The Alienist Recap: Making a Murderer

The Alienist

Silver Smile
Season 1 Episode 3
Editor’s Rating *****
Photo: Kata Vermes/Turner Entertainment Networks, Inc.

One of the most impressive things about The Alienist is its density. Maybe that’s to be expected of a show that’s been adapted from a book, but it’s the rare translation doesn’t slog through exposition or, conversely, shed so much material that it becomes an entirely different entity. Which is to say: “Silver Smile” moves fast and packs a lot into each minute. It also blesses us with a brand-new credits sequence that ends with the Statue of Liberty’s construction shown in reverse, as if to make a point about the social mores of the era.

It’s also fitting for this episode, since most of the police force, namely Connor and the retired chief Tom Byrnes (Ted Levine), are stuck in the past. They’re pretty transparent in this respect, as Connor openly counts his bribes like Scrooge McDuck and Tom grandstands to anyone who’ll listen. Their attempts at keeping the serial killings out of the public eye are also getting more and more obstructive, including spiriting away Giorgio’s body before Kreizler and the rest of the team can perform a further examination, and, as we saw last week, taking more drastic measures to dissuade any further investigation.

Said measures are kept offscreen, but Connor’s remarks to Byrnes paint enough of a picture of what happened to Moore. It’s implied that he was sexually assaulted after being drugged, and eventually found wandering the streets. Unsurprisingly, he keeps the details of what happened to him from Howard and Kreizler, only revealing that he’d spoken to one of Giorgio’s friends and leaving them to surmise that Giorgio’s popularity among richer clients is why the police are so keen on keeping things on the down-low. But even given his reticence, the show quickly moves past Moore’s assault, just as it hasn’t yet directly addressed the fact that the central crimes are born out of a system abetting abuse of underage children.

Hopefully there’s enough space in the season to solve a murder as well as make more of these people than set dressing. All credit for keeping things from seeming exploitative (for now) goes to the younger actors, particularly Jamie Kaye as Sally. Kreizler and Moore track Sally down once again (with Moore tellingly reverting to using male pronouns), earning a reiteration of the story that Giorgio had simply disappeared from his room on the night he had died, after going off with the man with a “silver smile.”

Unfortunately, it’s not enough to find the killer before another murder occurs. This time, the body is found on a roof in Battery Park. Howard, in a move that clearly marks her as Kreizler’s protégé, deduces that the killer is attracted to heights and to water, and that the killer is now openly taunting them by leaving the bodies out in the open. To make matters worse, the killer is still on the scene when they come to investigate, though he gets away undetected with John’s illustration of Giorgio’s body. The wonder team, meanwhile, manages to snap a few pictures of a bloody fingerprint on the boy’s forehead before having to leave. One key detail makes itself clear in the process: Moore is concerned with the “how,” while Kreizler is concerned with the “why.”

Though that may not seem like much by way of progress, there’s still more than enough drama to go around. The love triangles set up last week are quickly solidified … and then immediately thrown into chaos. Sara manages to soldier through everyone’s worst nightmare, i.e. a college reunion (she attended Vassar, Seven Sisters represent), with impressive grace despite being the only unmarried person there. When prompted, she says she’s in the first stages of a new relationship, and makes it clear that she means Kreizler when she drops the detail that the mystery man is a doctor.

Kreizler, for his part, still seems fond of her, but as with all great minds obsessed with murder (at least on TV), his frustrations about the case supersede the emotional connections he’s been building. He alienates Cyrus by forcing him to recount the murder he committed in an attempt to understand what it feels like to kill someone. He alienates Mary by shouting at her for preparing breakfast for him in an attempt to cover up his embarrassment at being concerned for her (and after it’s revealed that one of his arms is disfigured, no less). He alienates Moore by needling him about his perceived failures and his inability to form meaningful connections. And he alienates Sara by pressing her as to how she coped with her father’s suicide, telling her that if she wants to help him, she must be able to confront her own feelings.

Despite being so dressed down (or maybe because of, in some sort of proto-negging), Sara still maintains her composure. To wit, after taking her leave with Moore, she asks him about Mary instead of complaining about what just transpired. John tells her that Moore took Mary in after she burned her father to death. He kisses her on the cheek, too, which Sara only responds to by looking slightly disappointed and spending the rest of the carriage ride in an awkward silence.

Poor Moore. His life seems to be falling apart at the seams on all fronts, not least at home. He lives with his grandmother (Grace Zabriskie, a.k.a. Sarah Palmer), whose fondest wish seems to be for her grandson to find a nice girl and settle down. She even arranges a date, though Moore can’t keep the woman’s name in his head and clams up when discussion turns to his family. Kreizler hit the nail on the head when he accuses Moore of being unable to cope with his personal failures. Moore had broken off an engagement to be married some time ago, his brother drowned, and he’s no longer on speaking terms with his father.

Roosevelt, by contrast, doesn’t seem to be on speaking terms with anybody. He’s become even less popular with the men he oversees as he’s begun trying to reform the department, and he’s been helping Kreizler as much as he can without giving Connor or Byrnes anything solid to hold against him. Given that last point, it’ll be interesting to see how he ultimately slots in with the rest of our heroes. Hopefully he’ll have more of a role, as Brian Geraghty (who looks more and more like the real Roosevelt each week) has been doing some of the most solid work thus far.

The Alienist Recap: Making a Murderer