TNT’s The Alienist
Episode 5: “Hildebrandt’s Starling”
Directed by James Hawes
Written by E. Max Frye
* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “These Bloody Thoughts” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Ascension” – click here
Dr. Laszlo Kreizler (Daniel Brühl) and his team are delving into the letter from the killer to Mrs. Santorelli. The doc has a handwriting specialist looking at the letter, and they’re able to ascertain a few things about the possible identity of the man for whom they’re looking. Lucius (Matthew Shear) and Marcus (Douglas Smith) Isaacson also have some fingerprint analysis. Through the letter, they understand it’s part of “desecrating the body,” just as much as the murder itself. Furthermore, Sara Howard (Dakota Fanning) has opinions about the serial killer’s relationship to women. And the whole concept of a woman’s involvement, in some way, throws the doctor into a bit of a fit. Perhaps his own issues? His frustration with the case of the crossdressing boy he’d known once before?
We see that Ms. Howard is continually getting fed up with Dr. Kreizler’s “bully” behaviour every time she speaks her mind. Between Laszlo’s treatment of her and Mary Palmer (Q’orianka Kilcher) we’re able to understand there’s a troubled history there with the opposite sex. Despite any of that – luckily – Sara is determined to keep digging at her own intuitions.
Dr. Kreizler goes to see a Professor Kavanaugh (David Warner), under whom he studied years ago. He needs help. They speak of when the prof put him in a room with a Hildebrandt’s starling, all in order to teach him a lesson. Laszlo laments that “theory seems to have replaced pragmatism” and he requires advice on a way forward. A bit of cryptic academic nonsense between these two. Bless their hearts.
It’s time for a field trip. The doc and the artist John Moore (Luke Evans) are going up to the penitentiary. They’re going to see a man called Jesse Pomeroy, also known as the “Boston Boy Fiend.” So, back at the tail end of the 19th century, prisons were even worse than now, and this pen’s a doozy. Kreizler and Moore head down into the jail’s depths where the speak to Mr. Pomeroy. The prisoner’s been in solitary for just over two decades. Doc questions Jesse about why he mutilated the face of the boys he killed, and the killer makes a mockery of him before attacking him. Good thing the guards aren’t far.
Poor John. He’s quitting drinking, as well as fighting against some terrible memories from his past. He and Dr. Kreizler head back from the prison, as the latter’s starting to question his own abilities after failing to get anything worthwhile out of Jesse.
Meanwhile, Teddy Roosevelt (Brian Geraghty) is feeling pressure from the higher-ups, particularly the mayor, who appears more worried about the “most important family” in New York than the citizens, or the kids being killed. The Commissioner of the NYPD is being pushed to let the family deal with things internally. A sad state of affairs. While Teddy plays the game, we all know he’s not going to let that shit slide. Not for long, anyway. He starts cracking down hard on Captain Connor (David Wilmot), which surely will cause a stir. Afterwards, Roosevelt is giving out the “standard issue” revolvers to be used by everyone on the force; part of their new policy, and part of an American cultural landscape. The Commissioner further tasks Ms. Howard with keeping an eye out for anybody worthy of suspicion, no matter their societal status.
Tenuously working together, Sara and Kreizler go over complaints made concerning young boys around the age of the murdered children. They’ve got to start looking at people in the upper class instead of anybody from the lower classes. What I love is that, no matter how crusty the doctor can be, Ms. Howard is relentless with her intellect. In a world of men she isn’t afraid to be as brash as them, nor should she; just fascinating to watch in the late 1800s. She’s certainly a New Woman of the times.
First, their search is pointing towards the clergy. Kreizler goes to see Bishop Potter (Sean McGinley) about a report made concerning someone in his clergy. Well, the young man in question – Willem Van Bergen (Josef Altin) – worked with orphans, and Potter says it was all misunderstanding. The bishop goes on to question the psychologist’s credibility. “Without God, man‘s nature is to seek not good but evil,” says Potter. In the church, the doctor notices a calendar marking the 19th of February and finds it’s Ash Wednesday, relating to the “dirt and paint” line of the killer’s letter.
Dr. Kreizler brings the name of Van Bergen to Roosevelt, and in turn the comish goes to Cpt. Connor applying more pressure again. Roosevelt is starting to get fed up with the police corruption. Yet he’s placing his trust in the wrong copper, a guy who’s actively been working to cover up the deeds of this upper class parasite. In the meantime, the killer’s giving a young boy a “milk bath” somewhere else in the city; he has no idea the police are coming for him at the very same moment. However, they’re at the wrong place, and Mama Van Bergen (Sean Young) has the time to rush to her boy. Yeah, it might have something to do with that greasy weasel Connor. Big Ted asks for the man’s badge and gun after, too. He won’t be tolerating any more corrupt coppers on his payroll.
And oh, are there ever some eerie mom-son troubles in the Van Bergen family! Lord.
More of the killer’s pattern emerges, as Laszlo digs deeper. The doctor sees that the killer works on the Holy Days, going by the Christian calendar. Next up? Ascension Day.
Ah, another great chapter of The Alienist. It’s a bold move to show us the killer when we’re only halfway through the series, still another 5 episodes for us to indulge. It’ll be fun to watch how they thread things going forward, seeing as how everything’s out in the open. Or, is it? We’ll see. I’ve not read Caleb Carr’s novel, so I have no idea about how things turn out. Regardless, I’m excited for what they’re doing, and can’t wait to watch where it heads.
The aptly titled “Ascension” is next time.