This episode has everything: More sexual tension than all three Fifty Shades movies, moving pictures, cannibalism, and a big reveal. As we reach the halfway point of the season, every part of The Alienist that’s been reminiscent of other crime series has coalesced into something unique, and building into a truly terrifying final scene.
Trouble comes to Moore and Howard, but with Kreizler, it’s the other way around. He keeps himself busy, with each and every step of progress revealing something a little more troubling about Kreizler himself. For instance, his way of comforting a boy at his institute after his parents fail to come visit is to suggest that they kick around a ball and pretend that it’s the boy’s mother. When the boy goes back inside, the doctor gives the ball a final whack, himself. Still, he makes some further progress into gleaning what the killer’s thinking. Another boy protests his culpability in having killed his neighbors’ dogs, screaming that they’re easily replaceable. This is Kreizler’s lightbulb moment: The murderer likely thinks the same thing about the boys.
For further psychological insights, he goes to one of his former patients. The woman, who has become something of a dominatrix, tells him that the killer is inflicting wounds because he has wounds of his own, but not before giving Kreizler a taste of his own medicine. According to her, given how highly he prizes his intellect, he’s most likely to be aroused by someone to whom his intelligence means nothing.
Though Howard doesn’t quite fit that bill, there’s still some tension between them. She comes to visit Kreizler in the park to drop off Moore’s drawing kit, which he lost at the last crime scene. Given how their last conversation went, she almost leaves straight away, but he’s able to coax her into staying. This date doesn’t really go any better, as Kreizler is determined to convince Howard that she’d commit a murder if pushed far enough. It’s a thin argument on paper, but it makes more sense when he notes that society is basically a pressure cooker: For instance, women are constantly demanded to smile, despite how little they might wish to or be able to. It becomes a trial to get through every single day.
Love is a trial, too — the two love triangles have turned into something of a love rhombus. When Moore comes to see Kreizler and is told he’s out with Sara, he decides to take Mary out on a date. They go to see a movie projected by Edison’s Vitascope, and it’s novel enough that Mary grabs Moore’s arm as the film plays. Maybe I’m a sucker, but even though Moore’s initial motivation for taking Mary out is a little petty, they make a cute couple.
Kreizler is visibly peeved when they come back—especially after having snooped around Mary’s room in her absence, even smelling her slip (blechhh)—and immediately digs into Moore, asking if he seeks out some sense of shame from the prostitutes he’s with. As we saw in the pilot, Kreizler’s not far off the mark, and Moore’s quick enough to cop to it. As it turns out, the reason his engagement didn’t work out doesn’t have to do with an inability to commit on Moore’s part. Rather, his fiancée left him for another man. Kreizler tries to prod further, telling Moore that pain and pleasure can sometimes be inextricable, but as before, Moore takes his leave, because nobody needs that kind of stress.
Unfortunately, in addition to their personalities, their how/why methods are still butting against each other. That said, they’re still managing to make some progress. On the “how” front, Moore discovers that the “silver smile” that the boys have been mentioning is due to syphilis, which would have been treated with mercury salts. The Isaacsons have also discovered that the killer has been making his spectre-like escapes by climbing up and down using ropes and pitons. The most recent crime scene and the brothel both bear indicative markings that are obvious now that the team knows what to look for. Moore makes a contact in the meantime, telling one of the boys now squatting at the brothel to contact him if anyone matching the killer’s description turns up.
This might be harder than anticipated given increasing interference from Connor and Byrnes. Connor makes it clear that he knows Roosevelt is aiding Kreizler, along with Moore, Howard, and the Isaacsons. And Byrnes, for his part, has advised the killer’s high-society parents to take him out of town. The killer, however, has other ideas. He sends Giorgio’s mother a letter crowing over having murdered the boy, telling her that he ate parts of him, and saying that such cannibalism is common practice for immigrants like them. (In combination with Kreizler’s comments to Howard about the strictures placed on women, it comes off as a depressingly timely narrative despite the show’s era.)
The episode ends with one of the show’s tensest sequences yet. Each of the characters gets a summons to a supper club from one of the other members, but when they’re all assembled, they discover that it’s the killer who’s called them all together. The murderer’s got their number, and he’s about to strike again. As the team reads over the Santorelli letter, we see a man approach a group of children sitting at a service counter. For the first time, we get a clear look at his face (that’s Josef Altin, the second Game of Thrones alum on the show after Kate Dickie as the woman looking after the closed brothel) — and at his teeth, which are colored silver.
It’s the biggest break thus far, and feels more than a little like the last (relative) calm before the storm before The Alienist goes full tilt into capital-D Dark territory. Kreizler is slipping quickly into murky waters, and his insistence upon pushing Moore and Howard away is only making matters worse. The murderer is also closing in on the would-be detectives, and killing more often and more brazenly. For those of us who are squeamish, 1) what are you doing watching this show, but 2) the love rhombus appears to be heating up. So say a prayer for the gang, because it’s full speed ahead.