In some ways, it’s appropriate to have a show like The Alienist airing in today’s climate to illustrate what was considered unacceptable then and how new changes have shown how far we as a society have progressed. In the opening of the second episode, “A Fruitful Partnership,” Lazlo is looking into a nearby morgue and questions on whether children are ever brought in. The mortician’s response is that they “only get the poor ones.” When Lazlo inquires about the Giorgio Santorelli, the boy found dead in the pilot episode, and asks if his business ever gets corpses that have the tongue removed, the mortician responds that the boy had it coming.
It’s apparent that, during this time, the transgender movement was in the very early stages, so much so that the term is never even mentioned during this episode, and probably won’t be mentioned during the entirety of the miniseries. The boy was dressed in female clothes and worked as a prostitute at a brothel. Sure, the notion is considered abhorrent by many today, but the level is nowhere near as high as it was during the time in which The Alienist is set.
As witnessed in the previous episode, sexism runs rampant throughout New York City as well. While Sara is the first woman to get a position as secretary with the New York Police Department, she still doesn’t receive proper treatment from her colleagues. Sergeant Doyle (Martin McCreadle) makes a comment to another colleague that having a woman present in the work place is “more pleasant on the eyes.” He also makes a creepy move by removing an eyelash from Sara’s face and asking her to blow it for good luck.
Not only is Doyle a creep, but he also has something that he is hiding. In the beginning, he and other members of the police department invade the Santorelli residence and beat up the father of the victim, telling him that the case is now in the hands of the police and he should stay out of it. McCreadle, who is still fairly new to the acting scene, is quite effective as the corrupt and creepy sergeant.
Sara catches wind of Doyle’s meeting with the Santorellis and informs John, telling him that she wants to get involved. Through John’s eyes, Sara is still an innocent little girl. He doesn’t see how she can be helpful with her being a secretary, or as he calls her, “a typewriter.” But as previously shown, Sara is tough and willing to stand up for herself. She doesn’t let the fact that she’s just a secretary get in her way of being able to look into a case herself.
As I mentioned in the review of the first episode, I love how each of the main characters are developed so far. Of the three, I would say Sara and Lazlo are the two most interesting, while John is entertaining to watch, partly due to Luke Evans’ performance, but also feels like his development is the lesser of the three. In “A Fruitful Partnership,” Sara asks John to accompany her to the Santorellis to look more into the case. John doesn’t see the point, and Sara asks if he’s afraid. He obliges, and the two set off.
Even with all of Sara’s determination and tough mentality, she still has the natural human characteristics when she witnesses something horrific. Once she and John arrive to the Santorellis, a baby is heard crying. John warns that it might be diseased, but she ignores his concern and picks it up for comfort. The two discover that several of the Santorellis have been struck with disease, and they confuse John for a doctor. When they say they’re looking into the case of Giorgio, the two figure out that there have been multiple instances of boy prostitutes being killed.
The two relay the information to Lazlo and also inform him of two other cases that Sara uncovered when searching through Captain Connors’ office. Later, at an opera, the three meet with the Issacson brothers to discuss “a fruitful partnership,” hence the title of the episode. It is here also that Lazlo runs into Commissioner Roosevelt, whom he accuses of covering up murders after Roosevelt refuses to discuss police business.
The Issacson brothers reveal to the three a new method of investigation in the form of fingerprinting. This method seems to be a much more effective method than the ones implemented now, and could help with the discovery of a pocket watch that has a bloody fingerprint. Here, the two also reveal that they believe the weapon of choice was a sharp dagger called the Arkansas toothpick.
As Lazlo, Daniel Brühl is still channeled into delivering his lines with sheer fire power, as he stands up for himself when a patient’s parents tries to insult him by speaking scripture, to which Lazlo responds with no hesitation. He has a monologue about the killer and his conscious that is engaging to watch, and really amps up the anticipation of the episode and the rest of the miniseries.
Both Brühl and Evans have great chemistry together, always getting into some kind of debate and Lazlo shows his intelligence over John each time. As John is consistently concerned about Sara’s well-being, Lazlo informs her that her gender does not mean she can’t take care of herself, and also suggests that John may have feelings for her beyond friendship. John is outraged, saying that he’s known her since she was a child, and that he would never think of such a thing.
I never read Caleb Carr’s book on which the miniseries is based, but the one route in which I don’t want The Alienist to take is to make a love story between John and Sara. It would diminish both of their characters. So far, it doesn’t seem to be building to that, but anything could change.
I’m still highly invested in The Alienist, and am still amazed at how TNT was able to pull off something that looks so gorgeous and is so well acted. The one character who has yet to do anything for me is Mary, played by Q'orianka Kilcher (The New World). Kilcher is a great actress, but as the maid, she just comes and goes. I feel there is something more to her character, but the series, so far, hasn’t done much to make me care for her.
Despite that one issue, I will still make an effort to catch the next episode. I think TNT has something special with this miniseries, and it looks like it will pave the way for whatever future programming they decide to create.