TNT's Alienist Swoops Us Into Gilded Age New York

A review of the first two episodes of The Alienist. Screener provided by Turner Broadcasting for review purposes.

The Alienist is TNT’s new alluring mystery set in gloomy 1896 New York. Though it’s interesting to piece the mystery together week by week, TNT’s historical drama, based on Caleb Carr’s novel, would be a future binge-watcher’s favorite. Alienist has lots of atmosphere, doesn’t spare us the cruelty of the Gilded Age, and has main characters who fill the needed personality trait checkboxes but may break out of being two-dimensional in later episodes.

Sometimes The Alienist gets bogged into familiar serial killer mystery stuff, but it’s a show I’ll find a way to watch to the end. I want to know how this version of New York City functions. I want to get to know the city’s inhabitants. How deep down the strange rabbit hole will our sleuths (played solidly by Daniel Brühl, Luke Evans, and Dakota Fanning) go? Where’s our memetic badass version of Teddy Roosevelt?

The three lead actors do fine, but I hope the interplay among them won’t become a sappy love triangle. After two episodes, they have a sensible respect for each other. Maybe there will be something romantic later, but please spare me the love triangle junk. Dakota Fanning is the only notable woman in the cast and she doesn’t waste her opportunity.

Fanning’s Sara Howard is a favorite for the screenwriters. Miss Howard, a progressive woman in a pre-suffrage time, gets snappy lines like a comeback versus a man peeing in his office and the phrase “easier to ask forgiveness than permission.” In my barebones research, that quote’s attributed to pioneering computer programmer Grace Hopper. That’s a fascination connection if the scriptwriters or Carr himself knew about that.

“The Boy on the Bridge” (premiere date: 22 January) sets up the scenario and presents the main characters. Lazlo Kreizler is a psychologist, er, alienist who treats mental illness in children. When a cross-dressing boy is mysteriously mutilated on a high bridge, illustrator Moore arrives at the crime scene to sketch the dead boy. Also at the scene is police commissioner Theodore Roosevelt. Kreizler later theorizes that the murderer may have killed another cross-dressing boy.

The first episode felt like a bit like a police procedural with some clue-gathering and suspect-questioning. There are the necessary establishing of characters: Kreizler is a quirky man of science, Moore is talented but lusty, Roosevelt is by-the-book. The most interesting character moment is at the end of the episode when Kreizler finds his true purpose in finding the killer. A moment which doesn’t immediately pay off.

The second episode (premiere date: 29 January), “A Fruitful Partnership,” presents the formation of the group who’ll investigate the murder and find the serial killer: Kreizler, Moore, Howard, and the Isaacson brothers, forensic detectives introduced in the “Bridge.” “Partnership” has another missing boy, the haves enjoying an opera while the have-nots are struggling in cramped homes, police corruption, and the potential to spot murder suspects. “Partnership” ends in a lengthy scene in a brothel full of young transvestite hookers and a protagonist who gets ensnared in their midst.

The Alienist could be a very fascinating series. Rating of “Boy on the Bridge” & “A Fruitful Partnership:” 3 out of 4.

Author: Clarence

Webmaster, editor, writer of Red-Headed Mule. RHM was founded in 2011. Currently is liking British TV better than U.S. TV, mayhaps.