The Alienist Recap: A Night at the Opera

The Alienist

A Fruitful Partnership
Season 1 Episode 2
Editor’s Rating *****
Photo: Kata Vermes/Turner Entertainment Networks, Inc.

The second episode of The Alienist ups the soap-opera antics considerably as it showcases all of the gross things that can be done to human bodies, throws Moore into extreme peril, and also introduces two possible love triangles. This is great because I love love triangles, but slightly less great because one triangle seems to be pitting two women against each other in a way that feels petty, and because both triangles feature Dakota Fanning, who is grown, but still too young for me to feel totally comfortable imagining Howard with Kreizler or Moore.

There’s still some hope, though, in that the show doesn’t go so far as to try to make Connor sympathetic as he continues trying to put the moves on Howard (pour one out for David Wilmot, though, who seems to have been condemned to play weirdos in everything). On top of being a creep, he’s actively stalling the case, beating the dead boy’s father within an inch of his life to keep him from talking to anyone else, and hiding pertinent files in a locked drawer of his desk.

As it turns out, Giorgio and Benjamin aren’t the killer’s only victims, but just as the police are presently determined to bury Giorgio’s case (his brother tells Sara that the cops said Giorgio “died in sin”), the other deaths were also essentially ignored. There’s no chance of snooping for further clues either, as their bodies are gone. Instead, progress comes in the form of the Isaacsons, who have determined that the instrument used to commit the murders was a type of knife called an “Arkansas toothpick.” They’ve also begun studying an early method of fingerprinting, which might prove useful given the bloody fingerprint found on the pocket watch in Benjamin’s burial suit. Meanwhile, Marcus seems to be doing a little more thinking with his heart — generously speaking — than with his head, attending a United Labor Party meeting just to impress a girl, which I can’t help but think may throw a wrench into things further down the line.

For now, there’s enough trouble afoot as Kreizler, Moore, and Howard continue figuring out how to work as a team. This episode is impressive in how it manages to balance all three of them, as each gets a good chunk of development without being cut short or otherwise shunted to the side.

Of the three, Kreizler is the most certain in his own convictions: Near the top of the hour, he neatly shuts down a priest who came to his practice just to heckle him for telling parents that their daughters going through puberty is completely natural, and he spends the rest of the episode telling Moore and Howard their own thoughts. Or perhaps, more accurately, what he’d like their thoughts to be. For instance, he chides Moore for his interest in Howard, which Moore denies — and, in fairness, has not shown any real sign of — and then presses him about it when he protests.

This, of course, is part of one of the love triangles. Though Kreizler accuses Moore of having some inclination towards Howard, there’s some tension brewing between Howard and Kreizler as well. Mary picks up on it when Howard and Moore visit Kreizler’s house, dropping a cup when Kreizler asks Howard to join him and Moore for dinner that night, and staring pointedly when she helps picks up the pieces as if to size up her competition — which is love triangle number two. It’s even more obvious when Kreizler accompanies Howard home after dinner, as she seems pleased to finally be taken seriously, and he seems taken by how capable she is. He also compliments her dress, which she had initially objected to wearing on the grounds that it was too attention-grabbing for a dinner with colleagues.

To provide further context for her self-possessed behavior, it’s revealed that Howard had spent time in a sanitarium when she was younger, having lost her mother at a young age and then her father to what was called a hunting accident, but rumored to be suicide. She wears his signet ring in remembrance and, presumably, in another attempt to establish herself in a man’s world.

All that said, the episode belongs to Moore. Though it’s hard to imagine that a character like him — or maybe just any character played by Luke Evans — would be the comic relief, Moore is easily the lightest presence in the show. He has to deal with the vanity of the people commissioning him for society portraits, and he also has to deal with attending the opera alongside Kreizler. He falls asleep, which is a reaction that’s only rivaled by how thoroughly put out Teddy Roosevelt seems at having to sit through it all. (Somebody please screencap Brian Geraghty’s expression for me so I can use it as a blanket reaction shot.)

Funny though he may be, Moore is no less capable of pathos than his peers. It’s heartbreaking to watch the way his face falls when Kreizler not-so-subtly suggests that there might not be a place for him on the team, and even worse when he tries to play action hero in order to prove Kreizler wrong. There’s a blunt but still somehow touching reflection of this vulnerability when he tells Kreizler that Howard isn’t as strong as she’d like others to think, only for Howard to say the same thing about him when she’s left alone with Kreizler. The bottom line: Moore’s only human.

In his attempt to prove himself useful, he goes to the whorehouse where Giorgio used to work in order to interrogate the owners as well as the prostitutes. (It’s worth noting that the prostitutes all refer to themselves with female pronouns, which Moore respects.) Unfortunately for him, his drink is drugged, and though he manages to learn that Giorgio, who went by Gloria, was with a regular customer with a “silver smile” on the night she went missing — and we briefly see a newly abducted boy ask his unseen captor what’s wrong with his mouth — Moore ultimately passes out in the hands of the brothel owners. The last we see him, he’s being swarmed by the girls who work in the house. This isn’t Game of Thrones, so I don’t expect that he’ll be dead by the next episode, but whatever’s in store for him can’t be good.

The Alienist Recap: A Night at the Opera