The Alienist Episode 1
I’ve been waiting eagerly (almost impatiently) for the premiere of The Alienist. I started watching the first episode with high expectations – Not only did it meet those expectations, but far exceeded them. This gritty psychological timepiece thriller is everything you could ask for in a show.
The series opens at night as a lone police officer walks down a snowy New York City street in 1896. We then see a small hand in the snow. At first I thought there was a child buried, but then I realized the hand was severed. As blood drops from above on the policeman’s face he runs to “sound the alarm.” In the days before modern communication we learn this was done by banging loudly on metal posts.
Dr. Laszlo Kreizler (Daniel Bruhl) is woken in the night. He comes down to find a traumatized young boy in his kitchen. When Kreizler asks him what he saw, he says “Why was he wearing a dress?”. We discover that a young boy, dressed like a girl, has been cut to pieces. Kreizler sends young Stevie Taggert (Matt Lintz) to fetch John Moore (Luke Evans) and bring him to the bridge with his drawing kit.
We find John Moore in the midst of a romantic encounter with a lovely young woman. I will confess the first thought that came to mind when I saw him was “Gaston!” but I soon forgot about his previous role in the movie Beauty and the Beast.The couple is interrupted as an older woman rushes into the room telling Moore a young lad needs to see him. As Moore pays the young woman, I realize this is a brothel.
Stevie takes Moore for a wild carriage ride through the streets of New York to the site where the boy’s body was found. It’s atop a bridge that is under construction. Moore, who is an illustrator for The New York Times, talks his way up to the body’s location. Police Commissioner Theodore Roosevelt (Brian Geraghty), yes THAT Teddy Roosevelt who eventually becomes our 26th President, reluctantly allows Moore to view the body.
As Captain Connor (David Wilmot) lifts the boy’s head we see that his eyes are missing. It is assumed by the men that birds got them, but I immediately wonder if the killer gouged them out. The Captain recognizes him as Giorgio Santorelli, a boy prostitute who works out of Paresis Hall. Roosevelt tells Connor to bring the proprietor and owner of the building to his office the next day.
Moore struggles to sketch what he sees, overcome by the vicious attack on the young boy. It’s refreshing to see Moore shook up by the site, makes it feel more real than if he had not been affected at all. It also shows us that his character is not use to dealing with the seedier side of life. As Moore sketches Giorgio’s remains the camera pans down on the poor mutilated boy. We zoom in on a gruesome close up of his face with it’s missing eyes. It’s a bit disturbing as we zoom all the way into his eye socket. We then see Kreizler looking at a picture of two young children labeled Benjamin and Sofia.
Moore brings his drawings of the dead child to Kreizler who examines them thoroughly. Moore describes the mutilated child to the Doctor. He tells him the boy looked as if an animal had torn him apart. The details of the boys wounds were extensive, including his kidney and lung left on the ground at his feet and his genitalia removed. My heart goes out to this poor little boy. Moore then lets Kreizler know a suspect has been arrested.
A Suspect Arrested
Kreizler and Moore arrive at Bellevue Hospital to see the suspect. Moore appears as shocked by the behaviors of the patients as I am. It saddens me to see how the mentally ill were treated during that time. Kreizler finds the suspect, Henry Wolff (Jack Kesy) repeatedly smashing his head against the concrete wall. I literally find myself cringing with every blow to his bloody head. After talking to the suspect Kreizler deduces that while Wolff did kill a man named Edwin, he did not kill the boy.
The two men show up at Police Headquarters, where you can tell by the way the Officers look at him, that Kreizler is not liked at all. With no back story up to this point I can only speculate on whether it’s the man or the profession that the Police despise. I suspect in Kreizler’s case it’s both.
They arrive at Commissioner Roosevelt’s office where we finally meet Sara Howard (Dakota Fanning), his secretary and the first woman to hold a position with the Police Department. We also learn that Howard and Moore’s families “go way back”. We finally get a taste of back story at this point. The three men, Kreizler, Moore and Roosevelt attended Harvard together. Or did they? Is this true backstory? Or just what they tell Howard in an attempt to see Roosevelt?
Roosevelt is not happy to see Kreizler when he and Moore barge into his office. He tells him that Wolff is innocent of murdering the boy. He explains the similarities with the unsolved murder three years previous of Benjamin and Sofia Zweig. That explains the picture Kreizler was holding earlier. Benjamin had been a patient of his who liked to dress like a girl. Their bodies had been found in a water tank. Benjamin’s body was mutilated in the same way that Giorgio’s was. Kreizler is convinced they were all killed by the same person. He wants access to the post mortem of the siblings, but Roosevelt denies his request.