TV Recap: The Alienist – What’s Your Opiate?

The Alienist
“Silver Smile”
February 5, 2018

This week on The Alienist, we learned some interesting habits or traits of the killer but even more importantly, we learn some interesting back story on our eponymous character and see deeper aspects of every one our core three Team Alienist Members.

The mystery deepens and we hope you are sticking along for the ride.

Our deep dive recap (beware of spoilers) of “Silver Smile” … after the jump!

Van Bergen Residence.  A stern looking man, Thomas Byrnes (he is the former chief of police who we have not seen since his impromptu press conference in the Pilot episode),  tells a stern looking husband and wife, the Van Bergens as it were, that their son, Willem, may or may not be caught up in the Brothel Boy Murders as he was known to be fond of the latest dead boy. Enough Mr. Van Bergen commands as he digs enthusiastically into his steamed treacle pudding.  This scene is so awkward, and the Van Bergens so ridiculous, as to make you hope their son is guilty just to bring shame on their smugness. They are sitting at cross ends of a massive dining room table that can sit 10 comfortably  and its so obnoxious as to make me instantly dislike them.  Even Byrnes can’t stand it and takes his leave and he is an asshole in his own right so what does that tell you?!?

Unnamed Lunch Establishment.  Byrnes, Captain Connor and Paul Kelly meet to discuss the morning’s events. Seems Willem has been warned before about “no rough stuff with Biff’s girls” and Byrnes assures Kelly that the family has been put on due notice.  Connor stops eating long enough to non-sequitur, “Goddamn Sodomites.” Oooookkkay, thanks for joining the conversation Connor.  Byrnes moves on to the topic of John Moore and Kelly assures him that he won’t be talking to anybody about his time at New Paresis Hall, not if he cares about his “good standing in the community.”  Connor, ever the elevated, progressive woke mind of the bunch, takes the opportunity to connect the word “standing” to a, tenuous at best, sodomy joke.  *sigh* This fucking guy, I can’t even.   Even Byrnes looks to Kelly like, “can you believe this fucking idiot?!?”

Kreizler’s Study. Now Known as “Team Alienist HQ.”  After a fever dream featuring Sally, but a version of Sally where his eyes are missing and his throat is slit (a la Giorgio’s murder), Moore wakes with a start in the presence of the Team. He’s got only the foggiest of memories from the night before at Paresis Hall. Also? He’s pantsless (thought still wearing the upper half of his tuxedo?).  Kreizler lets him know he has Stevie to thank for getting him home, he was found wandering in alley “down in the Tenderloin” … which is so deliciously dirty sounding that I am going to make it an official euphemism, at least on this show.

Marcus lends support, telling that “it could happen to best of us” though its not clear if he means the boy brothel or being pantsless or wanting an early morning drink to stiffen your resolve.  Its not really helpful however he meant it.  The mood in the room is ranging from amused to Kreizler who seems miffed at Moore for allowing himself to be in such a position though he is curious about what actually occurred.   As Moore tries to gather himself (and wipe copious amounts of lipstick stains off of his cheek), he asks what is happening in the room (Marcus is currently setting up a projection image of a fingerprint).  Laszlo makes clear that they need a safe space to discuss their case and prevent unwarranted eavesdropping of revelations … revelations such as what happened last night, John?!?

John stumbles through the night, only really getting as far as Sally telling him Gloria was well liked by the wealthier clients but not much else. Laszlo is annoyed.  John takes in the disapproving stares of Sara and Laszlo and denies it being what they think. Oh? “What do we think?!?,” Laszlo asks.  You think I … but he doesn’t finish and storms off saying again, that he doesn’t remember.  Sara continues to look disappointed.

Police HQ.  Roosevelt is pinning medals on some beat cops. Off to the side, Teddy takes a  dig at Connor saying that finally there are some cops to be proud of but Connor disagrees, not surprisingly.  He’d be happy to show Roosevelt the really good cops, not some “roundsmen” (old-timey talk for a beat cop) with no hair on their ball sack. So colorful this one.   Further, Connor goes on, this little dog and pony show won’t win Roosevelt the respect of the department.  Insulted at this flunky’s smart mouth, Teddy calls Connor up to the stage for the group picture with the “unworthy” just to embarrass him.  Having been called on the carpet, he has to stand there and take his (as he sees it) humiliation.  Things like this make me really like Commissioner Roosevelt.

At the reception following the awards, Roosevelt’s daughter, Alice (Lily-Rose Aslandogdu), questions Sara on whether she was allowed to shoot guns when she was younger – Teddy won’t let Alice.  Yes, her father taught her, Sara says, and no, her mother didn’t object because she was long dead.  Way to make it awkward Sara, yeesh.  Sara goes on to say that her father and Alice’s father  were friends. Is that how you got the job then, precocious Alice asks?  “I’d like to think not,” Sara replies.

Moore House.  As soon as he walks in the door, John is accosted by his feisty grandmother who begins to heckle him on a range of topics including, not calling to say when he’d be home last night, his drinking, his lack of a nice girl to marry, and his lack of little Moores running around. For his part, John looks like he just wants to die.  Luckily, he is saved by the shrill tone of an old fashioned telephone ringing.

Team Alienist HQ. The Isaacson Brothers and Kreizler do some fingerprint analysis (this is the finger print found on the locket buried with Benedict Zweig you’ll recall), seizing on breaks in the finger print ridges and guessing as to what may have caused them. Laszlo asks if there may be a print left on Giorgio’s body such that they can compare the two and definitively link the murders to the same killer.  Lucius says its probably given the amount of blood loss and Kreizler sends the brothers to the morgue to examine Santorelli’s body for prints.

Bath House. Cut to a bath house where a large group of boys are playing and having a good time. Except one boy who is just sitting back, hands wide, taking in all of the action. We get one close-up look at his mouth which has a mole on his lip but otherwise, we are just in extreme close-up of his eye.  I am not sure what we are supposed to get from this. Commercials.

Morgue.  The Isaacson Brothers have arrived to check Giorgio’s body for prints but not without having to listen to some of Dr. Tuthill’s strong feelings on Roosevelt and his quality of life policy changes.  “Pleasantries” out of the way, they get down to business except, Santorelli’s casket (no cold storage in 1896, I guess) is empty. Dun Dunn Dunnnnn.

Team Alienist HQ.  Sara is breaking the news to Laszlo about the missing body and she goes on to say this is incontrovertible proof of corruption within the police … well duh, Miss Howard?!? Kreizler takes it all in stride; he understands that new ways of thinking can be as scary and loathsome, or more so ever, as the murderer of children … to some people anyway.  Sara makes her actual point which  is that Team Alienist is going to be alone on solving these murders but she’s all “hey, you’re all about being alone, right Laszlo?”  However, she says it in such a way as to indicate she wishes that was not the case.   He pivots and asks about her social plans given her fancy dress clothes and she tells us she’s got a Vassar reunion to attend.  Though, all things being equal, Sara would rather keep working. Kreizler can’t resist his impulse to psycho-analyze and asks if she’d rather be working because she needs answers or because she wants to keep an arms distance from the world.  Um, why can’t it be both, Laszlo?!? Her only answer is to bid him goodnight.  God, these two and their horrible, horrible, flirtations.  They’re both too socially awkward to properly woo the other.

Photo by Kata Vermes

Vassar Reunion.  Imagine the worst college reunion you can think of filled with people you feel totally disconnected from in  every way imaginable. Then place it in an 1896 context and you have the Vassar College Reunion.  The class sits in a large circle, with gentlemen dutifully standing behind the chairs of their ladies, and they are all playing that classic party game of the winking killer.  Its terrible fun and so scandalous for the time.  *Sarcasm* As the game commences, Sara takes in the room and realizes that only she and her old college roommate seem to be unpaired but no no no, said college roommate is engaged … to Milton. Who looks to be 12 and maybe gay. Also, he’s not standing behind his lady’s chair. Also Sara? They’ve totally “done it.” You know, S-E-X.   She’s all passively aggressive about how Sara will have a turn one day but then back tracks and asks if there isn’t a boyfriend (sorry, a beau) already?  Miss Howard stammers a bit but then totally paints a fictional portrait of her and Laszlo as a couple.  Oooh, girl, your crush is showing.  Sara looks off into the distance as if she’s trying to maybe will her story into existence.

Photo by Kata Vermes

Moore House.  John, as if his day couldn’t get worse, is sitting through an insufferable tea with his meddling grandmother and the Bells, a mother and daughter combo, which he is clearly supposed to be enchanting and maybe wooing for marriage.  With the conversation focusing on John’s father, which is one of his least favorite topics, John is in less good humor than he even normally is which isn’t much at all.  The scene ends after Moore inelegantly calls the younger Bell by her wrong first name. Smooth, John. Smooth.    Later that night, John is back in the drink when he is distracted by a bird fluttering on this window sill.  A metaphorical light bulb explodes over his head and he we cut to …

Team Alienist HQ.  … John  bounding into the Team’s HQ with a freshly remembered memory from his conversation with Sally. He relates the whole bit about how Gloria never came out of his room with the client and that when the other girls broke down the door, the room was empty. Also, it was too high to have jumped from a window so it was as if Gloria and the client had just “flown away.”  And this rich client, he had a “silver smile.”  Kreizler is intrigued but still frustrated — none of the info they have  on the killer helps paint an actual portrait of who he is .. he needs to talk to Sally himself.

The Tenderloin.    John and Laszlo, after a brief chase, get Sally to agree to speak with them.  Kreizler has some specific questions about Sally and her business, namely, Why is she working on the street tonight instead of in Paresis Hall (Answer: He has to give Kelly and Biff too much of a cut); What do you get from them in return for the payments (Answer: Protection from the rough stuff); Do your clients always make you dress as girls (Answer: We do things real girls don’t … which is really not an answer to his question); and How do you know which clients won’t hurt you (Answer: when you have done this for a while, you learn to know who you can trust)? Laszlo thank Sally for being a big help and the boy takes his leave.  This really has been a big help for Kreizler because now he’s theorizing that perhaps Giorgio went willingly to the Bridge. Why would he do that, John asks?  Because, he knew and trusted his killer.  Which, from a little we have seen of the killer and the new prey he has, definitely seems to fit the bill.

As if to support this theory, we cut to the boy from the bath house who is now sitting alone in a room staring at an open window located high on a wall. The boy looks positively happy and contented, no fear on his face. Commercials.

Photo by Kata Vermes

Team Alienist HQ.  When we return, Kreizler invites Cyrus to sit with him a bit, he’s got some questions.  You see, no matter what book Laszlo looks in, he can’t get a good feeling for what it means to take another man’s life.  And, there are a lot of books he’s looked in.  Hmmm, feel like we’re about to get some back story on one, Mr. Cyrus Montrose.  From the conversation, it appears that Cyrus killed a man. Laszlo testified at his trial and presented a theory that upon seeing a particular woman having been beaten, an uncontrollable rage was touched off inside of Cyrus that led him to kill the beater.  Did you not agree with that theory Cyrus, Laszlo asks?  Cyrus non-answers by saying he would’ve agreed with whatever theory kept him from hanging.  He goes on to say that we can’t possibly understand why God would have created life but also murder; that’s a recipe for driving yourself insane.   Suddenly uncomfortable at this whole conversation, understandably so, he tries to take his leave but Laszlo hasn’t gotten his answer yet … “Please, don’t make me,” Cyrus pleads with Laszlo. But Laszlo can be a stubborn asshole when he wants to be.  Cyrus’ eyes darken and his face contorts and he lays some straight truth on Kreizler:

“You want to know what it feels like to murder a man? ‘Cause I remember every moment. I remember the blood.  I remember the broken teeth. I remember the feeling of that warm flesh of his neck in my hand. Yeah. And you know something else, Doctor – something I ain’t never told nobody? The thing I remember the most is the feeling of pleasure that it gave me.”

Sufficiently cowed, and probably not a little bit afraid, Laszlo drops his gaze from this reformed killer whose soul Laszlo just made him bare.  before he leaves, Cyrus lets the good doctor know that he has a spot of blood on his cuff but its actually ink.  We cut to Laszlo getting frustrated as he can’t get the stain out (metaphor much, show?) and he ends up stripping off his shirt. Which is the exact right time for Mute Mary to walk in and be all sexy mute staring at him and his bare chest.  He apologizes for ruining the shirt but their awkward, sexual tension non-conversation is blessfully interrupted by Stevie barging in to announce “there’s been another one.”

Photo by Kata Vermes

Castle Clinton.**  On the roof of the soon to be aquarium, Team Alienist plus Roosevelt find the broken body of the killer’s newest victim.  When they turn the body over, we can see his eyes have been cut out just like Giorgio’s but we only get a glimpse of him before we focus hard on Miss Howard who is trying to stave off something akin to a panic attack.  Gruesome dead bodies will do that to you.

Police HQ.  A Roundsman informs Captain Connor (who is in the middle of counting up his bribes it looks like) about the body of another “boy whore” being found down in the Battery and that Roosevelt left with the two “sheeny” (always so creative with the pejoratives, this show) detectives to investigate. Connor, who wasn’t too worked up just hearing about a new murder, goes apoplectic at the news of Roosevelt (and by extension, Team Alienist) being on the scene of a crime he’s supposed to be handling (covering up is more like it), and rushes out immediately with his whole posse to stick his nose in the business.  In the carriage with Connor is Byrnes – bad news does travel fast, as Connor is quick to point out. For his part, Byrnes just wishes these murders happened at more convenient hours of the day.

When we return from commercials, we’re still in the carriage with Connor and Byrnes and Byrnes is having a fit about Roosevelt who, he says, was appointed as a favor and is now acting like a “30 year veteran of the force.” For his part, Connor is already sharpening his knives saying that Roosevelt is going to get his “willy caught in the ringer this time Chief,” what with his impeding a murder investigation … which, that seems like that would be the Commissioner of the Police’s discretion how that goes, no?  Nevertheless, Connor has already tipped off his friends in the press and Byrnes is already imagining headlines predicting the downfall of Roosevelt.

Castle Clinton.  Outside the entrance, Roosevelt is being pressed by the aforementioned tipped off press and Teddy would sure like to know where they get their information for they are better informed than the police are. Indeed, Theodore, indeed.  Cyrus positions Stevie out front as a warning bell for the Team while on the roof, a quick and dirty autopsy is already in progress.  Moore is doing his drawings while pictures are also taken. Lucius is examining the vacant eye sockets and has located the tell-tale cut marks, same as in the Zweig case, which confirms that the same knife was likely used in both cases which means the same killer. Sara is trying hard not to vomit. Everyone has a role to play!   Moore comes over to her at the end of the roof and wonders how the killer could have gotten up or down (we learned earlier that none of the locks were opened and none of the keys were missing).

This gets Sara’s mind wandering and she makes a connection through all the murders = an attraction to heights.  She tells Kreizler, the two bridges, a water tank and now a roof top – heights, heights and more heights. Kreizler is manic with excitement and asks what else does she deduce from the crime scenes.  She thinks and hits on it, water. Water plays a role in all the killings, either the view of it or something else. Their minds are churning now and they decide that while some elements remain common, the killer has also evolved … the Zweigs and Morton were hidden bodies but now, these last two (Santorelli and this new one) were left out in the open.  More: they have determined strangulation looks to be the method of death but no struggle marks. This fits Kreizler’s theory of the victim coming willingly with someone they trust.  Even after they begin to be strangled, they still don’t fight because its an expected part of the act. “What act?”, John asks, so slow on the update. “A sexual act,” Laszlo spits out, leaving off the duuuhhhh as implied. As Kreizler finishes the Isaacsons announce they have a fingerprint but the low light might prevent them from taking any useful picture of it. Still gotta try thought.

Downstairs, Stevie hears the hoof-beats of Connor’s police squad arriving and runs around front to raise the alarm for Cyrus. Roosevelt also hears the growing noise and realizes who is coming.  He excuses himself from the press gaggle (the last press question was about a growing pattern given the amount of boys killed) and heads inside. On the roof, Cyrus whisper yells that they’ve got to bounce like now.  Laszlo wants another photo but without daylight it makes no sense and in any case, They’ve.Got.To.Go! Moore tells Laszlo that Roosevelt will be held accountable if Team Alienist is found on scene which may be the most useful thing John Moore has contributed this entire series so far.   As they head downstairs to escape, we are left looking at what I believe is Moore’s portrait book which has been left behind. Oh no, this won’t end well.

Photo by Kata Vermes

Outside, Roosevelt squares off against Connor (with Byrnes and Doyle right behind him), telling him its nice he finally showed up but no worries, the investigation is well in hand thanks to the Isaacsons. Also, Connor’s men are to assist the Brothers in any way they need.

Back to the portrait book, a hand is seen opening up the folio and removing the top most piece of paper.

As Team Alienist continues making their escape, a reporter outside (Lincoln Steffens is his name) quips that we’ve all being seeing a lot of Byrnes, considering he’s retired and all.  Back inside, Moore steals the keys to the backdoor just as Connor’s men are moving in the front to “secure the premises.”  Roosevelt follows in behind Connor clearly with his sphincter clenched in anticipation of being found out but never fear, Team Alienist escapes out the back door to the waiting carriages just in the nick of time.  That … was too close.

Photo by Kata Vermes

Team Alienist HQ.  Kreizler, followed by Moore and Miss Howard, is talking about how Roosevelt needs to afford them more time when they pull up short at seeing Mute Mary in the HQ, having set a large breakfast table.  He scolds her for being there without instruction and tells her to have Cyrus take her … home I guess (he doesn’t say take her where).  The smile she was sporting at thinking she did something that would please him falls to something between scowl and embarrassed (I think at being scolded like a child in front of Moore and more importantly, Sara), and she storms out.  Once she’s gone, Moore picks up his thread saying he needs sleep before he can do anything more but Laszlo insists on striking while the iron is proverbially hot and the impressions of the death are fresh.  Moore replies that the sight of the slaughtered boy will always be a fresh memory for him.  Kreizler seizes on this word, “slaughter” and agrees that that is exactly what they are.  He muses, is the terror of the child in his last moments, “essential to the killer’s experience?” Moore isn’t willing to play  Kreizler’s psychology 20 questions but Sara sure is.  She posits the terror is essential, only to the extent there is a larger meaning to the killer’s actions.   Laszlo agrees but says it doesn’t get to the question of “why.” Why does the killer do what he does; they need to get to empathy, to understanding. Moore is affronted by this, how can we have understanding for someone who kills children for pleasure?!?  This mewing from John annoys Laszlo and he hands him a work, Psychopathia Sexualis, by Richard Freiherr von Krafft-Ebing.**  Laszlo says John should give it a read, it might help put Moore in the killer’s place. Which, is that a double-edged accusation of John being a closet homosexual?   Moore says no book will give him understanding on such a creature as their killer and Kreizler shoots back that maybe John needs to figure out why he sleeps with hookers? What wound is he trying to “salve” and proceeds to list off a number of issues John has in his life.  Boy is fucked up. But Moore defends himself that no matter what he is doing, “butchering children” is not among them.   Laszlo moves on to the killer’s fixation with boys, and wonders if he’s reliving some life trauma.  Which makes him turn to Sara, “how’d you cope with your father’s suicide (which Laszlo seems to forget is not general knowledge … ugh)?!?”Moore says she doesn’t have to answer but Laszlo will not be denied. He tells her John drinks, what does she do?  “Kreizler, Enough” Moore yells but uh uh, nope. If Miss Howard wants to be on the Team, then she has to face her demons. He goes on that to confront traumas, we all craft defenses like fantasies of revenge or power or sexual gratification, soooo, what is it, Sara, how do you protect yourself from the pain inside? She just stares at him unblinking as John implores her to leave with him.  “Go on then, both of you,” Laszlo shoos them out if she’s willing to answer.  He tells them not to come back until they are willing to look inside themselves.  Without another word, she turns and leaves with Moore hot on her heels. Alone, Laszlo shatters the chalk he was holding, annoyed at … what?  Himself, that he drove them off? John and Sara, that they didn’t answer his questions?  Or that Mute Mary was in his sanctum where she shouldn’t have been?

Photo by Kata Vermes

The Carriage.  John is doing all sorts of clucking about Kreizler’s superiority  attitude and at a look from Sara, cops to being the one that told him about Sara’s father.  For her part, Miss Howard isn’t nearly as pissed off or offended as John is (I’m not sure anyone is ever as pissed off and offended as John gets) and in fact, thinks Laszlo might be right.  She pivots the conversation and, having picked up on the fact that Laszlo went into the maid hard, asks Moore about the story of Mute Mary.   When she was young, Mute Mary set her father on fire. It took her several attempts for the flames to catch but she persisted.  Kreizler took her in after that.

Sara is intrigued and posits that Kreizler was embarrassed to show concern for Mute Mary in front of them (John and Sara) and in turn that caused him to become angry.  John stares at her and accuses of starting to sound just like Laszlo (which she totally does), in fact they both are (uh, Moore you are not anything like Laszlo. Sara is. You are not).   Sara agrees with me and calls Moore amusing.  He misreads this cue and kisses her. Making it hella- awkward in the carriage when she turns her head away afterwards.

Kreizler House.  Laszlo walks into the kitchen where Mute Mary is washing knives; she her back turned to him. He stares for a minute but ultimately leaves the room without saying a word to her.  She turns as he exits, a look of concern on her face but also maybe a slight, slight smile?

The Wrap Up.  We get a quick cut of Sara pulling a book of a shelf but being distracted by her reflection.  It took me a minute but as the camera passes behind real Sara’s head, the reflection in the mirror changes to that of a younger version of herself. I think?  At Moore House, as John hangs up his coat, he realizes that his portrait book is missing.

The Dark Place.  A flame alights as we see the hand of the killer (presumably) unfold John’s illustration of the latest victim and begin to rub it. The action reminded me of a blind person trying to read something that wasn’t quite done in braille but they are trying to decipher its meaning in any case.  And Scene.

Thoughts.   The plot thickens, huh?  Honestly, as much as I am enjoying the murder mystery aspect in all its perverse psycho-sexuality undertones, the exlporation of our core three characters is the best thing about The Alienist.  Moore continues to fascinate because of his internal conflict which seems to be more than clear to us but maybe its a red-herring. John seems to be a classic example of a closet homosexual trying to fight his base desires, a fundamental aspect of who he is, but striking out externally in different ways. The drinking, the whoring, the overwrought reactions to Kreizler’s blunt discussion of facts and their case.  It all seems to be defense mechanisms to deflect Moore from admitting a core truth about himself.

Sara, with her messed up family history and extreme life solitude, may be the most well adjusted person on this show. Maybe Stevie too.   But everyone else has got some issues they need to work on.  Laszlo had seemed pretty together but his lashing out at Mute Mary combined with her origin story that we learn from John leaves you to believe there is a lot still left unsaid about these two.

I’m loving the ride the show is giving and can’t wait to continue to see the core mystery unfold as well continuing to delve deeper into the minds of these characters and wallow in their fantastic flaws.

Last thought – what do we make of our serial killer?!? He seems to be able to fly, doesn’t he? And pass through the world unseen unless he wants to be seen.  Early on, I thought we were going supernatural (e.g., vampire or some such), but now, I am less sure of that … despite the fact that no other obvious answers of how he does what he does seem to present themselves. So, in summary, I’ve got no idea what to think.

 

** From 1855 to 1890, Castle Clinton, a fort sitting at the tip of Manhattan (named for NYC Mayor, and eventual Governor of NY, DeWitt Clinton) which we call the Battery, was the primary immigration processing center for the country. After the federal government moved immigration intake to Ellis Island, Castle Clinton was converted to the New York Aquarium with construction (which we see in this episode) beginning in 1896.  It opened on December 10, 1896 and remained at Castle Clinton until October 1941 when it was closed due to the pending construction of the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel.

** Psychopathia Sexualis is a real treatise on sexual pathology. Published in 1886, it was one of the first of its kind and focused heavily on homosexuality..  The subtitle of the work was “with Special Reference to the Antipathic Sexual Instinct: A Medico-Forensic Study”and homosexuality is the “Antipathic Sexual Instinct” referred to therein. Wikipedia also teaches us that von Krafft-Ebing coined the terms sadism and masochism in the work.  So, you have him to thank for your S&M fetish.

 

 

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