TNT’s The Alienist
Episode 1: “The Boy on the Bridge”
Directed by Jakob Verbruggen
Written by Hossein Amini
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “A Fruitful Partnership” – click here
New York City. 1896.
In the snow, a cut off hand is found by a policeman, leading to the discovery of a gruesome scene. This sets the coppers off knocking on lampposts and anything else metallic to sound the alarm. At his home, Dr. Laszlo Kreizler (Daniel Brühl) is woken by Mary Palmer (Q’orianka Kilcher), he’s received a visit from a couple of kids, one is all but terrified, frozen to death. Says “something bad” happened up by the bridge. The lad tells Dr. Kreizler the dead boy was “dressed up like a girl.” Oh, my.
This sends the doc to get ready, asking for somebody to get John Moore (Luke Evans), “illustrator” for the New York Times. A kid runs to find Moore, so he can have a look at the crime scene. This is all occurring at the time when the Commissioner of the New York Police Department was Theodore Roosevelt (Brian Geraghty) himself. Teddy’s on the scene already, and Moore talks his way in, despite nobody being thrilled he’s around. The Commissioner decides to let him through: “If you think you can stomach it.”
And so John goes ahead to where the body is displayed. Turns out, one copper knew the boy, his name is Giorgio Santorelli; a cross-dressing boy, made a living selling himself to men. Of course back then a lot of people, many cops in particular, didn’t think this was a worthwhile use of police resources. John goes ahead sketching the hideous murder, no matter how difficult.
It’s interesting to watch Dr. Kreizler work, in a time when “an alienist” studied people with mental illness, those thought to be alienated from their own self. And before there was any sort of respect for the field of psychology, really. Sure, there were doctors studying it, but they were still seen as sort of fringe doctors.
Moore gives Dr. Kreizler his drawings, already affected by what he’s seen. The doc goes about looking at them. Except he feels their useless, simply because they’re an idyllic vision of the crime, not the raw brutality Moore was actually witnessing. Compelling to watch a psychologist and an artist work together in such a way. So, the doc prods about the “viscera” and the detail, prompting the artist to speak in graphic terms about the scene. Specifically, the genitals were removed, among other things.
Also, there’s a suspect. Moore and Dr. Kreizler go to the asylum, a horrific place in the late 19th century. They’re led to a cell where a man named Henry Wolff (Jack Kesy) slams his skull against the cement walls, he’s eroding mentally, advanced syphilis rotting his brain. The doctor talks with him briefly. Eventually, Laszlo steps into the cell with Wolff, asking him questions about the murdered boy; he discovers this man didn’t kill Giorgio.
Old Chief of Police Thomas Byrnes (Ted Levine) is part of the old school, he’s not sold on Teddy Roosevelt, and he’s certainly not a fan of the alienists, or any of their kind. Nor are many coppers, settled into the ancient way of doing police work; most of which involves a hard hand and a bobby stick. There’s also Sara Howard (Dakota Fanning), the first woman in the New York Police Department. She’s not one you want to disrespect, for damn sure. Doc Kreizler goes to see Roosevelt, telling him that Wolff is innocent of the crime. Teddy doesn’t believe him initially. The doctor tells him of a case about a couple of kids, one of whom like to dressed as a girl, a boy, he was mutilated after they were both kidnapped. This leads Laszlo to believe there’s a pattern emerging. So, he wants access to case files, which isn’t what Teddy wants, he’s unwilling to release “privileged information.”
We see so much of the bullshit that Ms. Howard has to put up with around the PD, the casual and overt sexism, misogyny. She’s tough, though, and like too many women at the time – and sadly still today – she pushes past the awfulness of men. Then there are nicer guys like Moore, who’s not trying to get in her bed, but trying to get her to help Dr. Kreizler by sneaking out information for him. She’s hesitant. Will she cave?
Sara: “I see only a little pink mouse”
Roosevelt is dealing with the seedier side of the city, too. Like Biff Ellison (Falk Hentschel) and other criminals. He’s got to navigate a police department that’s moving out of the shadows, into a more official position, so many dirty cops on the payroll protecting criminals. Meanwhile, a psychopath is out there somewhere cooking up pieces of Giorgio, a.k.a Gloria. Holy shit.
After thinking for a while, Ms. Howard thinks she needs to do what morality orders. She goes to find Moore in the city. She’s brought him the file the doctor requires, asking only that, should there be anything found, she wants to know. This sends the artist to Dr. Kreizler, who begins reading right away. Problem is there’s no real evidence, the reports are all but useless; no reports on the wounds, what was used to inflect them, nothing.
Thus, an exhumation needs to be done. The two bodies are exhumed, brought back so that Laszlo can have a look at them. Is there some sort of deeper connection between him and the children, or is it just a doctor-patient thing? I wonder. And at the same time, the mother of the children, Mrs. Zweig (Clare Calbraith) comes to see him. She wants to know what he’s been doing, chastising him about her own son Benjamin. She further blames him for the death of her children.
A couple detectives from the PD, brothers Marcus and Lucius Isaacson (Douglas Smith & Matthew Shear) are on loan to help Dr. Kreizler. Seems they’re modern men, and they’re Jews, so, they don’t fit in well there. Ah, the prejudice, alive and well. Either way, Laszlo doesn’t discriminate, and he’s glad to have their help on such a horrible case.
“That‘s what I admire about you, John. You represent the good that people want to believe is in all of us, that‘s why people like you more than they do me.”
When Dr. Kreizler and Moore go to get in a carriage, the doc finds a crumbled bit of paper inside, he suddenly looks everywhere frantically. He spots a dark figure in the distance and runs after him. He runs into a building after the figure, up flights of stairs. And in the attic, the doc comes to a dead end, where Moore catches up to him; this is when we see young Giorgio’s tongue, wrapped in the newspaper. That’s grisly. Plus, the killer was so close, taunting. Now, the doctor’s left baffled by the “wretched” and “evil” acts of this murderer, and he’s left to try getting into the vicious mind of such a human being. An ugly path ahead. Because if not, children will keep dying in the streets.
“I must see life as he sees it, feel pain as he feels it.”
A fantastic opener to this series, much to look forward to in terms of characters, not to mention the macabre plot. Saw someone describe it as True Detective in the late 1800s; perfect description. However, this is very much its own thing, so let’s watch it play out in all its horrifying glory. “A Fruitful Partnership” is next! Give me more Fanning!