This THE ALIENIST review contains spoilers.
The Alienist Season 2 Episode 6
The Alienist: Angel of Darkness has a problem. The problem isn’t the fact that, just like the season prior, the series revealed the identity of the killer at the halfway point of the season, although it definitely zaps the mystery out of the proceedings. No, the issue with this current season is the fact that the titular character, Dr. Laszlo Kreizler, no longer fits into the story. Maybe they should have just called the season Angel of Darkness.
At a certain point in “Memento Mori,” Sara emphatically states that Kreizer is crucial to the investigation. Unfortunately, that hardly feels true. Sure, he did facilitate the hypnosis for Senora Linares which led the investigation to the park where a photographer captured an image of Libby, but for the most part, Sara has done the bulk of the detective work and psychological profiling, often reaching solid conclusions before Kreizler has a chance to weigh in.
The season has struggled to find something meaningful to do for the character, and this episode tries to amend that problem. However, some of Kreizler’s plot here doesn’t entirely work because we haven’t been spending enough time with him. The incident with Paulie didn’t quite land as shocking as it should have, mainly because the recap portion that aired before the episode started had to remind me of the kid in the first place. We hadn’t established a connection with the character, so he feels like nothing more than a plot device to put Kreizler at the mercy of Dr. Markoe, with his career on the line. Then, instead of exploring Kreizler coping without access to his career, his identity essentially, the episode mostly waves the problem away by Sara making a deal with Cornelius Vanderbilt.
The scenes that have worked are the developing relationship between Kreizler and Karen. It’s great to watch the normally so reserved Kreizler excitedly, by his standards, mention that he’s dating someone to Sara. Even better is the fetish conversation with Karen, where she flirts with and schools him in equal measure. However, as fun as this all is, it still feels too far adjacent to what has really become a show about Sara.
“Memnto Mori” picks up immediately where “Belly of the Beast” somewhat awkwardly ended, with Sara coming back down to earth and thinking about how complicated her situation with John has become. John apologizes for the act of passion and suggests if she were to say the word, John would leave his fiancée for Sara. Obviously, sex certainly changes things for the pair, and I wish the episode would have found more time so we could sit in the awkwardness of their relationship drama instead of rushing off to check back in on Libby’s whereabouts. When it does seem like we’re going to get into their messy love triangle, Sara shifts gears to talk about the case, leaving John a little hurt and confused.
I did enjoy the fact that the episode gave Violet a little more dimension. Instead of just being portrayed as a spoiled, ditzy rich girl, they give the character some depth here by having her explain how terrible it feels to be the not-so-secret illegitimate daughter of Hearst. Obviously, it’s only included to make us feel bad about what John did, but it’s pretty effective.
As for the actual crime portion of the show, Sara’s Super Detective moment of the week is her deciding to investigate the building next door to where to where the Linares baby was retrieved and where the police are currently investigating. The bar for thinking outside of the box must be low for the NYPD. Sara discovers where Libby kept the baby and locates personal items stolen from the past victims. Among the personal items stolen are valuables with a family crest, which John discovers to be that of the Vanderbilts. They surmise that one of the Vanderbilt’s could be the next victim, but before they’re able to locate the right person, Libby snatches a Vanderbilt baby in broad daylight.
Hearst’s grand plan to smear Sara using his newspaper backfires because the story puts Sara on Cornelius Vanderbilt’s radar and he invites her over to essentially interview for the job of leading the kidnapping investigation. Sara’s confidence and competency with Vanderbilt lands her the gig, at the chagrin of Hearst and Byrnes, who’s now technically working for Sara (though we know some sabotage is coming). I love the single-minded determination of Sara, and Fanning gives it the right pitch so that it never comes off as being too hot or cold.
With another missing baby, the urgency I feared we’d be lacking is back. I suppose revealing the killer early wasn’t entirely bad, because it has allowed Rosy McEwen to do some incredible work here. She brings wide-eyed innocence and a tenderness to what is mostly a monstrous character, and her material this week, especially when we flash back to Sara’s original meeting with Libby and view it under a new lens, is a wonderful showcase for her range and talent as an actress. Libby, Goo Goo, and the Vanderbilt baby have fled to Brooklyn, but our crackpot band of crime stoppers have already put that detail together.
Even though “Memnto Mori” doesn’t succeed with everything it sets out to do, I still have to give the episode credit for taking swings. If anything, I wish The Alienist would slow down and allow for more scenes like Kreizler and Karen at dinner, Violet having a chance to finally act like a three-dimensional character, and Kreizler confiding in Sara. While Rosy McEwen is making a meal of the crazy kidnapper material, not everything has to be about the case.