TNT’s The Alienist
Angel of Darkness: “Ex Ore Infantium”
Directed by David Caffrey
Written by Stuart Carolan
* For recaps & reviews of Season 1, click here.
* For a recap & review of “Something Wicked,” click here.
A rainy night on the dark streets of late 19th-century New York City.
A new mother in her bed can’t find her baby. She gets up ad goes looking around for her child. She wakes others up, as well as alerts the nurses and Dr. Markoe (Michael McElhatton). The doctor looks busy at work doing surgery of some sort. They all quiet the woman down.
What’s really going on? Did they give her child away? Or, something worse?
Headlines in the New York Journal talk of a Monster Mother who supposedly killed her child. She’s being put to death by electric chair today— Monday, May 24th, 1897. We catch up with Sara Howard (Dakota Fanning), as she races through the city driving her own carriage. She has her own detective agency these days, where she and other women also fight for women’s suffrage. At Sing Sing, Dr. Laszlo Kreizler (Daniel Brühl) is bristling against the warden because he obviously doesn’t believe in capital punishment. He’s there to see the woman set to be executed, Martha Napp (Hebe Beardsall). He tells her she isn’t a monster: “It is the world that is monstrous.” And elsewhere, John Moore (Luke Evans) is on the telephone making calls in an attempt to use his bourgeois status to do something for the condemned woman, ducking out of a high class luncheon to head for the prison with Sara and the agency ladies.
At the prison, Thomas Byrnes (Ted Levine) and other supporters of the electric chair are happy to be there for an execution, revelling in the process. Elizabeth Cady Stanton (Alice Krige) is leading a protest calling out “justice for women” with all sorts of women surrounding her with banners and signs. Inside, Dr. Kreizler continues speaking with Martha, whose story remains she doesn’t know what happened to her child. She tasks the doctor with finding her girl when she’s gone. Outside, the police initiate violence against the protesting women, starting with a Black woman.
The execution begins. Martha’s strapped into the device, and Ms. Howard tells them to stop. She and Byrnes exchange words, but it’s futile. Even Dr. Kreizler believes they’ve lost this fight. Sara shames everybody for executing a woman, particularly one whose crime hasn’t been proven with evidence of a body. And so goes the execution with thousands of watts of voltage coursing through Martha’s body, frying her to death. A horrific sight for anyone to see.
In the aftermath, Dr. Kreizler feels guilty for not saving Martha. Moore plans to write about the injustice done against her so everyone will know. That’s not enough to keep the doctor from feeling that guilt. That evening, Sara sees someone sneaking around the office, so she takes her gun and goes for a look, finding Laszlo moping around in the shadows. The doc can still smell “burning flesh” long after the execution is done. They chat about all sorts of things, even Frankenstein— Dr. Kreizler relates Mary Shelley’s groundbreaking novel in reverse to what they saw at Sing Sing, the state not creating life now but using science to put an end to it instead. Both Sara and Laszlo care deeply about this issue. He, as usual, takes the burden all on his shoulders when Sara only wants to help him carry it.
Across the city, Byrnes goes to see another bourgeois pal from the upper crust, William Randolph Hearst (Matt Letscher). He’s brought “gruesome memorabilia” for Hearst, hoping he might use some of a so-called murderess’s hair clipped before the execution as sensationalist press. Hearst doesn’t want it. He has enough bad ideas to propagate bullshit about what the “common man” wants to see in the media, not, y’know, the truth or anything. In the park, a Spanish woman named Isabella Linares (Bruna Cusí) experiences a moment of nasty racism from a man asking for change while she sees Hearst’s latest column about Spanish spies in the NY Journal. The xenophobia all but chokes her so she leaves with her child. At home in the evening, she soaks in the bath, but starts to hear strange noises around the house. She goes to check on her child only to see the baby’s been replaced by a doll with black, scratched out eyes.
Sara gets a call and goes to meet with Isabella and Ms. Stanton. She promises to help look for the baby. Elizabeth inquires about getting the help of Dr. Kreizler. This doesn’t sit well with Sara, who’d rather do things herself than fall back on Kreizler, or any other man. She assures Isabella things will be fine because it takes a woman to understand what’s going on here, that it isn’t hysteria like men will say. This makes the terrified mother feel more at ease. So Sara begins having a look around, and Elizabeth shows her the eerie doll. Soon she also discovers how easy it’d be for someone to sneak off ANYWHERE into the tangle of the city right from the backyard.
Dr. Kreizler can’t stop beating himself up over Martha’s death. He runs into Moore at dinner and gets introduced to John’s fiancee, Violet Hayward (Emily Barber). His talk of “shimmering shadows” turns the conversation a bit awkward. For a man who works with the mind his social skills aren’t what you’d call A+. Nevertheless, he’s a smart cookie. The next day he’s off to see Dr. Markoe, whose theories about Martha he considers foolish. But the doc basically says fuck off. Yikes!
While Sara’s inspecting the weird doll left behind in the crib, a little girl in a shop wanders off from her mother into a section full of dolls. She picks one up and blood pours out of the doll’s mouth. It’s a dead child with eyes painted over its eyelids. The little girl drops it immediately, screaming. The news makes it to the newspapers fast, reaching Moore and his boss while John’s already fighting to print the truth about Martha. This just adds more fuel to the fire.
At the scene, Marcus (Douglas Smith) and Lucius (Matthew Shear) Isaacson are putting the NYPD to shame, examining the child’s corpse. Sara meets with John outside, telling him about the Siegel-Cooper doll found in the crib, meaning this dead child could very well be Isabella’s girl. She gets a look at the body and they discuss the Isaacson’s findings. She thinks it’s best to get Laszlo to take a look, too. That night, Laszlo goes to see the brothers and helps determine it is, indeed, Martha’s child. The doll is reminiscent of memento mori photographs. Who could be the culprit? And why are they killing?
An intense opener for Season 2. Very intrigued to see where this goes.
There’s some great change in the characters, too. It’ll be good to see that explored, as Dr. Kreizler continues to grapple with all kinds of issues, and Sara attempts to push forward int the world for herself and for all women.