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‘The Alienist’ Team Got Blindsided but Their Issues Investigating Go Far Deeper

TNT’s problematic adaptation of Caleb Carr’s novel makes it difficult to root for the good guys when they can’t help themselves.

Dakota Fanning, "The Alienist"

“The Alienist”

Kata Vermes

[Editor’s Note: The following contains spoilers from “The Alienist” episode “Ascension.”]

The killer of young boys on “The Alienist” is still at large because it turns out that even the police were wrong about his identity. It seemed that privileged pedophile Willem Van Bergen (Josef Altin) was to blame for the mutilation deaths of multiple boy prostitutes — and even IndieWire applauded the move to reveal his identity so early on — but that ended up being a false, albeit intriguing, lead.

On Monday’s episode, titled “Ascension,” the former Captain Connor (David Wilmot) was still stung after being dismissed from his post by Theodore Roosevelt (Brian Gehraghty) for hoodwinking the commissioner as to Van Bergen’s whereabouts. Connor then took it upon himself to track down the miscreant, shot him dead, and then sloppily disposed of the body. But while this act may have rid New York of one child predator, it did not eliminate the actual serial killer that Laszlo Kreizler (Daniel Bruhl) and his team had been tracking.

We know this because the real killer actually hit on Stevie (Matt Lintz) who had dressed in drag as bait, but the good guys’ trap was so clumsily sprung that the killer not only got away, but he also took another boy as a victim to mock their feeble efforts. While we don’t blame the team for actually being blindsided — after all, only Kreizler suspected they were after the wrong man — it’s difficult to not be frustrated by a such a group of unfocused and bumbling investigators. They were always going to miss the killer, but the question was just how badly they’d mess up.

When the series first premiered, IndieWire’s review of the show was less than glowing. The narrative and characters were deemed undeveloped and scattershot, with none of the care taken to actually nurture and earn the weight of the heavy events that were presented. It was all sizzle and no bacon. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem that the show has significantly improved, especially where its characters are concerned.

While it’s commendable that each of the members of Kreizler’s team, including the alienist himself, have foibles to humanize them, these traits far overpower their virtues. This doesn’t have to be an all or nothing proposition, but judging by the events in “Ascension,” we would not want this ad hoc team to be on our side.

Kreizler himself has proven to be biased to the point of ignoring insight proposed by his team. On Monday’s episode, he also appears to be distracted by flirting with his housemaid. As for Sara Howard (Dakota Fanning), she’s become so obsessed with pushing Kreizler about his past, trying to catch him in a gotcha moment (by unsubtly dropping sheet music in the carriage), that the two of them are all but useless when their help is needed the most. John Moore (Luke Evans) practically has to break up their little tiff in order to remind them that hey, they’re here to catch a predator.

"The Alienist"

Moore doesn’t get off that easily either. Although thankfully his sexual predilections don’t seem to be affecting the case at all, both he and Lucius Isaacson (Matthew Shear) are distracted by talking to boys at The Slide brothel, just as the killer propositions Stevie. They’ve been monitoring him the whole night, but are suddenly inattentive at the crucial moment when he warns them with the agreed-upon signal: using his foot to scratch the back of his other leg. It’s not until the killer walks away that Moore notices something’s amiss, and at that point, it’s too late. Although we don’t wish ill on anyone, it would have served them right if Stevie had taken as a victim given how little protection they gave him.

At this point, it only seems as if Stevie and Cyrus (Robert Wisdom) are worth anything to the investigation, which is probably why the show had to put him out of commission temporarily. While Kreizler’s methods and the Isaacsons’ forensic talents have yielded some results, it feels that the team more often than not stumble into clues that they don’t know exactly how to utilize. And when they’re not actually botching the investigation, they lose sight of the fact that lives are at stake and are distracted by their own pursuits. Frankly, it’s getting hard to root for the good guys when they can’t seem to help themselves.

With only four episodes to go after this, Kreizler’s team needs to pull up their big-boy knickers and get their act together. Given the way the season is going, however, we don’t have much faith in how much they’ll actually outsmart the killer as much as they’ll probably just blunder upon the solution.

”The Alienist” airs Mondays at 9 p.m. ET on TNT.


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