The Alienist Episode 5 Review: Hildebrandt’s Starling

Commissioner Roosevelt fights back against corruption in another stellar installment of The Alienist.

This The Alienist review contains spoilers.

The Alienist Episode 5

Our parents really have the capacity to mess us up. Whether by too much coddling or not enough, the attention or lack thereof from a parent can manifest itself in a myriad of harmful ways. In John’s case, his father’s disinterest combined with a few other traumatizing events has led to alcohol dependency and intimacy issues. For Sara, her father’s attempts at making his daughter strong and independent has resulted in Sara being obsessed with her work to the detriment of her personal life. However, in the case of our killer, pampering and overprotection has allowed a monster to be fostered, lacking remorse or personal responsibility for his actions.

However, is the lack of a steady, stable, and rational hand of a parent all it takes for evil to breed? When Kreizler and John take a trip to Boston to visit real-life convict Jesse Pomeroy, known as the Boston Boy Fiend, Pomeroy tearily spins a tale about an absent father and a mother that never kissed him, before laughing at his own performance and Kreizler’s eagerness to believe the story. Mommy and Daddy issues didn’t drive him to commit such heinous crimes, Pomeroy spitefully tells them, and he’ll never tell them what did. The scene is the first time since the premiere that The Alienist has so closely resembled Netflix’s Mindhunter, but luckily, we don’t spend too much time gleaning pop psychology from impressive, yet clichéd monologues.

To the contrary, The Alienist continues to be a bright light in a dreary winter of cable television. Still coasting off the momentum of last week’s series highlight, our team brings in a professional graphologist to analyze the letter that Mrs. Santorelli received from our killer. By examining his handwriting style, the group is able to determine that their killer would be in the age range of 24-35. Taking a deeper look at the content rather than the aesthetics, Sara proposes a theory that the killer must have a domineering woman in his life, and that sending the letter to Mrs. Santorelli to cause her distress was a way at lashing out at that woman. Kreizler doesn’t understand Sara’s reasoning and flies off the handle, becoming so enraged by her theory that even he finds his behavior to be inappropriate. Kreizler takes the time to visit his old mentor to receive a pep talk on trying to see things outside of his perspective. It could have been an interesting visit that would reveal more about Kreizler’s backstory, but instead it’s just a detour that doesn’t really make much of an impact.

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When Kreizler and Sara reconvene, that’s when sparks start to fly. Still annoyed by Kreizler’s erratic behavior and tone-deaf lecturing, Sara meets Kreizler for dinner in a calmly hostile mood. Dakota Fanning continues to make Sara the most interesting character on-screen, out macho-ing Kreizler with her whiskey order and her icy attitude. As her infatuation with Kreizler wanes, her relationship with John becomes more flirty. John jokingly proposes to Sara and she flirts back with him mentioning that if he were serious, she might consider. The idea is enough to get John to try to give up drinking, which is a nice development. The sexual tension between the three leads continues to be this show’s most magnetic aspect.

Elsewhere, Commissioner Roosevelt has a contentious run-in with the mayor, who tells Roosevelt that a well-to-do family may be harboring the killer that Roosevelt and Kreizler are searching for and that he should stop sending cops to bother the family. He mentions that Roosevelt would be wise to let the family handle the situation on their own. This infuriates Roosevelt because not only is it just another example of the widespread corruption in the city, but it suggests that there are police officers that know the possible identity of the killer and are keeping it from him. When Roosevelt connects the dots and asks Captain Connor to retrieve an address for Willem Van Bergen, Connor leads him to an incorrect location. It’s the final straw for Roosevelt, who fires Connor on the spot. Roosevelt still is this show’s least compelling character, which is odd because it seems like something that would have been easy to get right, but at least his storyline is leading somewhere interesting, with a battle between Roosevelt and Connor’s boys on the force brewing.

Finally, we get to witness Van Bergen’s odd relationship with his mother and his almost childlike behavior. What we witness certainly backs up Sara’s theory, but it does make our killer seem far less intimidating and mysterious. Perhaps it would have been better to leave our villain in the shadows a bit longer before showing him pout like a misbehaved child. A showdown between our petulant psycho and Kreizler could be coming soon, as the team discovers a pattern to Van Bergen’s murders, with them all taking place on Holy Days. An anti-religion bent was shown earlier in the series with Kreizler and again when he goes to visit a Cardinal in this episode, so I wonder if that will work its way into the eventual climax of the series.

The Alienist remains gripping even when there are no bodies to uncover. Between the tense and almost dangerous visit with Jesse to the last-minute reveal showing Roosevelt knocking on the wrong door, there’s a palpable energy propelling The Alienist forward while a grimy malevolence continues to hang in the air. Halfway through, The Alienist is proving to be something special.


4 out of 5