There are ups and downs in any relationship, and it’s to The Alienist’s credit that even the rough patches have been pretty good. This week’s installment is half a coda to last week’s episode, and half a prelude to what’s about to come next. It’s accordingly uneven, but it’s still got something for everyone: Romance! Terror! Teddy Roosevelt!
That said, the saving grace is the focus on the young boys that have, thus far, mostly just been accessories and devices to move the plot along. The young actors that the show has assembled are terrific, and lend the proceedings a weight beyond the intellectual need to figure out the killer. They really are young, instead of the “youthful 20- and 30-year olds playing teens” gimmick usually seen on shows featuring younger characters, to the point that it’s more unsettling to watch them than it is watching the adults twist themselves into knots.
With the next religious holiday coming up fast, the team has recruited Stevie (Matt Lintz), one of Kreizler’s wards, to pose as one of the working boys to try to lure the killer out of hiding. As they plan the stakeout, it becomes apparent that two of them are going to be left out of the action: Howard, because she’s a woman, and Kreizler, because he’s a cripple. So it’s the Isaacsons, Moore, and Cyrus who hit the streets.
As has been made clear by now, Moore is a big old softie, so when he sees Joseph (Jackson Gann), the boy he’d warned earlier about watching out for a silver smile, sitting at the soda shop counter with an egg cream, he stops in to say hello. Their conversation is brief, but affecting: When Moore asks Joseph if he’s ever considered doing anything else, it’s clear that the boy hasn’t ever seen any other way of getting by. He laughs when Moore explains what an illustrator does, saying that it’s stupid that he gets paid for drawing pictures, but agrees to be careful in the coming days as the investigation escalates.
Unfortunately, the operation is a bust. Stevie stands on the street corner all night, but no man with a silver smile ever appears. Worse still, unbeknownst to the would-be detectives, the operation has been compromised. One of Stevie’s acquaintances sees him and asks what he’s doing all dressed up, to which Stevie retorts that he’s working for the police. The killer overhears, discovering both what the police plant looks like and what the police are up to in one fell swoop.
As is probably unsurprising, Kreizler is a sore loser, a trait that’s compounded by how much stress the case has been putting on him. As soon as it becomes evident that they won’t catch the killer that night, he starts unraveling his own theories, saying that he must have been wrong about the religious holidays and their significance. It’s Howard who then takes up the reins, noting that the next religious holiday is in just nine days. She sets up another sting operation, this time installing Stevie inside one of the brothels instead of out on the street.
In those nine days, though, there’s plenty still afoot. Kreizler and Howard, for instance, are still dancing the line between will they and won’t they. After he tells her that the state of his arm is the result of a congenital disease, she does a little digging and discovers that he’s been lying to them all. He had full use of both arms once, as evidenced by an old society piece that reports that he’d performed a piano concerto that wouldn’t be possible with just one arm.
She shares the discovery with Moore, who (naturally) makes a jab at her having gone looking in the first place, suggesting that she must be in love. She answers that she might be. Of course, she’s got competition in Mary, who shares a moment with Kreizler after accidentally cutting her finger while preparing his food. He tenderly inspects the wound, even going so far as to lick his own finger and then touch the cut, saying that saliva is a natural coagulant. I can’t say I find that a good, non-creepy flirt, but, hey, whatever lights your fire.
Roosevelt, meanwhile, is having his feet held over the coals as even J.P. Morgan goes out of his way to tell him to keep his nose out of high-society business, even if it is costing children their lives. Willem’s being sent out of the country to Buenos Aires, anyway, so best to leave it alone — because if he doesn’t, Roosevelt will have “no job, no friends, and no goddamn future.” With the gift of foresight (or I guess hindsight) in our favor, we know that this isn’t what fate has in store for Roosevelt, and Roosevelt seems to know, too, as it’s only the fact that he can’t make a scene at a society function that keeps him from hulking out right then and there.
Unfortunately, Connor doesn’t have the same kind of restraint. After being dismissed from the force, he’s become something of a social pariah, and it’s only making him more volatile. As the next operation kicks off, he goes off on an operation of his own. When Willem flees his mother, determined not to leave New York, it’s Connor who’s on his tail. He chases Willem up to the top of an unfinished bridge and, when he’s finally cornered, shoots him in the head and dumps his body in the river below. He’s become something of a nega-Kreizler: He has absolutely no interest in understanding what’s going on around him, and he’s become a killer himself as he spirals out in the wake of his firing. “You’re a filthy, murdering pederast,” he tells Willem before killing him. “You’ve no right to live among decent people.”
Despite everything, it’s an obvious failure in the carriage of justice, as is the crumbling of the latest sting operation. The killer once again evades the grasp of the police, after distractions render them all a little too slow on the uptake. Moore and Marcus are too busy talking to the boys in the brothel (out of concern, not untoward intentions) to notice that Stevie’s been engaged, and Kreizler and Howard get into a fight after Howard accuses him of hypocrisy. She tells him that he lacks the courage to face the truth despite demanding it from others, which infuriates him so much that he slaps her. By the time they get to chasing the killer, it’s already too late: He’s gotten away, and killed another boy in the process, this time leaving the body at the foot of the Statue of Liberty.