TV Recap: The Alienist – The One With the Silver Smile …

The Alienist
“A Fruitful Partnership”
January 29, 2018

Change. That’s what The Alienist is about.  It crystallized for me tonight. Seeing this team of outsiders and misfits assemble made me realize that change is the common thread they represent. I go into this below in my thoughts section and don’t want to discuss here before you have read about the episode but as you watch and as you read below, think about how change, in the ways it can happen, is the thing uniting what I am going to call for now, Team Alienist.  Until I think of something more clever.

Early in this episode, I was ready to write of Moore as being too one note and annoying to like, to the point where it was almost taking me away from enjoying the show, but by the end, my thoughts have changed and I think John Moore may have the most important journey out of any character here. We’ll see. Anyway …

Make sure you have read our deep dive recap of last week before jumping into this week’s installment in the story.  Our deep dive recap of The Alienist‘s episode, “A Fruitful Partnership” (lots of spoilers ahead — you have been warned) … after the jump!

Coroner.  Why does the Coroner’s office look like part of the Phantom of the Opera’s lair?  Good question but no time for that now.  The Coroner is raking Kreizler over the coals about trying to supplant God with his new fangled science.  For his part, Kreizler is just trying to find out if any children have come through the office; maybe having been killed and put through un-explainable body mutilations .. say, like the removal of a tongue?!? Asking for a friend.

The Coroner, having said his “you’re a false God” peace, answers Laszlo’s question: No, no tongue removals, but? That “boy whore” from the Bridge? Yeah he got what was coming to him.

A Fucking Delight, this one.

Santorelli Residence.  We join another Fucking Delight, Captain Connor, in the middle of his no holds bar beat down of Mr. Santorelli (Giorgio’s father), advising him in the strongest way possible to “keep your dirty Dago nose out of police business, eh?” *sigh* Also on scene is his faithful sidekick, Sergeant Doyle, who is keeping the onlookers at bay and a Catholic Priest who is doing some major praying in Italian.

Title Card.

Police HQ.  We come back from the credits to Connor and Doyle arriving at the Commissioner’s office with a message: the Santorelli’s couldn’t really add anything to the facts about their “poor boy’s” murder so, you know, no reason to follow up with them anymore…  Sara advises these Mutton Shunters that Roosevelt is away at disciplinary hearings so he can’t meet with them. But Connor, being Connor, never misses a chance to be gross and horrible; he plucks an eyelash from her face and then holds it up to her to “blow.”  Which is so icky as to be vomit inducing but the most troubling thing in this scene is that Mr. Santorelli’s blood is still covering his fingers.  I mean, I can’t even with this guy.   When she stoutly (and bravely) refuses to blow the eyelash of his disgusting fingers, his face turns sour and he leaves.

In a throw away scene that just serves to remind you that Moore is wasting his talents and ambitions being a “for hire” illustrator, he has to deal with a fat shaming mother who wants him to trim some excess cheek off the drawing he’s making of her daughter.  You know, “so the resemblance seems more correct.”  He returns home to find Sara waiting on his doorstep. In light of Connor going to see the Santorelli’s, she wants to see them herself, follow up in a way she is sure that Connor and his goon squad did not.  Moore, falling back on her delicacies as a woman (dude, get with the feminist movement already), tries to dissuade her. She’s employed by the NY Police and isn’t scared. To cement the deal, she plays the card she has discovered works so well with John and calls him a coward.  Works every time.

Santorelli Residence.  As the duo roll up to the Santorelli’s apartment, Moore clarifies what he already knows, Roosevelt has no idea she is doing this but she has learned, sometimes its better to ask forgiveness than permission.  Amen, sister!

Photo by Kata Vermes

Inside the Santorelli home, there is a mess of people gathered around as Mr. Santorelli lays beaten and broken and maybe dying on a cot the have. Seeing Sara and John, they assume Moore is the doctor they called for hours ago and beg him (in Italian) to help.  No real doctoring (real or faked) happens because Giorgio’s older brother is more than happy to gossip on what happened and to interpret what his mother is saying.  Highlights: 1.  Giorgio’s father beat him and called him a girl, which is why he ran away to begin with (karma calling) and 2. The cops told them that Giorgio is the “same as the other boys who were killed. Nobody care.” *Record Scratch* “Other boys?!?” Moore and Howard seemly fairly shocked at this (though Kreizler suspected this was the case).

Photo by Kata Vermes

Jewish Butcher. The Isaacson Brothers are working through a selection of knives, testing the gauge marks they leave in eye sockets after the eye has been cut out.  This is some 19th Century CSI work going on right here.  They find one that leaves identical marks to those they found on Benedict Zweig’s skull last week. And Marcus makes some eyes at a girl standing outside the Butcher. Put that on the shelf labelled, “maybe important later.”  As they leave the shop, Marcus, who is distractedly looking for “the girl” (we saw her scurry off right before the brothers left the shop) grabs a flier promoting the gathering of the “Union Labor Party”** and when questioned by his brother, quips that capitalists and socialists both exploit men, so  what, really, is the difference.

Kreizler House.  A Mrs. Rajk has brought her daughter (Betha is her name, we’ll learn later) to Laszlo for examination; seems the “devil is in her mind” as the girl is seen touching herself every night. The priest advises “ice bath and leeches.” *sigh* Laszlo agrees with my exasperation and advises Bertha and mom that she’s just hitting puberty.

Out in the House common room, Overly Righteous Priest scolds mom for bringing the daughter to Kreizler, “she needs God, not a doctor.” Turning on Laszlo, Overly Righteous Priest advises Laszlo that the body is a temple, “it is a blessed gift, not to be defiled by lust.” Oh yeah, says Lazlo, check this:

“Whoever does not love, does not know God … because God is love.”

Laszlo drops some truth bombs on Overly Righteous Priest in his own native tongue; yeah Kreizler was raised on scripture but only walked away with more questions than answers. Including, why give Bertha these impulses she can’t possibly fathom or control, is this the God that Overly Righteous Priest is talking about?!? And another thing, “this is a sanctuary for the young. I will not tolerate its trespass, neither by Man nor by God.” So get the fuck out (he does not add “Fuck” but its implied).

Police HQ, File Room.  Sara drops by a crusty detective who has file room duty.  In a refreshing change, he doesn’t look at her in a lascivious way; no, he’s just generally cranky from life.  She’s looking for case files on unsolved homicides … for the Commissioner of course (girlfriend is using the Commissioner’s name like a kid with daddy’s credit card. Ballsy, I like that!).  She finds the drawer for unsolved juvenile homicide but it is strangely empty. Dun dun dunnn.

Photo by Kata Vermes

Undeterred and feeling particularly emboldened, Ms. Howard enters Captain Connor’s currently empty office and begins to snoop.  Before long, she’s unlocked a drawer and located a folder full of unsolved juvenile homicide cases (we see the name of one such, Aaron Morton, just in case it becomes important later).   Hearing the voices of the Mutton Shunters outside, she replaces the files and skedaddles but not before Connor sees her exit his office. She’ll probably end up regretting this.

Kreizler House. Sara reports her findings to Laszlo and John, confirming Laszlo’s suspicions from the morgue.  The other file besides Aaron Morton belonged to an unidentified “negro” boy.  John chimes in that he was able to track the Morton boy’s death back a month. He worked at a brothel, Shang Draper’s, and was killed and stuffed on a bridge (Brooklyn this time, not Williamsburg), just like Giorgio.  Laszlo wants to exhume the bodies, study them for similarities to the Santorelli case, but the Negro morgue burns the bodies of the unclaimed and Morton was likely buried in a potters field as he had no identified family. Also, Sara adds, these files were hidden, found only by chance. There may be others. Laszlo thank her for her “invaluable” help and asks if Roosevelt is aware of her actions. When she says no, he tells her he is going to have a carriage sent for her at 9pm that night.   A strange interlude when Mute Mary drops a glass (we just her eavesdropping the conversation and you get the feeling she is a bit jealous of Sara – a female interloper in her midst, as it were) and Sara helps her clean it up.

Anyway, moving on, what else is there on the Santorelli boy, Kreizler asks? Moore says that Giorgio was seen as effeminate or gay, lumping the adjectives together.  Laszlo, in his best condescending  professor tones, says that those are 2 different things so which was he, or was he both? “???” responds Moore. Laszlo, putting these newest pieces into his puzzle, surmises that the killer is an addict of sorts and will need to feed his hunger again and soon.

The Bad Place.  Cut to the boy we saw at the end of last week, waking up next to the killer, who, like last week we only get to here.  The boy asks what’s wrong with his mouth as he moves to join hands with the Killer. Interesting development, this “romantic” side.

That Night.  “Tell me about Miss Howard,” a tuxedoed Laszlo asks an equally tuxedoed John.  Sure, if you tell me where we are going and what’s happening, Moore replies.  As he continues to take swigs from a flash, John summarizes her life thusly: her mother died when she was quite young. Then, when she was 12, her father died in a “hunting accident” (rumors persist that he committed suicide), after which she was committed to a sanitarium.  To this day, she wears a ring belonging to her father.  After another swig, he tells Laszlo that perhaps he should measure the size of her skull to see how it all affected her. Which, ha! But also, maybe slow down drinking buddy.  Laszlo’s main question, “do you have interest in her?” John says words but none of them actually answer the question.

There is a quick cut to Sara getting dressed and taking fire from her lady in waiting; she doesn’t want to feel the need to dress up as these are gentlemen yes, but also colleagues, but, as her lady in waiting points out, isn’t that all the more reason to make an impression.  Her feminist feelings are conflicted. We have another quick-cut to the Isaacson Brothers getting ready for the night out. As they leave, they remind Mama Isaacson to blow out all of the candles before bed and one gets the feeling Mama Isaacson is maybe suffering from early to mid-stage Alzheimer’s?

The Opera.  Laszlo and John occupy a box at the opera from where they have a perfect vantage point to people watch.  Kreizler’s interest is in Roosevelt who is sharing a box with several people including Mayor Strong.**  Roosevelt, it should be noted (and it is, by Kreizler), looks more than a little bored.  For his part, Moore can’t help but gossip on JP Morgan, sitting the box over from Roosevelt, and his ever enlarging number of beautiful and much younger “nieces.”   As the opera enters intermission (and John wakes from his nap), Laszlo launches into his plan.

Kreizler corners Roosevelt (awkward situation, what with the Mayor and JP Morgan wandering around why Teddy is talking to this … this Alienist) and, after catching him up on the eye marks in the Zweig case and the recent murders of 2 more boys the police seem to want to bury instead of solve, he boldly requests that A. he be allowed to autopsy the Santorelli boy, B. he be allowed to carry out a sanctioned parallel investigation of all of the murders, and C. that the Isaacson Brothers and Miss Howard all be allowed on his team to serve as police custodians and police liaison, respectively, without revealing Kreizler’s involvement or that anything is going on at all, as a matter of fact.

Commercials.

The Opera After Party. Somewhere, in a back back room at the opera house, the Isaacson Brothers (awakwardly) meet and greet with Sara, as they all wait for Kreizler and Moore to arrive.  “Are you here to take notes,” Marcus says which … dude, wrong lady to say that to. Miss Howard responds truthfully that she doesn’t know why she is there.  Kreizler and John arrive and the dinner begins.

Photo by Kata Vermes

Laszlo opens the dinner with a toast “to the beginning of a fruitful partnership” (episode title is mentioned – take a shot!).  Lucius asides to his brother, “I don’t think the wine is kosher.” HA! I love these two.   As the first course is served, Laszlo proposes they begin discussions on their mission but that is a bit of a cart before the horse, as John points out, as they don’t know why they are even there.  Lucius chimes in that if they relate their findings from the Zweig autopsy, that could set the basis for discussions.  Marcus proceeds to talk about violated torsos and carefully plucked eyeballs and Moore has already had enough, using Sara’s delicacies as an excuse to not have such conversation in mixed company.  “Enough John” she scolds. She is wearing her big girl panties and can handle hearing whatever needs to be said. Kreizler smiles into his soup as this fantastic rebuke.  With the all clear to proceed, the Brothers continue that they searched, and found, the implement that could both cut muscles and tendons but also be finely tuned enough to pluck eyeballs.  The Arkansas Toothpick! Like the Ginsu knife from those commercials in the 1980s, the Arkansas Toothpick can do it all!

They pass around the table the knife they purchased earlier.  Its all very sobering for the occupants.  Kreizler compliments their work but says that in a city as big as NY, its probable that there are lots of Arkansas Toothpicks around.  The Brothers thought of this which is where we move on to step 2, Dactyloscopy! What we all fingerprinting today. Not living a 100 years later, its not quite obvious why this is super useful BUT, a locket found at the scene of the murder and buried with the Zweig boy, has a large bloody fingerprint dried on to the back of it. Marcus likens it to the killer leaving a monogrammed handkerchief behind.

Taking this all in, Kreizler summarizes their mission – assemble all the hints and indications unwittingly left behind by the killer; construct his identity piece by piece by looking at everything they can; construct a pattern of life and his victims; but most importantly, establish what his appetites are.  A note of caution though, if we get too close, its possible our Killer’s thoughts which are fixed on violence, may spill over on to them.  Oh, and enjoy your meals!! (he doesn’t add this in but geez, way to ruin a fancy dinner party, Laszlo!). Commercials.

Photo by Kata Vermes

When we return, the dinner party is breaking up and John is taking Laszlo to task for asking Sara to join his “mad escapade”; she’s not as strong as she’d like you to believe, he bleats.  Kreizler shuts that noise down, “do not let your affection for Miss Howard get in the way of logic.” All Moore heard was the word “affection” and he’s incredulous … Kreizler continues that Sara is resourceful, loyal to Roosevelt and, as a woman, unlikely to arouse suspicion, and that’s all more than enough to warrant here place on the team.  “And what’s my role to be in all of this?,”Moore asks with an over-inflated sense of self. “Perhaps you’ve already played it,” Laszlo answers.

Outside, the Isaacson Brothers finish their enthusiastic explanation of the future of forensic science, which Sara is all about. They politely turn down Laszlo’s offer of a ride home, while John impolitely turns down the ride home. He’d rather walk. God, what a douchebag.  Miss Howard blames the drink for his foul mood and scolds Laszlo that he could have tried a little harder. Kreizler counters that “a little resentment and introspection will do him good.” She persists, “he’s not as strong as he’d like you to think.” Laszlo, having just heard this line from Moore chuckles and tells Sara that “our weaknesses sometimes serve us better than our strengths.” She counters that she’s surprised he’d admit to having a weakness.  “I  was speaking metaphorically.” And they make eyes at each other. These two have such a hot, nerdy chemistry.

Laszlo relents and tasks Stevie with tracking John and making sure he’s safe.

The Socialist Gathering.  Marcus enters the Union Labor Party “Gathering” where he spies the girl from earlier today and they too make the eyes at each other.  In the background, there is lots of rah rah oppressed workers and unity.

Returning to the Carriage, Sara asks Laszlo if he had tonight entirely pre-planned. Which is certainly suggestive and he calls her on what she means by “entirely.” She says she was referring to her recruitment to join the team.  Without missing a beat, he pegs her for having initiative and surmising that, through being on this team, she can maybe advance her place in society.  He continues that he has already asked Roosevelt’s permission for her to be the Team Liaison – she’ll report to Kreizler, the developments within the police, and to Roosevelt, the development of Team Alienist.  He does admit that Teddy hasn’t agreed “in so many words.”   Then … they just kind of smile at each other. Oh just do it, already. yeesh. Having arrived at her home, she dismisses a need to be escorted to the door and we see her smiling to herself, quite pleased. In the carriage, Kreizler is as happy as we’ve seen him so far in this entire show and actually chuckles at the situation. Oh, awkward, 19th Century nerd love.

Quick cut over to Marcus, who has found himself a Nice Jewish Revolutionary Girl to dance the horizontal Hora with … He pauses to ask her name which is Esther … huh, maybe she is a nice Jewish girl afterall. Win, win Marcus, well played!

New Paresis Hall.  On the street, with Stevie on his trail, we see Moore making his way downstairs to the recently relocated Paresis Hall. Oh, this should go well.

When we return from commercials, John is entering a room full of young boys dressed as girls and men willing to pay for their acquaintance.  There are boys singing, boys wrestling, boys sitting flirtatiously and boys coming seductively down stairs in states of undress. The ridiculously young ages of these boys makes this whole vibe very disturbing.  Out comes Biff Ellison to asks John some questions and see what kind of pleasure he is seeking.  Moore says he’s looking for information. Specifically, about Giorgio Santorelli and his clients. Biff rolls his eyes as the boys who had been gathering to feast on John disperse at the sound of Giorgio’s name.   When Biff asks why he should say anything to Moore, John makes the good point that it might happen again, what happened to Giorgio and enough dead boys and the police won’t be able to keep looking the other way [maybe, John, but Giorgio is at least the 3rd dead boy and they haven’t done much yet so don’t underestimate the apathy and corruption of the cops led by men like Captain Connor.]

As John is speaking and looking about the room, Biff sneaks some kind of powder in Moore’s drink. When John looks back Ellison tells him that Giorgio featured clients that liked to hear his “filthy” mouth run off at them, a little verbal abuse fetish.  Biff leaves John with this information, but not before telling him he looks like might enjoy this place and he should stick around.  As “Sally” approaches Moore and promises to make all his dreams come true, John continues to drink the tainted drink. He follows Sally to a room but not without starting to become woozy and with blurred vision.

Inside the room with Sally, John offers the boy $3 for whatever he knows on Santorelli. Sally laughs and it quickly becomes $5. Sold. Sally tells John that Gloria had lots of regulars, some nice and some rich, but Gloria only ever talked about the one with the Silver Smile.  Moore asks if Gloria left with Silver Smile the night he died. No, he never came out of the room, Sally replies. They waited and finally broke the lock on the door – no sign of Gloria in the room.  John’s focus problem is getting worse.  If Sally is disturbed at John’s increasing ability to stand, speak or focus, he is not letting on.  He continues that there was no one in the room and a 3 story drop; and Gloria didn’t have wings.  John, as he’s begin to collapse, accuses Sally of lying but can’t really do much. He’s made his way to the bed but can no longer see with any focus and can hardly breath.  We see Sally pick pocket him as he says that “Gloria flew away without any wings, and some day I will too.” And Sally is gone and John? He’s kind of dying on the bed. Replacing Sally is Biff, Paul Kelly and Captain Connor.  Connor identifies him as a friend of Roosevelt’s and that Alienist son of a a bitch. Kelly laments that they are going to have to matters into their own hands, and he calls in the “girls.”

As the episode ends, we see a couple of the Brothel Boys enter the room and start to climb on top of John. He’s quite paralyzed to do anything about it and the episode ends as we focus on his bulging eye.

Thoughts.   Let’s start with that ending first; so, they are clearly going to frame him as boy touching homosexual, right? I mean, with the Roosevelt angle, they can’t really kill him – that’s a step too far but they can discredit him in the moral framework of the late 19th Century where homosexuality was as bad as being a serial killer.  I think that’s the obvious play.

Its interesting what they are doing with Moore’s overall character; he clearly has affections for Sara and his regular prostitute, she of the ring and money exchange, but both of those could be just attempts at suppression of his natural instincts; women he could never have in a permanent setting. They have certainly emphasized certain homosexual overtones with John in the premiere and certainly in this final scene. He’s not nearly as repulsed by the club setting as you would think and you can sense some kind of attraction to Sally and to Biff before it. Subtle perhaps but I think, intentional signaling on the part of the show.

Back to the top of the episode, the Man of Science, Man of Religion debate which began with the Coroner accusing Kreizler is trying to supplant God with his science, came to a head a little later with the examination of young Bertha. The twist that Kreizler, himself, was reared on religion; this gives him instant street cred to be able to rebuff the anachronistic and dogmatic thinking of the Church which we saw on display tonight.  That female puberty, and God knows her menstrual cycle, would be seen as evidence of the devil in Bertha’s mind, yeah, Laszlo can’t get down with that but it was a prevailing thought which persisted well into the 20th Century.  Laszlo, and the Isaacson Brothers, and even Sara, they are all pushing against a tide of society that is not quite ready for them and the changes they represent.  Moore is more firmly rooted and comfortable with the status quo of life but that may be because he’s not ready to admit the version of himself which he has been denying for who knows how long.  What better way to resist your true self than to rebel against outward change. I have a feeling that, assuming he makes it out of Paresis Hall unscathed, John is in for the biggest change of any one on the show, a change he may have to accept in order to continued working with Laszlo and Sara and the team. To be suire, Kreizler has already threatened that John, with his present attitude, may have no role on the team.

They are looking forward, Team Alienist is, and those that oppose that will either need to get out of the way or get run over because change, like time, like the seasons, cannot be denied or prevented.  Change is an inevitable force bearing down on us all. Let’s hope Moore has the good sense to embrace before it squashes him.

** The Union Labor Party was part of a real movement towards socialism that swept large cities in the 1870s and ’80s. Following the publication of the Communist Manifesto in 1848 by Karl Marx, and the Marx and Friedrich Engels work, Das Kapital (Volume I) being published in 1867, the seeds of socialism and the ideas of the exploited working class began to take root. Fueled by the rise  the Robber Barons (including JP Morgan who we have already seen in The Alienist universe), and late 19th century America began to divide into stratospherically different economic classes, allowing for a window to open through which socialist political parties flew and flourished. Local political parties such as the Union Labor Party we see here, had real success in nominating local politicians to office.

Based on the picture on the flier, it seems to appear a Gathering featuring Henry George, the father of the economic/political philosophy known as “Georgism”; the basic tenet of which was “people should own the value they produce themselves, but that the economic value derived from land (including natural resources) should belong equally to all members of society.” (Wikipedia).

** Mayor William Lafayette Strong was the 90th Mayor of NYC, serving from 1895 to 1897, he was known as a strong opponent of the Tammany Hall corruption which dominated NYC political life for decades.  Appointing Roosevelt as his police commissioner, himself an unswerving opponent of corruption, is one of his best known accomplishments.  He was the last Mayor before the consolidation of NY was completed in 1898, creating the NYC we know today consisting of the 5 boroughs of New York (Manhattan), Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island.  He died in 1900.

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