This The Alienist review contains spoilers.
The Alienist Episode 10
The Alienist, a show that delighted in offering the grimy, graphic details of 19th century murders, surprisingly finishes its run with such tidiness. Though the resolution of the case may not have been academically rewarding to Kreizler or shock-inducing to the audience, the neat way in which each of our protagonists have their character arcs concluded can’t help but feel satisfying, especially if this is indeed the limited series that it began as. All of our principles get a Big Moment and feel like different people than when we found them in subtle and earned ways, and from a character standpoint, that’s all you can really ask of a series, even if The Alienist and found varying levels of success with each character.
For instance, John Moore began as the least interesting member of our trio of leads, but he ends the series owning the finale, stealing the thunder of Japheth just by expressing healthy personal development. The episode begins with John rushing to the bathhouse where Joseph was abducted, certain he’d find the young boy butchered. The look of abject horror that transforms into guilty relief is the finest acting showcase on this series yet. The experience is so powerful, it causes John to really put his emotions out there with Sara in the most direct way yet. Their kiss is steamy, yet tastefully restrained. I guess you have to save something on the off-chance there’s a season two.
But in that early moment with Joseph, we finally see John Moore truly care about someone other than himself. It’s so shocking a change that later in the episode, as John holds the now-safe Joseph at the reservoir, Sara looks on with a mix of adoration and disbelief. Another small moment that highlights the change in John is his brief encounter with a former romantic rival at the opera. John remains calm, not shook by the passive aggressive taunts tossed his way and quick to inform that he’s quit drinking. In the past, this reminder of his failures would send him into a booze-filled spiral, but now he’s got better things to worry about than his ego.
Sara’s character-based climax isn’t as subtle, but feels worthy of our strongest, most determined team member. Sara doesn’t allow herself to be sidelined by Kreizler and his police-distracting machinations. Like any great detective would, she uses her smarts and the helpful aid of the Isaacsons to determine that Kreizler and John are headed for the reservoir. She arrives in time to save them from the season’s true villain, Connor. Her sly, fatal gunshot to Connor felt like a blast meant for every sexist pig on the force hindering her personal progress and the progress of all women. Still, because corruption can’t be cured overnight, Connor is remembered as a hero that brought the killer to justice.
Kreizler’s arc is unfortunately, and somewhat interestingly, the weakest material of the three, mostly because it feels so hurried. Sara and Kreizler’s reunion and makeup finally featured their full, unedited tragic backstories, but Sara’s forgiveness comes too easily. Still, their conversation about using the memory of their pain to help others feels cathartic, even if it comes too easily. At least this isn’t the nadir of Kreizler material. The worst stuff comes when he magically receives a premonition of exactly how the last episode ended at the bathhouse. The device of Kreizler seeing the event as it happened is pretty lame and I’m glad that show didn’t do more of it. Thankfully, it’s redeemed by Daniel Bruhl’s performance during the case’s action-filled climax. By the time Kreizler is begging an unbreathing Japheth to explain why he takes life, pounding his chest with desperation, we see how badly Kreizler needed to hear that the wounds Japheth suffered as a child led to him becoming an isolated monster, because it would help to explain his own inadequacies.
Kreizler’s final parting shot should have been him toasting his partners as honest-to-goodness friends, but instead the writers tack on a one-sided conversation that Kreizler has with his abusive father. He wants to prove to his father that man is capable of being better than nature intended, but the scene isn’t as impactful as the one that proceeded it. Ultimately, it was Kreizler’s nature, after experiencing pain, anger and isolation as a child, to resist opening himself fully to friends, colleagues, and Mary, and sitting at a table of his friends, he’s overcome that.
Though the episode feels a bit rushed and the murder mystery lacks a memorable climax, mostly because the case fizzled out before the episode began, it’s a complete, satiating, if only slightly perfunctory ending. If TNT decides to do another season, I’d be more than happy to tune in, but as throughout the first season, it’ll be for the characters and not the whodunit.