TNT’s The Alienist
Episode 4: “These Bloody Thoughts”
Directed by James Hawes
Written by Gina Gionfriddo & Cary Joji Fukunaga
* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “Silver Smile” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Hildebrandt’s Starling” – click here
Dr. Laszlo Kreizler (Daniel Brühl) goes calling on a woman whose specialty is the side of New York most don’t want to know about in the late 1800s, the dark corners of sexuality and human nature. This woman was a former patient of Dr. Kreizler. Not only that, the doctor recognises things in himself even he can’t admit. Either way, she fills him in on the idea that usually a kink can be connected to something somebody lacks; something which they look for in another.
“The mind is the most erotic organ of the body, doctor.”
Commissioner Teddy Roosevelt (Brian Geraghty) is inundated with press surrounding the murders of the young crossdressing boys. Then there’s crooked Captain Connor (David Wilmot), he’s got a book – the one left at the crime scene. Unfortunately it belongs to John Moore (Luke Evans), and that doesn’t make anybody look good, in turn giving Cpt. Connor, Thomas Byrnes (Ted Levine), and their whole nasty racket the upper hand.
Further investigating forensic leads, Marcus (Douglas Smith) and Lucius (Matthew Shear) Isaacson are trying to determine how the killer’s getting to his unreasonably high, murderous tableau scenes. Looks like he’s one hell of a climber. And perhaps most important of all is Sara Howard (Dakota Fanning) running interference between the various arms of the New York Police Department, caught somewhere between the alienist and the NYPD Commissioner.
Ms. Howard finds doc in one of his “trances.” Afterwards, the two talk of ethics, in terms of putting oneself in the shoes of another, even the most atrocious minds; in short, empathising with killers as a kind of critical theory within the social sciences. Dr. Kreizler says everybody has the “raw material” to make them a killer, but that not everybody experiences the necessary sequence(s) of events necessary to make those “combustible.”
What about Moore? He’s down in a lower class part of the city, where one of the dead boys lived and was killed. The apartment’s been shutdown, a police crime scene tag on the door. Although it’s not empty, there are people still squatting in the building. Marcus finds evidence of a climb there; no “piton holes,” though it’s clear someone tied on at the roof to climb the side of the building. The two men run into Bernadette aka Joseph (Jackson Gann). The boy speaks of a client around there who was a saint that spoke of a “castle in the sky.”
“Up high he can act with the confidence of the devil himself”
“Not the devil; God.”
At the pub, Cpt. Connor and Byrnes talk about the murders. Byrnes has to go see Mrs. Van Bergen (Sean Young), the rich socialite. Her son’s the one running around carving up boys. He has a sketchy history, and, uh, inclinations. The former comish says they have to send the son away. They’re all mostly concerned about image, not about young boys being mutilated and murdered. So corrupt, so ugly.
In the meantime, the creepy killer’s out there lurking. We only see him in glimpses, in shadows. What’s wrong with his hands? He lathers them in some type of cream before pulling on long-sleeved gloves. He’s got another crossdressing boy in his grasp, too.
At his office Dr. Kreizler has a young man called Charles in for therapy. The boy’s got troubling issues, such as cutting up dogs and leaving them on peoples doorsteps. The doctor talks intensely with him, wondering why he’d do such a thing. Eventually the kid erupts, yelling about the animals; a budding killer? Later in the schoolyard we also get a very brief glimpse of the superstitious attitude people held towards mental illness: one woman claims the children acting strangely has to do with “the moon.” Doc promptly poo-poos that idea.
Moore and the silent Mary Palmer (Q’orianka Kilcher) go for a nice stroll together in the street. They take in a picture show (Edison’s Vitascope) of the ocean. This shows us how thrilled people were by the earliest moving images, just showing the splash of waves on the tide made people jump back; same as we do now with 3D. Great little moment, as well as offers a short connection between Mary and Moore.
Backstory re: Dr. Kreizler. He and Roosevelt were in college together. Laszlo challenged him to a duel in anger once, so it went to fists. They had to strip down and everybody saw the doc’s arm – “like a broken wing held tight to his body.” Ted refused to fight, regardless of the fact Laszlo wasn’t backing down; an important view into the latter’s psyche.
Back at his place Kreizler winds up talking sexuality with Moore, exploring ideas of how emotional headspace affects sexual practises, either in pleasure or pain. This is all about the eroticising of past trauma(s), in the most dangerous form: serial ritual murder. That day, Moore sees a dentist, curious about the man with the silver smile. A patient suggests mercury salts as the cause. Why, exactly? Syphilis; that’s why.
“One night with Venus, a lifetime of Mercury.”
The psychological outline – or as we call it today, after the FBI Behavioural Unit left its mark, profile – has yet to come together fully. Sadly, they must wait for the next murder.
That evening, Laszlo and Moore end up at a club together, assuming the other invited them for a talk. But neither of them sent a message, and yet: there they are. An elaborate ruse soon bringing the Isaacson brothers, too. Uh oh to the maximum. Becomes even stranger when Ms. Howard shows up. She also has a letter brought from Mrs. Santorelli – from the killer. The doc believes it’s to achieve more suffering; the killer watched the Santorellis. He also sees the killer lured them all to that place, so he might observe them. This is getting quite upsetting, in the best sort of way.
When Dr. Kreizler reads the letter we get similar sounding rhetoric to the serial killer of children, the cannibalistic Alfred Fish. It’s actually semi-lifted from the letter Fish wrote to the mother of one of his victims, a little girl named Grace Budd. The bits about the “onions and carrots” roasted with the ass is straight up reality. Disgusting, right?
What an episode! This series has been fantastic from day one. Grim, yet full of explosive, intense, transgressive plot and character. Gives us a nice look at some of the things happening in law enforcement and psychology at the end of the 19th century. Plus, the Fish connection is fun, even if they’re going with a fictional killer. “Hildebrandt’s Starling” is next time.