The Alienist opens when a series of haunting murders of boy prostitutes grips New York City. Newly appointed police commissioner Theodore Roosevelt (Brian Geraghty) calls upon criminal psychologist Dr. Laszlo Kreizler (Daniel Brühl) and newspaper illustrator John Moore (LukeEvans) to conduct the investigation in secret. They are joined by Sara Howard (Dakota Fanning), a headstrong secretary determined to become the city’s first female police detective. Using theemerging disciplines of psychology and forensics, this band of social outsiders set out to apprehend one of New York City’s first serial killers. The limited series also stars Douglas Smith, Matthew Shear, Matt Lintz, Robert Ray Wisdom and Q’orianka Kilcher.
Alienists: those who study mental illness or rather a person’s alienation from their human nature. Personally, I never knew this is what they called 19th century physicians that studied mental health. All I knew is that back in the day, mental illness was treated like demonic possession. Now, it can be non-existent in our national discussion, but very prevalent in our national tragedies. TNT’s The Alienist follows as he tries to figure out why some humans are so inhumane.
The Alienist is a super creepy show. You do not start off a program with the brutal murder of a trans-girl without setting up that you are willing to “go there”. Violence, social politics, and the bridges they cross to get to each other fall center in this show that may be based in the 1800’s, but show certain approaches to certain people never change. Unfortunately, as can be in modern day, back in these times being different was the equivalent of being violent and ill, but when an actual murderer is on the loose killing those that are simply “strange” compared to the norm, questions arise as to whether lumping everyone in one box is beneficial to society’s literal safety.
Sometimes, it takes a physical threat to analyze a moral one. Luke Evans as reporter John Moore and Daniel Brühl as psychologist Dr. Laszlo Kreizler are “kind of” our moral captains with their own bag of sins. Yet, their genuine outrage at the murder and treatment of the poor, especially children makes you see that having sins does not make Satan. Evans and Brühl transform Moore and Kreizler into a more modern, grimed, and slightly embittered version of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. Both draw you into their serious, sullen performances that are naturally quiet in their composure. The show brilliantly plays with the smokiness of sound to amp the gravity of this situation. Moore and Kreizler are rightfully petrified by these homicides, and use their intelligence to uncover the disgusting viciousness of the killer.
Moore and Kreizler’s rightful shock makes you invest even more in their partnership and investigation, while drawing you into a show that is squirming in discomfort, brooding, and unbelievably fascinating. Cinematographically, The Alienist might as well live in the underworld, of which its plot, technically, does. There is nothing sunny about this show that uses dark green, grey, and black hues to symbolize the murkiness of virtue in this era. Yet, again, I cannot say with ease that some of the thoughts and cruel actions made back then, towards the victims and their communities, would be unheard of today. Yet, there are characters like, Dakota Fanning’s Sara Howard whom counter social norms/ expectations of their own community, women, with just the presence of their inner strength and wit.
Overall, The Alienist is riveting, but, be warned, it is dark. It is one of the few thrillers on television that spooks the audience with inhumanity rather than using the supernatural or dulling the inhumane to not gross an audience out. This show can be visceral in its portrayal of humanity’s animal behaviors. Yet, its smart writing and loyalty to the original, excellent book by Caleb Carr makes it a worthy view. The Alienist premieres on January 22 on TNT. Mondays at 9. Click Here For More Information.