkness. It’s still a mystery as to why TNT is blowing through original programing when every content provider is about to be facing a drought in the months ahead. However, what IS NOT a mystery is who murdered Martha Napp’s baby. As predicted during the previous episode, there was something off about nurse Libby, and she proved it in “Gilded Cage” by attempting to murder an undercover Bitsy and by successfully offing the matron.
The matron’s death is one of the series’ most disturbing scenes to date. Teeth black from charcoal, Libby raves like a lunatic about wanting sanctuary while simultaneously blaming the matron for her role in the hospital and her treatment of the staff. She stabs the matron several times in the neck, eyes wide in anger. Libby then proceeds to paint eyes on the matron’s eyelids after she’s deceased, confirming her odd, gruesome calling card.
It’s easy to see how any of the patients or workers at the Living In Hospital could have been driven to madness. Those unlucky to be there as patients were often manipulated and abused by men of high society, tossed aside, and left not only without a child, but without the hope of having a family later in life. We see an example of this in Helen, who was brought into the hospital in the previous episode, then here confronts her abuser William Osgood at the extravagant engagement party in a chilling scene.
If you’re a worker at the Living In Hospital, you’re directed to carry out ghastly orders against these women, all while being verbally abused by the matron. If you’re particularly unlucky, you get both sides of the horrific spectrum, transitioning from patient to nurse. That’s the case for Colleen, a nurse that’s under suspicion for kidnapping the Linares baby after being the last nurse to care for Martha Napp. Colleen is a volatile person, but understandably so after what she’s experienced, and that doesn’t necessarily make her capable of harming a child. Still, she does an adequate job serving as a final red herring before we arrive at the identity of our red-headed killer.
I just want to pause to give the writers credit for making me feel emotionally invested in Bitsy’s near-death experience. By just planting a subtle scene earlier in the season of Bitsy and Lucious sheepishly flirting, it allowed me to get invested in the survival of a character that I’ve barely had the chance to know. It also added some drama to Lucious being tasked with reviving her, once he and the rest of the team arrived at the hospital after having the park photographer’s developed photos identify Libby. It was a small character choice that was easy to execute, and it ended up paying dividends. Let’s hope their relationship progresses from here.
Now that we’re on the topic of relationships, John and Violet’s relationship, specifically their engagement party, provides most of the episode’s drama. In the midst of an extravagant costume party setting which was a visual feast, John and Sara finally confront each other about their lingering feelings. Sara tells John definitively that he’s marrying the wrong woman after Hearst, Violet, and all of their upper society friends belittle and embarrass John in front of the entire party. Perhaps already angry about the public humiliation, John forcefully reminds Sara that it was her that turned down his engagement. Violet catches all of this and getting jealous herself, sneaks John away from the party for some sultry one-on-one time.
Meanwhile, Kreizler takes in the obscene decadence of the party and ends up making the acquaintance of Karen Stratton, a fellow pedantic alienist. Watching Kreizler get flustered by the female version of himself is immensely fun and has just the sort of campy quality that I’ve been looking for. The Alienist thrived last season when it utilized levity to counteract the darkness and formalness of its subject matter. A foil and possible romantic interest for Kreizler is exactly in that wheelhouse.
The “Gilded Cage” is easily the best episode of Season 2, and not just because it gives us chilling answers in the case. The episode perfectly balances the crime elements that are the core of the series with a fun party set-piece featuring plenty of relationship drama. Crime series are a dime a dozen these days, but The Alienist stands out because of its period setting, on lavish display here, and the sometimes odd, always charming qualities of our three leads, which were also prominently shining in “Gilded Cage.” It will be tricky to sustain this energy now that the killer has been revealed, but as long as they keep up the strong character work, the rest of this season has a lot of potential.