This The Alienist review contains spoilers.
The Alienist Episode 4
I’ve written at length about the ways in which The Alienist aligns its story as an intersection of the lower and upper class, using murders of the former as a way to investigate the privilege and corruption of the latter. That’s why I should have known that our killer, who’s finally revealed as a rich dandy with the right last name, would be a member of high society. With his teeth creepily turned silver from mercury salts used to treat syphilis, Willem Van Bergen is preying on young boys in public only because the former police commissioner is giving him the courtesy based on who is parents are and their money.
The episode begins with Kreizler visiting a brothel madam to understand how sexual impulses are connected to people’s personal lives and experiences. The madam confirms that if someone has a predilection for inflicting wounds, then they must have wounds of their own. Now we obviously know this to be Van Bergen’s silver smile and his syphilis-infected hands and arms. The madam not-so-subtly flirts with Kreizler, as a shared past doctor/patient relationship is hinted at, and even though a majority of their conversation is serious, it’s fun to watch Kreizler squirm. It’s another example of this series using a dash of humor and they’d be wise to embrace a bit more camp, as Brühl’s complete commitment to his severe character makes him quite the entertaining straight man.
In the last episode, Kreizler asked John and Sara to look inside of themselves, and here Kreizler’s patented way of trying to prove his point at the expense of others’ feelings continues to weigh on our supporting characters’ minds. When Sara meets Kreizler in the park, she coldly tells him she still doesn’t believe she has what it takes to kill a child, and thus Kreizler’s prying questions will be of no use. Dakota Fanning has been brilliant all season, but she’s particularly wonderful here, owning Sara’s no bullshit personality and not hiding her love loss toward Kreizler. The doc tries to use the example of a mother who killed her children and the expectations that society puts on women to highlight his theory that’s basically just the Joker’s “One bay day is all it takes to drive someone insane” screed.
Meanwhile, John does a bit of solo investigating again, traveling to the workplace of the most recent murdered boy, Ali, who became a prostitute after being sold by his father. With the help of Marcus, John discovers evidence of a rope that was used to climb in and out of the establishment, which together with a piton found at the last crime scene, confirms that Van Burgen is a climber. Lastly, another boy prostitute pops up to tell John that Ali said his frequent visitor was going to take him to a “castle in the sky.” When John rushes to tell Kreizler what he’s learned, he learns from Cyrus that the doctor is at the park with Sara. Clearly jealous, along with an emotional Mary who overhears that Kreizler is out with another woman, John decides to take Mary out on a date to see some moving pictures, which is just a great period flourish.
The mix of feelings and “he likes her but she likes him” complications is giving The Alienist an unexpected lift. When Kreizler and John meet back up later and confront one another about their afternoon companions, their combined envy and aggravation is classic soapy goodness. Eventually, Kreizler’s barbs turn serious and he asks John whether the dissolution of his engagement carried over into his sex life, and though it has, John is unhappy to admit it and finally snaps at Kreizler’s callous attitude.
The icy feelings among the pair adds to the confusion when they both receive invites supposedly from the other to meet. Eventually, the whole ragtag team arrives, all stating that they’ve been invited by Kreizler, except uncoincidentally, Sara has something to share. It turns out that Mrs. Santorelli received a note from the killer, confirming a shocking hatred for immigrants and the poor. Scarier still is the fact that the killer arranged for them all to meet at once, revealing that he’s watching the group. Now that the killer has been unveiled to the audience and both parties are trying to investigate each other, we could see the action increase.
Meanwhile, the discovery of John’s notebook by Connor, not the killer, alerts Connor that Kreizler and his team are getting preferential treatment from the commissioner. Roosevelt is dealing with his own pressures, because as expected, he’s being criticized for seemingly trying to cover up a murder. Kreizler and the commissioner’s history is also further revealed, where he recounts a fight between the two that was ended when Roosevelt felt bad for Kreizler’s disfigurement in his arm. Though this definitely adds a layer to Kreizler’s character, I either hadn’t realized or didn’t remember that Kreizler had a disfigurement. Though I recognize he uses a cane, it seems like an error on the show’s part if that was something that was important to understanding Kreizler.
Overall, this was another solid episode. It was great to see our characters pulled apart, but now that they know that Van Bergen has the jump on them, we’ll definitely see them drawn closer together. Hopefully now that we’re clear on who our culprit is, the show will use Van Bergen’s POV more as a means of examining this period and the realities of his life and compulsions in a different light.