TV Recap: The Alienist – The Sources of Our Pain …

The Alienist
“Ascension”
February 26, 2018

Stevie in a dress. A killer. A murder. Another Murder! Slaps and Piano Concertos. A bronze armadillo!!

This episode had it all and the final 10 minutes will have you on the edge of your seat.  You do no want to miss it.

Read on (spoilers be warned!) for our deep dive recap and review … after the jump!

We open on a white horse laying dead in the streets of tenement town. Rosie, a Paresis Hall Boy we have seen several times in this show, stops to pet its very white hair before being chased off by the presumable owner of said dead horse.  Weird non-sequitur opening.

Team Alienist HQ. We cut over to Stevie, being done up in the style of a Paresis Hall Boy and he would kindly like you to know, “I ain’t no fairy.”  Noted, Stevie.  Roosevelt has been summoned to HQ to hear about Kreizler’s newest plan to catch the killer.  Kreizler himself is off making arrangements and so its left to Sara and the Isaacsons to explain the deets:

The Plan: Roosevelt will order the shutdown of all of the “disorderly houses” for the night save one, The Slide, thereby hopefully flushing the Killer into a Boy House of their choosing. Different pairs of team members will watch from rooftops as they use Pretty Stevie as bait down on the street below. Hopefully, he’ll be a sufficient lure for the would be Feast of the Ascension Killer.  The Isaacsons tell Roosevelt that they need full reign to execute their plan so he cannot involve or tell anyone else in the police force what they are doing … so there is no interference.  For his part, Teddy can’t believe Stevie is a he (really Theodore – does Stevie really look like a girl, to you? You need thicker glasses, sir.).  Roosevelt tells them all that he cannot be anyone near this plan, especially one involving dressing a boy in girls clothing for the express purpose of … “sex” Sara helpfully lends the word he can’t seem to utter himself.  Teddy, from his high horse, tells Miss Howard it pains him to think what her father would think to hear such words coming from her mouth.

“Sex is but a three letter word, Commissioner,” Kreizler adds helpfully to the conversation as he makes an entrance (and he really does make the best entrances).  You’re in agreement with the our plan, Laszlo asks?  Teddy hesitates but for a moment then, after making sure the Detective Sergeants will have their weapons at all times, prays that God help them all.  I’m not sure God is who Kreizler will call down for help but hey, it can’t hurt, amiright?  After Teddy leaves, Laszlo has the Isaacsons confirm the granular details of their logistics which involves the surveillance teams. Marcus and Moore, Lucius and Cyrus will be the lookouts.  Turns out women and cripples need not apply so Laszlo and Sara will be sitting on the sidelines for this action.

Guys, call Sara the weaker sex one more time – see if she doesn’t shoot you dead.

Title Card.

O’Rourke’s Bar.  Captain Connor stops into his fav watering hole for a pint but this time, needs to pay a nickel for it.  You heard the barkeep, “Paddy.” Oh, I LOVE LOVE LOVE watching Connor get his comeuppance!

Van Bergens Hideout.  Willem and Mommy and Daddy Van Bergen are holed up in some attic looking space, one that has a view of NY Harbor (you can hear boats in the distance too).. Mommy Van Bergen explains that Silver Smile will be taking a steamer to Buenos Aires early next week but it won’t be forever. Willem tries to throw a tantrum but his father shuts that down hard.  “It won’t be forever, Willy” his mother coos to his simmering face.

The Slide.  Night is quickly falling outside as the surveillance teams begin their lookouts and Kreizler and Sara give Stevie Stella some last minute reminders on what he’s looking for: man, 24-35 years of age, likely a recognizable facial trait (like Silver Teeth — Moore has been pushing his theory on Stevie, it seems), will maybe offer to take you away somewhere (a castle, I know, duuuuhhh). Sara brass tacks it: remain alert, shit can go side ways fast so call for help if you need it.  The danger signal is for Stevie to “polish my shoe on the back of my leg” which basically means rubbing his one foot on the back of his other leg.

Photo by Kata Vermes

Ice Cream Shop.  Moore enters the ice cream shop that Silver Smile used a couple of episodes ago to talk to Joseph (Bernadette), he of “Fatima’s Saint” story.  After some preliminaries about egg creams having neither egg nor cream in them, John gets down his real business which is to warn Joseph that tonight might be the night Fatima’s killer strikes again so Joseph really needs to watch himself.  Joe responds that some of his friends think the Killer isn’t even a man, but rather a spirit of some sort.  Oh no, he’s a man all right, John promises, and you need to watch yourself.  John asks some more personal questions like how long Joseph has been a working boy and honestly, Joseph has no idea.  Tit for tat, Joe asks John what he does and its my favorite interaction of the night:

Moore: “I’m an illustrator.”
Joseph: “What’s that?”
Moore: “I draw pictures.”
Joseph: “And … people pay you?!?”
Moore: “Yeah.”
Joseph: “That’s stupid.”

HA! John can’t get no respect … he’s like a 19th Century Rodney Dangerfield.

Dignity less in tact that when he came in, John takes his leave but not before pleading with Joseph to keep his window closed and locked tonight and to tell his friends to do the same.  He also pays for the street urchin’s egg cream.  A good egg that John Moore, a bit sad and pathetic sure, but a good egg.

On the Street. Night is in full effect and Stella gets her first bite of the evening. Matt Lintz, who plays Stevie, is a really good sport in this episode but I would love to see the outtakes of him using this high pitched voice during filming.  Its so awkward as to be funny.  Stella quickly establishes this is just a run of the mill perve and, in his normal voice, tells the prospective client to go bugger himself.

The Calash. In the carriage of the unwanted, Sara smokes a cigarette while Laszlo pitches her on heading home as its clearly past her feminine bedtime.  Nope, the Commissioner expects to be there so … nothing doing, sir.  She probes him on the use of the word, “cripple” and he explains that he has a congenital defect in his arm – it didn’t form as it should have.

Rooftop.  Marcus scolds John for lightning a match (“mind that light”) which I only mention because it won’t be the last time Marcus says it and you can tell he is as annoyed with his amateur sleuthing partner as we have seen him annoyed about anything in this show.  Its a nice character follow-up though that Moore is full tilt addicted to smoking in light of his quitting drinking. Addictive personalities are going to be addicted … to something.

On the Street. A fellow street urchin, Beansie, somehow recognizes Stevie even though its super dark and he’s wearing a dress, wig and make-up. Beansie has got good eyes.  He asks, quite reasonably, why Stevie is in a dress and he responds that he’s working for the police “not git.” Suuuuure Stevie, what ever you say, Beansie replies as he takes his leave but you can tell Stevie’s pride just took another hit.   Poor Stella, er, Stevie!

Rooftop.  After Marcus reminds John, “I asked you to mind that light” (using his best John Wayne “paaaarrrtner” voice), John spots a lurker on an adjacent rooftop. Marcus gives chase but it turns out to be a legit priest “doing God’s work.”  The show hasn’t really gotten into it but there are some passages in the book about how the priests really did use the rooftops to move about so the brothel owners wouldn’t bust them for trying to talk to the boys.   Commercials.

Photo by Kata Vermes

The Streets.  Dawn has come and no Killer.  Laszlo is second guessing his entire theory while John gives plenty of valid reasons for why the Killer didn’t strike (e.g., Feast of Ascension holds no meaning for the Killer or (more likely) he was scared off by the fact that all of the fucking brothels, except one, were suddenly closed for the night).  Sad Sack Laszlo is the worst kind of Laszlo. Buck Up, Man!  Cyrus posits that maybe they did see him and he just didn’t act – he mentions 17 men approached Stevie in the course of the night but when Moore presses the boy, he confirms that none fit their profile.  Sara is the voice of reason – we wait, she says, until the next holiday. Pentecost in 9 days.

Photo by Kata Vermes

Kreizler wanders home in the dawn’s early light and stops to watch a pile of street urchins asleep in a stepwell; at first I thought this was another non-sequitur scene but on my second viewing, I think its actually proof that Moore’s warning of being alert and staying together made its way to the boys of the neighborhood.

The next day proper, John and Grandma Moore attend the so so so ironic “New York Society Gala and Silent Auction For the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.” Its unclear where this gala is taking place but I am going to try and find out.  Anyway, John sticks to the lemonade, earning kudos from his grandmother. “Abstinence makes the heart grow fonder,” John says wistfully to his chuckling grandmother.  [Note: I had the very same thought all through high school and college though my abstinence was much more imposed than voluntary =)] As they make their way through the auction hall, Grandma Moore asks if bidding on an auction was the same the buzz one got from gambling. “Only for the losers” John posits; for some, “the pleasure is in the pain” he clarifies.  He knows, he tells his grandmother, he read it in a book.  Mmmm hmmm, a book. Sure.

Kreizler House. Mute Mary (Hi! we haven’t seen you in forever) cuts her fingers while slicing up some meat but no worries, Laszlo is there to sexually put his saliva on the wound and talk about the enhanced healing powers of spit. His talk of coagulants is pretty hot ya’ll! whatever the female version of blue balls is? Mute Mary’s got as she awkwardly takes her leave of the dining room.

The NY Society Gala.  The Roosevelts pose in front of a NY backdrop, a memento of the occasion which I am sure is expensive seeing as its being done at a fundraiser.  Moore is called into the picture – that’s the Roosevelt family keepsake they’ll want. The Roosevelt’s + John Moore! JP Morgan swings by to take a couple of candids with his buddy, Theodore. Alone! He makes this clear and Edith tells her daughter Alice to grab John -they’re going sightseeing while the men folk speak (Moore not being included in the men folk).  Seems that Bishop Potter mentioned Kreizler’s visit and how he was asking after a parishioner from  a family that was very important to the Mayor’s election (the Mayor being Roosevelt boss, Morgan needlessly reminds him).  To his credit, Teddy tells John Pierpont that Kreizler is conducting an investigation at his request and he’s free to go about it as he sees fit.  Morgan tells Roosevelt that the man he tried to arrest?  Yeah, his parents are shipping him out of town so he no longer poses a threat to the children of this city.  What about the children of other cities, Theodore correctly responds?!?! Morgan doesn’t like this lippy response one bit and warns Roosevelt to not “betray your own kind” or else Teddy will find himself with no friends and “no goddamn future.”

HAHAHA.  This line made me crack up on Twitter and again on my re-watch. The 20/20 Hindsight here is too much, JP Morgan telling Theodore Roosevelt he has no future. Theodore Roosevelt? No future?

Morgan walks away leaving Roosevelt standing there, face as grim as it ever is, but his fists are balled in silent rage.  B T Dubs, those pictures are not going to come out great – no smiling in them whatsoever.

Kreizler House. Sara comes by to tell Laszlo she’s arranged for Stevie to be placed inside a brothel – a more attractive bait to the Killer given his previous choices.  Kreizler is still Sad Sack Kreizler but she too tells him to buck up, man! Your theory is solid and no reason to abandon it just because it didn’t work out once.  Laszlo remains unconvinced.

Commercials.

Moore House. A smoking Sara (she’s puffing away as much as John this episode) awaits the returning Moore’s and compliments the splendid bronze Armadillo Grandma Moore seems to have won at auction.  For his part, John seems to have bought an ancient typewriter that weighs as much as an anchor, according to John. He was hoping Sara might teach him how to use it?  Miss Howard drops some truth that men don’t have the finger dexterity women do (that’s what she said!) and could never type as fast as a woman.  John likes a woman who knows how to use her fingers for sure. These two and their meet cute – I ship Sara and Laszlo, not these two. Blech!

Kreizler House. Roosevelt arrives at Laszlo’s home as Mute Mary is finishing up a beard trimming.  He lets Laszlo know that his inquiries have become conspicuous to important people with more power than Roosevelt to which Laszlo apologizes (sincerely? insincerely? its hard to tell with Laszlo) but Roosevelt isn’t worried about himself.  Also, Teddy tells Laszlo, Willem is skipping town but again, Kreizler isn’t really moved – as he mentioned to Roosevelt last week, he doesn’t think Willem is the Killer.

With more confidence than we have seen thus far this episode, Laszlo tells Teddy that with Pentecost tomorrow, the Killer will be compelled to act – he won’t be able to help himself.  Roosevelt, well adjusted straight arrow as he is, is still wrestling with the base questions at play – how can a man do the things the Killer does? Is he mentally defective?  Or as sane as you and I, and there is in fact a method to his madness?  Kreizler responds, not overly cryptic for once, “Those who are seen dancing are thought insane by those that cannot hear the music.”

Moore House.  When Grandma Moore asks Sara if she’d like something to drink, she gives John a “look” when he responds with a request for whisky. Sara asks why the “look” and John confesses he’s given up drinking – he’s got the shakes to prove it and everything!  “Bravo, John” is Sara’s response which honestly, is the entirety of the reason he’s putting himself through this exercise.  Miss Howard isn’t here on a purely social visit though, she’s been digging into Kreizler’s past.  John mentions perhaps she’s obsessed with Kreizler, perhaps she’s in love with him? “Perhaps I am” she says as a way to rebuff his bait and tells him to read the page she’s handed him.

Seems that as a youth of some age (the use of the honorific “Master” in the society page article would indicate he was somewhere below the age of 12 or 13 as that was the term used for boys that hadn’t yet “entered society”), Laszlo dazzled a group of his parents’ high society friends with a rendition of “Mozart’s Concerto for Piano No. 20 in D Minor.”

And? John says?  This piece, Sara indicates, could not be played one handed – hence, Laszlo lied about being born with the defective arm.  True, watch:

John doesn’t understand, he’d always been told it was a malformity … but Sara’s detective work makes clear, at some point in his life, Laszlo had 2 well functioning limbs.  Commercials.

When we return, we are watching Bishop Potter perform the Pentecost services while Willem seems increasingly unhinged and drinking furiously inside his attic hideout.  He grabs his bag and leaves.

Photo by Kata Vermes

The Streets.  Cyrus and Lucius are on the rooftops while Moore and Marcus are inside the Brothel with Stevie who is busy holding up the fireplace and being a horrible girl.

Elsewhere, down by the docks, an out of uniform Sergeant Doyle reports to Captain Connor that Willem just got in a water taxi. Connor vows that boys is going to Buenos Aires even if they have to take him there themselves.

The Slide. Back in the brothel, Rosie (from the cold open!) tells Stevie he’s doing it all wrong and proceeds to give a lesson batting your (non-existent in Stevie’s case) eyelashes as a way to draw in the men.   “You make an awful girl,” an amused Rosie decides of her older student.

The Waterfront. Connor and Doyle track and corner Willem, “going somewhere” Connor asks in the creepiest way possible (I mean, duh, its Connor).  Willem takes off running.  Running up a bridge overpass; running up a bridge overpass, running up a bridge overpass.  Willem quickly comes to the end of the not quite finished bridge overpass and faces only a long, long drop to the East River below.  Connor begins to creep closer to to his trapped prey as Doyle begins taking off his jacket (why are you taking off your jacket, Doyle?!?). Willem pleads for his life. He’s got money; take his bag of cash … “You’re a degenerate,” Connor begins.  “A  filthy, murdering pederast. You’ve no right to live among decent people,” Connor continues. Willem tries his last bit of leverage playing the family name; he’s a Van Bergen, a member of “The 400.” He’s untouchable, Willem goes on, a little leas confident than a minute ago.

You see, Willem doesn’t realize it yet but Connor is committed at this point. Nothing Willem can say will stop this bat shit crazy man’s train. All of Connor’s hatred and rage and anger, at homosexuals, at Roosevelt, at Kreizler and Moore, at women, at the rich he clearly resents … its all boiled over to this moment and through this “dirty sodomite” in front of him – Willem Van Bergen represents the sum total of all of Connor’s most evil and vilest thoughts and persuasions.  So, its no surprise, that without te slightest bit of provocation from Willem’s part, Connor puts a bullet square in his forehead.

Even Doyle, the lick spittle lapdog, is like “what the fuck dude?” The dastardly duo quickly get to cleaning their mess by wrapping Willem up in a burlap sack (where’d they find that?!?) and tossing him over into the water. Commercials.

Peace out, Willem. Kreizler was right – you weren’t the murderer.

The Slide.  When we return from that last insane moment, we’re back in The Slide but things haven’t changed much here.

Outside, Sara asks Laszlo if they’ll catch this Killer.  “Multi-murderers rarely get away with their crimes for long,” Laszlo replies but Sara was ready for this as she drops Jack the Ripper’s name.  There are exceptions, duh!

Photo by Kata Vermes

The Slide.  This is where it all goes sideways because our Illustrator and Detective Sergeant allow themselves to be distracted by boys working the room, innocent as it may be.  Joseph Bernadette has worked his way over to Moore’s table  while Rosie is trying to entice Marcus into a bottle of champagne and trip upstairs.  Meanwhile, a man with a beard and deep voice has made his way to Stevie. The unseen man tells Stevie he’s happy he’s still not out on the street (which means he WAS watching Stevie the  night of the Feast of Ascension).  Killer gets right to his spiel, offering to help Stevie (Stella, I guess for his purposes), take him away from all of this.

Photo by Kata Vermes

Meanwhile, Marcus is putting off shtupping little Rosie by telling him a dirty limerick:

“A pansy by way of Khartoum,
took a lesbian up to his room.
They argued all night
as to who had the right
to do what, with which,
and to whom.”

For his part, Stevie is now having his face caressed by this creepy man, who is promising to take him away to a castle. At this key phrase, Stevie begins to actively rub his leg with his boot. HE’S RUBBING HIS LEG WITH HIS BOOT YOU IDIOTS — PAY ATTENTION!!

Moore finely notices Stevie’s pale, stricken face, after the Killer has moved off (he told Stevie to find a room upstairs and wait for him there). Moore rushes to Stevie who can just get out the man leaving is The Man. Stop Him, Moore shouts! And the chase begins! Marcus gives chase, out of The Slide and through the streets into a quiet tenement.

In the Calash, the first page of “Mozart’s Concerto for Piano No. 20 in D Minor” “accidentally” falls from Sara’s bag, which of course Kreizler picks up. Swallowing hard, he asks Sara if she plays?  “When I was younger,” she responds, “do you know the piece?” “Yes.” He swallows hard again.

I’m just going to stop and this, right here, this terse word volley between Sara and Laszlo is 1000 times sexier and hotter than anything Sara and John generate. These big brained intellectuals just ramping up their sexual tension with unsaid words and phrases.  But I digress.

We cut back and forth between Marcus searching the building for the Killer, John locking Stevie in a room, the rooftop, and the Calash.

Calash.  Sara questions him, saying she heard he was something of a prodigy, which he doesn’t outright deny.

Rooftop. Lucius sees Stevie in the bedroom of The Slide which he immediately takes for a sign of danger and heads down to investigate, leaving Cyrus on the opposite rooftop of The Slide, alone.

Calash. “What happened to your arm, Doctor,” Sara comes right and asks.  That’s not your concern, Laszlo tries to put her off.  “Why do you feel it necessary to lie about it,”she pushes. “Stop,” Kreizler demands, he will not be spoken to “that way” (I’m not sure what “that way” is but there you go). Its important to note that Sara is ice cool calm here while Laszlo is becoming increasingly agitated.

Abandoned Building.  Marcus enters a darkened room (more dark than everything else which is already pretty dark) and lights a match as we see the silhouette of the Killer behind him in the hallway.

Calash. Well, really outside of the Calash as Laszlo is physically trying to get away from Sara who persists. She accuses him of whatever happened to his arm being a bias against the Killer they seek.  “Who did this to you, Doctor?” Kreizler tries to regain control but asserting again the fact that he doesn’t think he needs to discuss his private life with her but she has moved around him and placed herself directly in front of him.

Abandoned Building.  As one match expires and Marcus lights another, the Killer takes a swipe at him knocking him over. Marcus, gun already drawn begins to fire. The gunfire sounds weird to me and I realize because through 6 episodes of this show,I don’t think we’ve actually heard a single gun shot ring out.  Marcus empties his brand new Colt revolver but sadly seems to hit nothing.

Photo by Kata Vermes

The street. Sara presses her attack demanding Kreizler be as honest as he demands from others about themselves. Then, THEN! She calls him a coward.  Which earns her a slap across the face.

Thsi slap made me gasp when I saw it the first time. Not that he did it- no, you could see it building up in him; Kreizler is a mirror of Connor’s rage in this scene, the slow burning anger boiling up, the challenge to his authority, the question of his courage – being called a coward. He has been building to this since before he even swept those papers off the desk in the HQ last week. I gasped because it was just so animalistic. His loss of control, that he let himself go that far. I knew it was coming but it was still shocking to see, if that makes any sense.

Unfortunately, no time for apologies or recriminations, though you would have thought at least an apology would have been immediate in coming but no, he just kind of stares at her (horrified to be sure, as horrified as she looked in return). That he doesn’t apologize immediately is interesting in itself. But anyway, Moore finally arrives to tell Laszlo to hurry, bigger shit than their argument is going down.

The Slide. Inside the locked bedroom, Stevie paces and throws his wig in fear and disgust. When he hears someone trying to break in, he grabs his switch blade and readies himself. Luckily, its just Marcus (bleeding from the head slightly) followed closely behind by Laszlo, Sara, Moore and then a beat later, Lucius.  The Killer got away, Marcus reports, and Kreizler immediately thinks of Cyrus, left alone on the opposite rooftop.  They rush out, and Kreizler tells Miss Howard to stay behind to watch Stevie … which is practical on multiple levels.

Photo by Jesse Giddings

Rooftop.  They find an unconscious Cyrus on the rooftop; he’s been bludgeoned by the Killer.  Why attack Cyrus and draw attention to himself while trying to get away?  “Unless,” Moore mutters, turning to The Slide across the street.  Two windows down from Sara and Stevie, who are staring back out at Moore, we see a curtain of a bedroom gently blowing indicating that the window is opened. Moore and Kreizler stare at each other as they realize what this means …

Bedloe’s Island.**  At the foot of the Statue of Liberty, a dead boy lays, pools of blood flowing out around him.  Its interesting to note that only 1 eye is missing.

And scene.

************************

Thoughts.  

This final act, the final 10 minutes of the show, was as pulse pounding and tension raising as anything we have seen thus far.  The inter-cut scenes of not only the Killer making his way to Stevie and this his daring chase with Marcus but also, the tension inside the Calash between Sara and Laszlo.  In some ways, their scenes were as tension inducing because you could tell she wanted to push him to break him and you could see him losing control.

That slap. Its going to have repercussions but I am really not sure in what way. I think, Sara wanted that kind of explosion from Kreizler – she wanted to push him to draw a genuine, unguarded emotion from him. I am sure she didn’t plan on getting slapped for her troubles but I think that’s exactly in the vein of what she wanted to elicit from Laszlo so I am not so sure she’s going to hold it against him for very long. We’ll see.

Willem Van Bergen. The fallout from Connor killing Willem will be interesting because I can very much see it blowing back on Roosevelt and his team even though Connor did the deed — The 400 and their political lackeys already want to hand Teddy out to dry and the murder of a high society son might be just the thing, irrespective of who actually pulled the trigger.

All I know is that next week is going to be an amazing hour of TV to watch. be there!

** Bedloe’s Island.  This is the original name of the island on which the Statue of Liberty stands (the Statue of Liberty having been finally completed in 1886). It’s name was changed to Liberty Island in 1956 by an act of Congress.  Its technically a part of Manhattan but it is owned by the Federal Government (ceded to the Federal government by NY in 1800 so they could build a fort on it – the last remains of Fort Wood weren’t gone until 1944).

3 thoughts on “TV Recap: The Alienist – The Sources of Our Pain …”

  1. Yeah, it’s real sexy when men slap women in the face. I’m not a shipper myself but I hope no one would ship these two after this. I don’t care what his reasons are or if she’d forgive him. He’s got a temper and we’ve seen it before now. I like Laszlo but he is one big hypocrite when it comes to his personal business and everyone else’s.

    1. He definitely crossed a line in this ep that he can’t walk back. And I love that Sara pressed him on his hypocritical bullshit. Pressed him in a way none of the men on this show would have – which is the genius of her character. She’s the true trail blazer and I think The Alienist is much her story as anyone else’s including Kreizler’s.

      A question I have though is why is she so drilled down on Laszlo and his past and motivations?!? Is it romantic based ( as Moore fears) or just a natural extension of her immense curiosity and intellect?

      I love your take, thank you for reading!

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