The Alienist episode 1 recap: is TNT’s new crime drama worth all the hype?

By: Alice Russell

The first episode of TNT’s highly anticipated new limited series, The Alienist, premiered Monday night. Based off of a novel with the same name by Caleb Carr, The Alienist follows Dr. Laszlo Kreizler, who we would call a criminal psychologist in today’s language, as he tries to solve the murders of young boys in 1896 New York City.

The Alienist was so highly advertised for that you couldn’t walk down the street without seeing an advertisement, or flip through a magazine without seeing Daniel Brühl’s brooding bearded face staring back at them.

With all the hype surrounding it, many viewers expected The Alienist to be fast paced and full of full of intrigue, and it certainly started out that way. The show opens with a police officer finding a severed hand on a snowy new york street. It then cuts to him banging his billy club against a lightpost, which starts a chain reaction of police officers banging their clubs against anything nearby. With such a hot beginning, one would hope that they would keep up this intensity for the rest of the hour long episode, but it soon becomes sluggish and overdone. A TV show about a murder is no longer as exciting as it would have been even five years ago, and The Alienist, while beautiful in its costumes and sets, seems to lack the excitement that one would hope for in a murder mystery.

The body whose hand was found on the street is located on the Williamsburg bridge, still under construction at the time, and was found to be that of a young male sex worker who dressed in girls clothes for his clients. Nearly nothing is left to the imagination when we see his body, with eyes plucked out, part of forearm seemingly chewed off, and innards strewn about. The Alienist doesn’t stray from gore, later showing what appears to be the boys kidneys being cooked in a cast iron skillet and one of his missing eyes being plopped into some water. With such impressive makeup and costuming, one would think that the writing would be just as good, but unfortunately, it can’t seem to keep up with the fast-paced expectations of the viewers.

The few saving graces of the first episode are, without a doubt, the star-studded cast and the fantastically “19th century New York” costumes. Dakota Fanning co-stars among Daniel Brühl and Luke Evans as Sarah Howard, the first ever woman to have a job at the NYPD where she is shown little respect. Fanning, clothed in appropriate 19th century dresses with absurd shoulders, is the most interesting character of the main trio. She clearly is intrigued by the psychology of murder, but finds herself stuck in the job of a secretary, were she cannot be in the presence of men when they discuss the cases, as the specifics of the murder are “indelicate”, and she must fire back at the penis jokes made by the detestable Captain Connor, as well as having to prove to Luke Evans’ character that she can take care of herself when she must venture into a less savory part of the city (not that there were many savory parts of New York City in 1896).

Luke Evans plays John Moore, an illustrator for the New York Times, who is called upon by Brühl’s Kreizler to capture the image of the mutilated boy on the bridge. We are first introduced to Moore in the throes of passion in a brothel, were he is then interrupted by a message from Kreizler summoning him to the crime scene. The only interesting part of Moore’s character is why he is seems to require the sex workers he pays to wear a ring supplied by him. Fans of the novel will undoubtedly have the answer, but the rest of us non-readers can only speculate. My best guess? He lost his fiance in a tragic accident and now hires women who resemble her to fill the void that she left. Very tragic.

Daniel Brühl’s character, Dr, Laszlo Kreizler, is the alienist after whom the show is named. The term “alienist” comes from the idea that people who were mentally ill were “alienated” from their true natures, thus, those who studied them were known as alienists. Brühl’s portrayal of Kreizler is a refreshing new take on the classic period detective (Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poriot), playing him with less of a dismissive genius and more of an understated compassion for his subjects.

Overall, I think I’ll be tuning in for The Alienist second episode, and hopefully others will too.

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