This The Alienist review contains spoilers.
The Alienist Episode 3
The Alienist isn’t just a murder mystery series, it’s an exploration of police corruption and class inequity in a time period in which the wealthy elite were beginning to see their disproportionate power checked. When the bodies of the Have Nots begin to pile up, threatening to expose the unsavory hidden details in the lives of the affluent, the police on the take do their damnedest to ensure the status quo remains unchanged. For justice to be served, Kreizler and Co. must not only outwit the shadowy killer using cutting edge psychology and forensics, but also circumvent Captain Connor and his coconspirators’ attempts at sabotage.
The point is driven home by an almost wickedly funny cold open in which glad-handing former police chief Byrnes informs a wealthy family that their son could be involved in killing child prostitutes. It’s a bit of levity, also seen in the introduction of John Moore’s mother, that cuts into all of the doom and gloom and a cheeky way to start the best episode of the series yet.
Last week, sabotage presented itself in the form of John being drugged while digging around for more details at the brothel where Giorgio disappeared. John’s trip to the brothel was partly inspired by an argument with Kreizler where the doctor wondered aloud whether John’s usefulness to the case had already run its course. John awakes in Kreizler’s den, where he learns he was found wandering around the streets, pantless. In an adjacent scene, Captain Connor takes credit for the scheme, hoping it will keep John quiet, as he wouldn’t want word to escape that he was seeing boy prostitutes.
Waiting for John’s hazy memory to return, Kreizler and the Isaacsons reexamine the fingerprint found at the crime scene. With some inconsistences in the print suggesting callused fingers or a skin disease, they to attempt to retrieve more fingerprints off of Santorelli’s body to confirm the idiosyncrasies of the print, but when they visit the morgue to see the body, they discover that it’s missing.
When Kreizler hears the news, he matter-of-factly states that the missing body confirms widespread police corruption and that Roosevelt can no longer trust his own men inside of the force. While true, the dialogue is too on-the-nose. Occasionally Kreizler delivers lines so painfully obvious that they suggest that The Alienist doesn’t trust its audience to connect the dots. It could just be an extension of Kreizler’s over-analytical nature, but it’s not the first time that it has felt like the show, through Kreizler, is talking down to us.
For the most part, “The Silver Smile” has a slower pace than the preceding episodes and spends a majority of its time further fleshing out its core trio. Through interactions with his grandmother, we learn that John had a failed engagement, lost his brother in a drowning incident, and has a difficult relationship with his father. A revealing trip to her Vassar class reunion confirms that Sara is harboring romantic feelings toward Kreizler, and a quiet, late night exchange followed by an emotional outburst hints that Kreizler has deep, complicated feelings for his servant, Mary.
However, just as I was ready to designate this a character-focused episode, another body is found, this time on the roof of an aquarium. With the killer still eavesdropping from close by, Roosevelt allows Kreizler and his team time with the body before the rest of the police arrive on the scene. Sara is overcome by the horrific display, but regains control and correctly highlights how both crime scenes incorporate heights and water. We’re treated to a fun escape scene as Kreizler, John, and Sara look to vacate the aquarium unnoticed before the police arrive, and John loses his sketch pad in process, which is quickly retrieved by the unseen killer.
Back at Kreizler’s, John and the doctor get into an argument once again over Kreizler’s demanding intensity and his request that both John and Sara try to empathize with the killer. Kreizler believes that they aren’t looking inside of themselves deeply enough to try to understand the motivations of the murderer, but he crosses the line by bringing up intimate, difficult personal details about both of his partners, especially by mentioning Sara’s father’s suicide. In a carriage back home, John tries to comfort Sara with a kiss, but she’s less than receptive.
Both of those scenes were incredibly propulsive and engaging, but a quieter moment stole the episode. In a conversation with his driver Cyrus, Kreizler takes a moment away from his work to commiserate about how he’ll never know what it’s like to kill. It seems like some normal venting, until we learn that Cyrus killed a man once. In a chilling, expertly delivered speech, Cyrus gives Kreizler the glimpse into madness he was hoping to find, confiding that he even somewhat enjoyed taking another man’s life.
The drama between the three leads is still appearing to be the lifeblood of the series, engaging whether they’re working in harmony or at odds. The police corruption angle is working, but would benefit from less ham-fisted expository dialogue. The presence of former chief Byrnes, who officially got into the mix this week, promises a new sparring partner for Roosevelt and hopefully a chance for that character to get involved in a more impactful way. Things appear to be heating up, hopefully The Alienist moves closer to the flame.