TV Review: The Alienist: “Ascension”

The sixth episode of The Alienist, “Ascension,” begins with a rather long glimpse at a dead horse lying in the streets of New York. It also ends with a death, but this time, it is that of another boy prostitute near the Statue of Liberty. The first death shown has no ties to the story of The Alienist, other than it maybe serves more as a symbol that the genre with which the miniseries is affiliated may in fact be that of a dead horse, but the writers keep finding ways to get around it rather than continuously beat it. That is true, for the most part, and a clever jab at whatever negative criticisms it has received thus far. To be fair, the show has stumbled into some familiar territory from time to time, but not so much to where it feels like the same old procedure drama.

The other death, shown right before the closing credits appear, is the result of a botched operation set up by Lazlo and the crew. A young boy named Stevie is dressed in drag, and the plan is to capture the killer by using him as bait. All the brothels, with the exception of one, are forced to close as a way to lure the killer in. This plan was conceived by the Isaacson brothers, and they inform Roosevelt that the police are to stay out of it. Lazlo also tells Roosevelt that the killer has so far killed on holy days, and Ascension is just around the corner – meaning that it’s likely the person will strike again. Unfortunately, it doesn’t go as planned, and the crew is forced to come up with another method.

This leads Lazlo to question whether the killer is specifically aiming for the holy days to be when he strikes again, or if the holy days were just mere coincidences. The only way to find out is to come up with another plan for the next holy day, Pentecost, which is a little more than a week away.

But there may be an issue when J.P. Morgan (Michael Ironside) informs Roosevelt that Bishop Potter was not too pleased with Lazlo’s inquiry about the crime, and that the investigation into the murders might need to take a separate route if Roosevelt wants the NYPD to have a good reputation. With Pentecost being so close, Lazlo assures Roosevelt that they have another plan that may bring them closer to the killer.

There is still some belief that Willem Van Bergen, the spoiled kid with the silver smile, is the one responsible for the killings, but that appears to not be true. Even Lazlo doubts it, while others think the evidence presented thus far says otherwise. Willem is told by his mother that he is being sent to Buenos Aries because of the ongoing investigation. He throws a tantrum, but that doesn’t change his parents’ opinions.

This could be where the dead horse image comes into play. Whereas we thought we knew who the killer was and were seeing his story fleshed out, like how we might in other murder mysteries, that is not the case here. It’s another clever twist within The Alienist, showing that we shouldn’t fall for the easily expected clues presented to us. Admittedly, I had.

Captain Connor, as we saw in the previous episode, is relieved of his duties and living his life as an unemployed citizen. It’s a shock to him when he has to pay for his beer, which was never the case prior. But despite no longer being employed by the New York Police Department, he is still put in charge of keeping an eye on the Van Bergen boy. With his anger already through the roof over being jobless, and the boy still believed to be the killer, he follows him and eventually kills him. It’s the episode’s most shocking moment, and is so expertly crafted with tension that even though the result was an obvious 50/50 outcome, it still left me with my mouth agape.

Another character whose temper catches up with him in this episode is Lazlo. Sara comes across an article in which a young Lazlo played Mozart’s Concerto in D Minor. This doesn’t seem like a big deal, but Lazlo said earlier in the episode that he has a congenital defect and his arm never fully formed. Yet, as Sara tells John, Concerto in D Minor can’t be played with one hand. So, when Sara tries to confront Lazlo, their debate gets heated to the point where he slaps her.

With Sara being deemed the “weaker sex” and Lazlo’s impairment, they remain outside of the only open brothel in town while the new plan to capture the killer is underway. In a humorous scene, a girl named Rosie talks to Stevie about how to properly attract men. When Stevie can’t seem to follow the tips, he gets told he makes “an awful girl.”

The killer does eventually make his way into the brothel. Cyrus (Robert Wisdom) and Lucius are perched on a rooftop, while John and Marcus are inside. Unfortunately, the two closest to Stevie get distracted as the killer approaches him. Once John sees Stevie’s discomfort, he realizes something is wrong. The killer is edging closer to the door, when John calls him out. He escapes, and, unfortunately, another boy prostitute is murdered.

As the crew continuously tries to capture the killer, their tempers seem to be increasing. It will be interesting to see what happens the outcome of several incidents in this episode, and how they will affect the characters involved. What I like is that, while Lazlo has shown to be the brains of the operation and how well aware of it he is, he also has his own flaws that cause him to step out of his element. It’s a very human approach to the show, when it’s not showing victims with their eyes gouged out and other body parts dismembered.

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David Wangberg

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