The Alienist Recap: The Watched Kettle

Photo: Kata Vermes/Turner Entertainment Networks, Inc.
The Alienist

The Alienist

Many Sainted Men Season 1 Episode 7
Editor's Rating 3 stars

Was anyone surprised when Kreizler decided he wanted to see what it felt like to stab someone? I mean, it’s a little overdue given his “I must think like the killer in order to catch the killer” ethos, but it’s definitely not good news. On the (relatively) bright side, he’s still sane enough to feel bad about it, and stabs the corpse that the killer left behind rather than anyone still living.

Pre-stabbing, though, the Isaacsons determine that the killer is leaving some new marks: The boy’s heart has been removed, as has part of his scalp, which prompts a queasy Roosevelt to note that he’d seen similar patterns of mutilation out West. It’s a light-bulb moment for the rest of the team. Howard is tasked with looking back over their records to find any connection to the American West, while Moore and Kreizler go to gain a little more insight into what the markings might mean.

According to a curator at the Museum of Natural History, some Native Americans would mutilate the bodies of the people they’d killed out of a belief that the departing spirit would suffer the same injuries. (For instance, plucking someone’s eyes out would render the spirit blind, making it impossible for them to find their way to the afterlife and thereby condemn them to wander the Earth forever.) The mutilation of a child, however, would be unthinkable; beyond being cruel, it would signal that the killer felt that the child was a threat. In other words, the murderer is committing a sort of appropriation, copying the practices of another culture without understanding their meaning.

There’s a quasi mirroring of that in Kreizler’s behavior, though he’s more receptive to it being pointed out than I imagine the killer would be. When he goes to visit Cyrus, who’s in recovery after being attacked during the failed sting operation, he’s confronted by Cyrus’s niece. She tells him that he could have released Cyrus from his service a long time ago, and rebuffs Kreizler’s argument that the two of them are friends. She’s right, of course: Kreizler and Cyrus are on inherently uneven ground, and kindness and perceived charity don’t mean that he isn’t still exploiting the system. Feeling guilty, he tries to make amends by suggesting to Mary that she strike out on her own. Sweet on him as she is, it reads more like deliberate ignorance of her affection, and it’s not a suggestion that she takes well.

As if that personal turmoil weren’t enough, Moore and Kreizler are sidetracked yet again when they’re basically kidnapped by J. P. Morgan. After being satisfied that Willem Van Bergen is no longer a suspect, he basically tells them to get moving on wrapping up the case so he can return his full attention to making money. He also sends Byrnes to tell the Van Bergens that their son is no longer under suspicion, though this is, as we know, a moot point. Made uneasy by knowing that Willem wasn’t the killer, Connor as good as confesses to having killed him to Byrnes, who, in a monologue so darkly delivered that I almost began to think that he might be the murderer, tells him that he’d best hope that nobody else ever finds out, reiterating that the city is run on money and class division rather than any sense of justice.

So, as usual, it’s up to Howard to make some real progress in the case. After going through the old files as well as doing a little in-person digging at Blackwell’s Island, she gets both a name and a damning detail. The name is Rudolph Bunzl, and the break in the case is that the government-run hospital to which he was sent, St. Elizabeth’s, is meant to house soldiers who’d served out West and then been deemed unfit for service due to mental problems.

She relays this information to Moore, as well as her intention to visit the hospital herself, as the institution won’t give her any further details over the phone. When Moore says that they can tell Kreizler together, she refuses, reciting one of Kreizler’s lines as her reason: “Given certain circumstances, we’re all capable of violence.” Moore may be the least book-smart of the three, but even he’s bright enough to piece together what she means. He asks if Kreizler hurt her, to which Howard responds simply by hugging him.

Naturally, Moore tears off to confront Kreizler about what he’s done, but again, Kreizler runs circles around him, turning the conversation around by telling Moore that Howard will never reciprocate his interest, and that she’s too nice to say so. It’s enough of a blow to knock Moore off of the wagon. After telling Kreizler that he’ll end up alone if he’s not careful, Moore heads to a gambling den and promptly starts drinking again. When he spies Connor across the way, he follows him into a back alley, where, following a brief scuffle, Connor knocks him out cold. Once again, despite his size (to quote another Luke Evans role, “As a specimen, yes, he’s intimidating”), Moore is the most easily dispatched of our three main heroes.

Before we go any further, here’s a confession: I go absolutely wild whenever opera is introduced as a not-so-subtle way of reflecting what’s happening in the plot. The opera that’s casually dropped into this week’s episode is Verdi’s Aida, which tells the story of the captured princess Aida and the military commander Radamès, and ends — spoiler alert for a 146-year-old opera — with both of them giving up their respective chances of escape and being buried alive together for the sake of love. Needless to say, it doesn’t scan beat-for-beat with The Alienist, but it’s all about mistaken identities, revenge, unrequited affection, and doom, so it’s not too far off the mark.

Aida plays over the dinner that Kreizler and Mary share, as Kreizler’s crisis of conscience continues. Taking Moore’s words to heart — and still presumably mulling over what Cyrus’s niece had said — he asks her to have dinner with him. To put it as delicately as possible, they never get to the food.

The Alienist Recap: The Watched Kettle