TNT’s The Alienist
Episode 6: “Ascension”
Directed by Paco Cabezas
Written by E. Max Frye
* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “Hildebrandt’s Starling” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Many Sainted Men” – click here
We see a dead horse lying in the street. A young boy is transfixed by it, but he’s soon driven off. For others, death, of any kind, is a part of every day.
Elsewhere, Dr. Laszlo Kreizler (Daniel Brühl) and his team are working. Sara Howard (Dakota Fanning) has young Stevie (Matt Lintz) dolled up like a crossdressing boy, readying to spring a trap during the Feast of the Ascension. Stevie’s a “decoy” to draw out the killer, hopefully. Moreover, the operation has to be done undercover, without the rest of the NYPD knowing. That is, except for Teddy Roosevelt (Brian Geraghty). He’s the one who has to wait while they go about their plan, crossing his fingers things go okay.
We do see a bit of discrimination amongst the group. Not just against Sara as a woman, but also against the doctor himself, seeing as how he’s crippled. Marcus and Lucius Isaacson (Douglas Smith & Matthew Shear) have to break the news to the pair. Although they need another man, so that brings Cyrus (Robert Ray Wisdom) into the picture.
“Sex is but a three–letter word, Commissioner.”
The serial killing Willem Van Bergen (Josef Atlin) is also being prepared – to be shipped off to Buenos Aires by his mother (Sean Young). He’s not happy, either. Especially while the big religious celebration happening. Meanwhile, Dr. Kreizler prepares Stevie for the whole undercover operation, becoming bait for a predator. They’ve also arranged for all the boy brothels to be shut down aside from The Slide. John Moore (Luke Evans) sees one of the street boys he knows in a shop, so he goes inside to warn him about keeping his windows locked tonight.
Now, the waiting. Soon enough a man comes around talking to Stevie, who calls himself Stella for the evening. However, it isn’t their killer. It could take ages for them to draw Van Bergen, if they draw him at all. Then on the rooftops Moore spots somebody, which sends Marcus running. But it’s merely a priest spreading the word of the Lord. This is how things are, though; everybody is a suspect.
When the next morning comes, Dr. Kreizler is kicking himself, believing that he’s “wrong about all of it” just because the killer didn’t strike or buy into their trap. The others keep trying, but the doc’s feeling like a failure. Ms. Howard suggests waiting for the next Christian holiday: “Pentecost,” which comes on the seventh Sunday following Easter. This will only be 9 more days. Yet Van Bergen is nearly on his way to Buenos Aires. Can they manage to solve things before then?
At an exhibit, Roosevelt gets talking to J.P. Morgan (Michael Ironside), who’s heard of the alienist investigating around the church and Bishop Potter (Sean McGinley). Seems the big money man believes in protecting his “own kind,” and he warns the Commissioner of the NYPD to remember his obligations; at least perceived obligations, anyway. You can bet Ted won’t take that shit. Nevertheless, he’s feeling the pressure. Historically, we know that Roosevelt and Morgan certainly weren’t buddies, so it’s compelling to watch this mix of history and fiction collide.
Later, Teddy visits Kreizler and lets him know that Willem Van Bergen is set to leave the country. Doesn’t matter. The alienist is beginning to believe he isn’t the killer they’re searching for, but that Pentecost will bring out the true murderer.
“Those who are seen dancing are thought insane by those who cannot hear the music” (a loosely translated Friedrich Nietzsche quote)
Sara’s been digging into the past of Dr. Kreizler, and she found something interesting: a newspaper clipping. She brings it to Moore and they look over the information, leading them to see there’s a lie in the doc’s past. He doesn’t have a “congenital defect” which left his arm in the horrible condition it is today, because years ago he was able to perform Mozart with two hands. Ah, the plot thickens. I wonder what dark secret rests in the Kreizler family history.
In the meantime, Pentecost celebrations have begun across the city, and the team are waiting out their killer’s hopeful appearance once more. Stevie’s back in his Stella getup, whereas the others each stake out their respective areas. And all the while Van Bergen’s slipped off somewhere aside from his transport to Buenos Aires.
Someone alerts former Cpt. Connor (David Wilmot) of Willem’s deviation from the plan, and this kicks off a chase. Connor and another man chase him up onto the docks, where it’s clear they’re not planning on sending him off to another country. “You‘ve no right to live among decent people,” Connor tells Willem. The serial killer tries using his status as “part of the four hundred” to save him. These two men are not going to be deterred, particularly with Connor having lost his job and almost everything in his life because of it. Then the old copper pulls the trigger, putting a bullet right between Willem’s eyes. Oh, wow.
Only question left is, are we sure Willem was the serial killer after all? Or, is some terror still lurking in the underworld of New York?
At The Slide, a man talks with Stevie, and the boy is obviously unnerved. The man talks to him quietly. From across the room Moore sees the look on Stevie’s face confirming: “It‘s him.” Marcus takes off after the man into the road, then follows him into another building. He’s knocked over, and he fires shots, but the mystery man gets away unscathed.
As it all goes down, Sara is confronting Laszlo about his lies, prompting the doctor to smack her face. YIKES. They’re interrupted when word breaks of the killer. Marcus doesn’t manage to find him. Afterwards, they discover Cyrus knocked unconscious on the roof. So, so close to finding out the killer’s true identity. And worse, there’s a new body mutilated, left to be found, sneaked out from right under their noses. Just where, exactly? At the foot of the Statue of Liberty herself. That’s a powerful, macabre image; using a quintessential image of America, with blood at her feet, there are all sorts of ideas conjured about what it is to live in America, and just how welcoming it is to those who seek refuge. If the NY coppers can’t protect some children, who else is left unprotected?
Man, The Alienist keeps surprising me. Not that the twists are totally fresh and original, but it’s incredible how the story unfolds. Add to that the atmosphere of a bleak and grim landscape in the last few years of 19th-century New York, as well as the intricate performances + relationships between the characters, and it can’t get any better! Dig this series. Too bad it’s only a limited one, I could watch these characters for a couple seasons.
“Many Sainted Men” is next. We’ve still got several episodes left, so much mystery and madness to unravel.