TNT’s The Alienist
Episode 7: “Many Sainted Men”
Directed by Paco Cabezas
Written by John Sayles
* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “Ascension” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Psychopathia Sexualis” – click here
John Moore (Luke Evans) is trying to draw what young Stevie (Matt Lintz) saw when he encountered their serial killer. We see that Dr. Laszlo Kreizler (Daniel Brühl) and the artist are at each other’s throats, each worried that there’s only going to be more bodies soon enough.
Elsewhere, people are near rioting. An immigrant child was found dead at “the foot of Lady Liberty herself,” as we saw in the final moments of last episode. A shocking use of the quintessential American image. Now, Marcus (Douglas Smith) and Lucius (Matthew Shear) Isaacson are doing an autopsy, finding that the heart’s been taken, and some of the scalp was removed, too. Teddy Roosevelt (Brian Geraghty) mentions seeing such things “out West” when he witnessed white men killed by Native Americans (in reality, Ted had a horrible opinion of indigenous people). This particularly intrigues the doc. He wants to dig deeper into anyone with a connection the frontier, Indians, the railroad, and so on.
Then, alone in the morgue by himself, Kreizler sticks a scalpel into the body of the child. Afterwards he apologises. This is macabre, though symbolic of how psychologists – particularly those at the forefront of the field and today those who still continue trying to empathise with killers a la Will Graham – can often, if they’re not careful, go too far into the psychology of psychopaths (et cetera).
The streets are figuratively on fire. Everybody is gone mad, from the citizens and the immigrant community, to Thomas Byrnes (Ted Levine) and his concern for the nefarious activities he and former Cpt. Connor (David Wilmot) have been involved with for a long while. Worse for Byrnes is the fact Connor killed Willem Van Bergen, which puts them in a more than compromised position. Byrnes makes clear: “We serve the rich, and in return they raise us above the primordial filth. And God help us if we don‘t keep our end of the bargain.” The old Commissioner believes in the Old Way, in serving those with money because money is power, and that’s how it’s always been. Or else you end up dead.
Note: For information on the real Thomas F. Byrnes, start here.
Gangster Paul Kelly (Antonio Magro) has a quick talk with Dr. Kreizler and Moore about the brothels being shut down, hoping they’ll tell Roosevelt to clue things up. He warns them of “a monster” consisting of everything from the rich to the poor, in many ways; a connected stream of illegality that stretches up the corridors of power in New York. It’s almost like the serial killer is an amalgamation of all the perversions of New York: perversions of the law, of humanity, of sex, and of justice. This killer is symptomatic of the era’s horrors.
The team are digging into Native American mythology and practises. What they start finding out is that it’s a misunderstanding of culture to assume these mutilations done on the children would be in line with those practises, and so Kreizler wonders if perhaps their suspect would’ve seen such things as a child. Maybe that trauma carried into his psychopathy. There’s mention of “nagi” – if I’m correct, this is reference to the ‘spirit of death’ in the culture of the Dakota Peoples. This is not in the sense of an angel of death, but rather a literal translation, in that it is a spirit which lingers after death. There’s much more to it; you can read some here.
Kreizler isn’t as “progressive” as he believes, when confronted with the daughter of Cyrus, and that his supposed friendship with the man was merely another form of “shackles and a whip,” seeing as how it was always just a master-slave dynamic, for lack of a better term. And this is part of the doc’s whole problem, he sees himself as doing things correctly when in fact he’s blinded to much of his own behaviour despite being a psychologist. That’s because he let the crippling of his arm cripple him emotionally. What exactly is the real story about that? We still haven’t found out the truth. I suspect it’s dark.
While sitting for an egg cream, Moore’s taken by surprise and chloroformed. He wakes in a wagon next to Kreizler. They soon stop and Connor lets them out. The pair are taken up to see Byrnes, J.P. Morgan (Michael Ironside), and Bishop Potter (Sean McGinley), who want the investigation stopped. Naturally, the doc isn’t so easily won over by intimidation, neither is Moore. We get a bit of pontificating from the big banker, as Morgan goes on about the beauty of life; ah, yes, the beauty of privilege and old money! The banker’s also got thoughts about the 20th century, a “compliant workforce” entering into it, and he’s only concerned about these child murders because they’re causing “civil unrest,” which is, y’know, bad for business. All the same, Morgan’s basically going to let Kreizler continue on, despite the worries of Byrnes and Connor; the doc does refuse any financial help from J.P. so as not to taint the investigation ethically.
Ms. Sara Howard (Dakota Fanning) is doing some of the more taxing work. She’s in an asylum, where she has to endure the sight of so many helpless women, from young to old, all of whom are deemed crazy by society. We know, in hindsight, so many of them were not crazy, but rather only labelled as such by a patriarchal society and class hierarchy that was not yet prepared to understand social, economic, or mental issues of those called the ‘lower class.’ Sara does wind up finding some pertinent information about St. Elizabeth’s, involving soldiers from out West sent for psychiatric treatment.
Finally, Moore’s found out that Kreizler did something to Sara, he just doesn’t know what exactly. He relays information about the killer possibly being a soldier who served out West, so the doc wants to go to Washington and do more investigating. Simultaneously, Laszlo is playing a bit of a power game with the artist. He’s likewise, basically, tearing his life apart one piece at a time, rejecting those around him. Does he see himself as dangerous and wants to repel those who care about him? Or is he merely an asshole? Hard to tell.
Out for a drink, Moore makes the mistake of going after Connor, and he walks directly into a trap. The old captain plans on using the artist’s semi-secret reputation of frequenting brothels and other similar establishments to make things bad for him. If not a bit of force, too.
After being chastised for his liberal racism, Kreizler is trying, all around, to be better to those in his life who are under privileged and disenfranchised. Not just Cyrus and Stevie, but also Mary Palmer (Q’orianka Kilcher), with whom he shares more than a friendly bond. There’s something physical between them he denies because of his physical ailment. It could be that physical problem has made him into the cold man he seems to others; no excuse for that slap he gave Sara. Just goes to show even psychologists aren’t free from the grip of mental illness, either.
Good episode. Not particularly my favourite of the series. Although it’s still top notch! Can’t wait for more. “Psychopathia Sexualis” is next, and I’m looking forward to the developments of this episode to open up more possibilities – very compelling ones – in the last few episodes of this wonderful adaptation.