The Alienist: Turn of the century murder mystery

Are you looking for an historical mystery drama to tide you over during the Olympics break? You might want to check out The Alienist on TNT. The series is based on the book of the same name by Caleb Carr and so far has been entertaining, excellent drama.

Starring Daniel Bruhl, Luke Evans, and Dakota Fanning, the ten episode series adapts Carr's mystery novel of the murder of several boys in 1896 New York. There is little police or public interest in investigating the murders, not only because the children are from poor immigrant families, but because they prostituted themselves to men. As with many series' set at the time, the story is part mystery and part drama on the beginnings of forensic science used to solve crimes. The Alienist takes the idea a step further by introducing the idea of profiling and other psychological techniques as well.

Laszlo Kreizler, played by Bruhl, is an alienist, the term used at the time for psychologists. He is drawn into the investigation of the grisly murder of a young boy very reminiscent of the death of one of Kreizler's patients three years previous. He is assisted by his long-time friend, John Moore, played by Evans, and Sara Howard, the first female to work for the New York Police Department, played by Fanning. Along the way they deal with such characters as Theodore Roosevelt (yes that Theodore Roosevelt) the current New York City Police Commissioner, played by Brian Geraghty, and two young police detectives and brothers, played by Douglas Smith and Matthew Shear, who have embraced the newfangled idea of forensic science.

Fans of shows such as Houdini & Doyle, will certainly see a similarity in not only the make up of the team but also the dynamics of the characters, though keep in mind the book was published in 1994. Kreizler is an analytical scientist, determined to find the truth no matter the cost to himself. Moore, more emotional and impulsive, wonders why he's been asked to get involved. And Howard, out to prove women belong in police work as more than mere secretaries, is determined to work the case with or without the approval of her boss. The purists should note there are differences between the book and the adaptation. As an example, Moore is an illustrator for the New York Times in the series, where he is a police reporter in the book.

The first two episodes set the stage well. Viewers get an good sense of the dirty side of New York, not only the Lower East side, where the story takes place, but also the graft and other questionable practices by the police at the time, as well as the birth of modern organized crime. These episodes did a very good job of showing the horror of the murder of Giorgio Santorelli described in the book without going overboard with the gore. The production also did not hold back in showing the world of child prostitution and male prostitution in particular. Viewers learn how Kreizler makes his living helping children diagnosed with various mental issues before he's drawn into the murder investigation and also get a sense of Moore's troubled background and the problems Howard deals with working with a less enlightened police force of the late 1890s. The production deftly managed to balance the various worlds of New York at the time as well, moving from the Gilded Age of such things as box seats at the Metropolitan Opera with Kreizler and Moore, to the dark, dank, tenements of the Lower East side, to the clinical investigation of the dead.

The first two episodes are available for streaming from the TNT website, episode three, Silver Smile, airs tonight. If you're at all interested in historical dramas, murder mysteries, or the origins of forensic science, give the program a spin you won't be disappointed. Have you watched The Alienist? What did you think?

Written by LadyShelley on Feb 5, 2018

Comments

PatrickAbe posted 3 days ago

I just finished episode #4 and I'm lukewarm about this "journey through the past." Compared to the much better "Murdoch Mysteries," which covers some of the same era, "The Alienist" feels "not quite there" as Drama, crime or otherwise. NYC Police Commissioner "Theodore Roosevelt" should be "Inspector Brackenreid" tough and out front; he epitomizes "the well-meaning bureaucrat" to a T. No one has commented on the "Hollyweird love affair with Darkness," but I saw some Hollywood Reporter posters complaining about not being able to see what's going on. Although not as bad as a recent episode of "The X-Files," where I couldn't see who was shooting whom, it has that "lit by weak candles" look and feel. This series isn't as "who's the least villainous character" hard/downbeat as recently cancelled "Damnation," it's no even as exciting as a YouTube Historical production. I'll try episode #5 before returning to season 8 of "Murdoch Mysteries."

LadyShelley posted 11 days ago

Finished the book, started on the sequel. If you enjoy the series, the book is even better!

lao.san posted 11 days ago

I was not impressed with the first episode but glad I kept watching. It is starting to get quite interesting.

kevinohler posted 12 days ago

Great show! Love seeing the earlier days of New York.

HanSolo posted 14 days ago

Yes, its looks good and we will keep trying it.

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