This The Alienist: Angel of Darkness review contains spoilers.
The Alienist: Angel of Darkness Episode 8
If the penultimate episode of The Alienist: Angel of Darkness kept up a spirited pace with a heavy tone, then the season finale “Better Angels” doubles down, providing more thrills, heartbreak and another clean, definitive ending for our characters. Though Kreizler’s arc felt rushed due to his uneven placement this season, John, Sara, and even side characters like Lucius and Byrnes see satisfying conclusions to their stories. The episode is also carried on the backs of Emmy-worthy performances by Dakota Fanning and Rosy McEwen, who in particular shines despite the lights burning out on Libby’s dark, tragic story.
The opening minutes of the episode seemed to suggest that things were moving in a tame direction. The cliffhanger that we were left on found John escaping with ease once Sara distracted Libby with talk of her daughter. From there, an emotional Byrnes, upset over the death of Doyle, tries “interviewing” Libby. He dunks her head repeatedly into water, but the police put their guard down just long enough for Libby to attack. Byrnes then turns things over to Sara and the team, and Kreizler wisely suggests that Sara should take the lead interviewing Libby. Not only is the decision logical, as Sara knows Libby’s psychological profile and has an established relationship with the criminal, but it also is another reminded of just how little Kriezler has had to do all season.
The scene between Sara and Libby in the jail cell is dynamite. McEwen is able to flash effortlessly through lucidity, pain, and mania, using her expressive eyes to show exactly when Libby dips from a serene memory to madness. Sara uses her own experiences with an unloving mother and a promise to reunite Libby with her daughter to get the location of Libby’s baby out of the madwoman. Sara coldly exits the cell with no intention of keeping up her end of the bargain, but she knows it had to be done despite her feelings of guilt. John and the police rush off to retrieve the baby, who we know was waiting with Goo Goo Knox and…they find the baby with no trouble whatsoever
Just as a wave of disappointment over a missed opportunity for a shootout started to wet my socks, Goo Goo and the Hudson Dusters storm the police precinct to rescue Libby. They free Libby from her cell and leave a huge body count in their wake before heading to the Kreizler Institute where Clara, Libby’s daughter is being kept. Marcus and Lucius are standing guard at the Institute, but they’re no match for Goo Goo and his men. Lucius hesitates when he lays eyes on the intruders and gets knocked out, then Marcus is shot and killed. Goo Goo and Libby are able to take Clara before Sara and the rest of the gang arrive.
It’s a shocking, emotional scene. It also fits with Lucius’ storyline this year. Lucius had violence threatened on his brother earlier in the season by Byrnes, highlighting that losing his brother was one of his biggest fears. The pair also had frequent morbid conversations about death and the difference between a living body and the dead. Lucius buckled underneath Byrnes’ pressure and hesitated to pull the trigger when he had the chance. However, after sitting Shiva for Marcus, the team puts their heads together one last time to identify Libby’s fixation on her youth and finer things. They determine that she must have returned to the home she lived in while her father was alive. When they finally enter the dimly lit mansion, Goo Goo gets the jump on the gang, but a waiting Lucius blows him away. He wouldn’t make the same mistake a third time.
Once our trio has Libby cornered, Sara is able to convince her to let Clara go, reasoning to realize that she’s hurting her child and it’s not too late for Clara to have a normal life. Libby gives Clara up, proving that there’s some compassion left in her. It wraps up the case, but the far juicier details lie in the lingering relationship drama.
After John just barely escaped Libby’s knife at the beginning of the episode, he and Sara have a candid conversation about their future. Sara worries that the qualities that John appreciates in her as a friend with challenge him if they become married. She also worries that John’s desire for a wife, child, and home run counter to what she wants in her own life. John insists that he only wants Sara, but toward the episode’s end just as he intends to break things off with Violet, she reveals her pregnancy. When John relays the news to Sara, they both tearfully know that means the end of their will-they-won’t-they, putting them firmly on the side of “won’t.” It’s an ending that feels honest even if it’s bittersweet.
As for Laszlo, he spends the episode wrestling with whether to follow Karen off to Europe. He wonders whether the Institute has held him back from a more exploratory life, the kind of life he’s seen in just a short time with Karen. The only problem with all of this is that it just happened so quickly. We met Karen only a few episodes prior, and Kreizler is only having an existential crisis about his place at the institute in the last 40 minutes. I’ve liked the Kreizler/Karen material, there just wasn’t enough there. Anyway, Kreizler decides to follow Karen off to Europe, where he can learn about more kinky sex stuff.
Though it can be clunky and underserving at times, The Alienist: Angel of Darkness was a highly entertaining watch. I can’t speak to whether it’s a faithful adaptation of Caleb Carr’s novel, but it acts as a satisfying follow-up to a season that seemed as if it didn’t need a sequel. I would have liked to see the suffrage and yellow journalism themes elaborated on more, and that the series character’s of color were given considerably more screentime, but you can’t expect those ideas to be fully fleshed out when the season can’t even spare enough time for its titular character. Will we meet Sara, John, and Kreizler again? I betted against it last time, but here we are. Never say never.