This THE ALIENIST review contains spoilers.
The Alienist Season 2 Episode 5
After the best episode of the season, The Alienist: Angel of Darkness mainly plays their criminal pursuit of Libby straight, adhering close to the procedural structure that works, but doesn’t necessarily excite. Though a spooky atmosphere is built, which helps create some palpable tension, this episode mainly focuses on Sara in Super Detective mode. When “Belly of the Beast” does take some bold creative swings, digging into the character work that often elevates the show, some of the season’s cracks begin to appear.
The episode opens on Libby unsuccessfully trying to breast feed the Linares baby. Occasionally the cinematography took on a hazy quality, playing wonderfully with the candlelight, that kicked these unsettling Libby scenes up a notch. Libby ultimately gets frustrated with the child and begins ranting about how her child would never bite. It’s clear that Libby has a deep yearning for a baby of her own, but it’s unknown at the moment whether she had been a victim of the Lying In Hospital.
When Sara ultimately finds the matron’s body after following up on a tip Lucius overheard, she feels so attuned with what Libby may have done in that apartment that she could see a red-headed specter floating across the room. Perhaps it’s a combination of the hypnosis that Kreizler performed or Libby picking up on her father’s “accident,” but it’s clear Sara has a deep connection to this killer, and she won’t be waiting on anyone to track Libby down.
And there is where the problem lies. Sara’s determination and drive, the special connection she feels to the case, is alienating her from the rest of the cast, especially in this episode. The series tends to work best when our three quirky leads are bouncing off of each other, but after Sara puts together Libby’s connection with Goo Goo Knox, she goes to investigate the Hudson Street area with only Cyrus’ niece, Joanna. Too often this season, the characters have felt too far adrift, and running behind Sara trying to catch up. That quality comes back to bite Sara here, but it’s hurting the show as well.
Kreizler is feeling like the character most grafted onto the action, rather than at the center. The episode’s best scene highlights this problem. Kreizler goes out to dinner with Karen Stratton, which is a ton of fun, but feels so disconnected from the rest of the episode. Watching Kreizler squirm under the microscope is an amusing bit of role reversal, but the scene’s presence just helps highlight the fact that Kreizler has felt inessential to the season’s story.
Eventually, Joanna interrupts John at dinner to tell him that Sara is pursuing Libby without help. John is forced to depart from his fiancée’s side again, which makes her unhappy, but really upsets Hearst. Later, complaining about John and his work with Sara Howard to Byrnes, Hearst ponders putting a sensational story about Sara to damage her reputation in his paper. The season had been flirting with the yellow journalism theme so far, but it looks like the season’s remaining three episodes will really take that plunge.
Meanwhile, after Libby expresses a bit of her, um, Mommy fixation with Goo Goo Knox, Sara follows her into a creepy building. Sara tails her quietly and it’s genuinely suspenseful, but without any backup, Libby gets the jump on her. Luckily, Sara is resourceful and uses some nearby dirt to sidestep her way out of danger, but Libby eventually gets away without much trouble. Though the lead up was tense, the payoff wasn’t very climactic. Fortunately, Sara is able to recover the Linares baby, which the rest of the team deservedly sees as a huge win. It’s an odd choice, as the baby’s recovery saps the urgency away from locating Libby, but maybe something awaits in the next episode to hike that urgency back up.
Finally, the episode ends with what’s sure to be its most polarizing scene. Back at John’s house, where Sara is temporarily staying while Libby is on the loose, the two finally give in to their desires and make love. Look, the internet seems to be split on whether Dakota Fanning and Luke Evans have actual chemistry. I think that they do, but it’s fueled by their awkwardness and the formality of their friendship. It’s obvious that the pair want each other, they just don’t quite know how to express that, and Fanning and Evans portray that dynamic well. They nail the whole “will-they-won’t-they” thing but watching them consummate their relationship here is not the cute version of awkward. The sex scene feels oddly sexless, and it also seems like an odd note to end the episode on (though I suppose this is where TNT’s two episodes a night strategy pays off).
Now that the Linares baby has been recovered, it will be interesting if The Alienist will be able to keep the urgency up in its final three episodes. I’m also curious to see if they’ll be able to make proper use of Kreizler so he doesn’t feel so removed from the action. Perhaps John and Sara’s tryst will become knowledge to certain parties and add even more ammo to Hearst’s yellow journalism plan. Thankfully, TNT isn’t going to make us wait to find out!