I can’t say that I particular enjoyed the first season of The Alienist but decided to give the second season a look. The second episode of the second season really turned me off and I’d like to spend some time talking about one thing I think went wrong.
The Alienist sort of tells story Laszlo Kreizler, played with a gravelly monotone by Daniel Bruhl. The titular character studies the human psyche and uses that to solve crimes with the help of Sara Howard, played by the overly dire Dakota Fanning, and the equally dire John Schuyler Moore, portrayed by Luke Evans.
I have a lot to criticize in the show, not my first time, but I’m going to focus on the investigation and why it left me so dismayed that I’ll likely abandon the show.
Babies are being killed. That’s certainly an emotional reason for me to want to catch the vile killers. A poor woman’s child was killed and the mother was blamed and executed in the first episode. A wealthy ambassador’s child was kidnapped in the second episode and that’s where Sara, John, and Laszlo spring into action.
I don’t list the characters randomly, I start with Sara because she is now, clearly, the lead character in The Alienist with Laszlo taking on a supporting, if that, role.
A doll is found at the home of the ambassador and Sara goes to a store that sells dolls where the body of the first child was found. She gets the address of a purchaser from the shopkeeper and begins the investigation.
She decides to go into a bad part of the town to look at the building late at night. It turns out to be a burned-out shell. While there with John, the two are spotted by a band of ruffians and driven into an alley but the thugs spot a drunken, passed out man nearby and decide to abandon the pursuit.
Sara and John follow the ruffians back to a tavern. Sara apparently knows the owner and he tells her the ruffians work for a fellow named Goo Goo who owns the building in question.
The next day a pair of torsos are discovered and it is stated the gruesome remains are unidentifiable with even tattoos cut off.
John, at the newspaper office, is told by a woman that two of Goo Goo’s men were found dead. John quickly travels to the crime scene still cordoned off by the police. John spots an old acquaintance sitting on a box and pays the man to be put in touch with Goo Goo.
Goo Goo then learns about John. He confronts the reporter, putting a knife to his throat. John is saved by Sara who appears from nowhere at the last minute and threatens to shoot off Goo Goo’s penis. Goo Goo wanders off with his friends.
Why It Doesn’t Make Sense
Where to start? What a mess. If the above narrative makes any sense to you, please use the comments to explain it to me.
Why investigate the building at night? How lucky is it the very villains involved in the kidnapping happen to walk by? What a lovely coincidence the tavern keeper is a friend of Sara and knows all the useful information.
The bodies were unidentifiable one moment and then suddenly known when it becomes useful. Another amazing coincidence is the dockworker who knows Goo Goo and is sitting right there. Goo Goo seeks out and attacks John.
It’s all contrived to lead us to various scenes and left me incredibly cold and disinterested.
How The Alienist Investigation Might Go
As some of you may know, I think of myself as somewhat of a writer. Twelve novels and all. I understand that shortcuts have to happen. It can’t all follow a logical narrative in order to get from Point A to Point Z. Therefore, I offer up for your perusal, how I might write the investigation I so heavily criticize.
Sara and John learn of the building. They immediately head over to city hall and find the records. They discover it burned down and is a fake address used to purchase the dolls. They find out the owner is a man named Goo Goo Knox. John talk to some fellow reporters and learns where Goo Goo makes his office, who are his associates, what are his suspected crimes.
Sara and John arrange a meeting with Goo Goo under false pretenses associated with some of his criminal activities. Perhaps they are fellow criminals or John is corrupt and learned something about a rival gang and wants a payout for the information.
The way it’s done in the show allows for some dramatic confrontations and I suspect that’s the point. We have the narrow escape in the alley, the gory bodies, the knife to the throat scene. If we do it the way I want, those scenes don’t happen. We don’t meet the tavern owner and his daughter who I think will show up again.
I understand the thinking, I just don’t agree with it. I do think a lot of people like the sensational, gruesome, violent scenes. Not to say I would write it boring and clinical; I’d find ways to create drama within a logical investigation. I am curious as to your opinion on the subject.