Ex Ore Infantium
A dead baby, a child-napper and some tantalizing detective work. The Alienist: Angel Of Darkness wastes little time doubling down on the dark tone that encapsulated much of season 1. While some will be turned away from the gnarly nature of this crime (not dissimilar from Perry Mason’s first episode), those who stick around will be left with numerous questions hanging over this one by the end, will be desperate to find out more.
We return to the grim underbelly of 1897 New York with a new case to chew over in episode 1 of The Alienist Season 2. As rain lashes to the ground, a hysterical woman named Martha heads to a hospital demanding to know where her baby is. The doctor and matron there exchange knowing glances before the woman is wrestled to the ground. It’s an intriguing opener and one that presents plenty of questions going forward for this season.
It’s been a while since we caught up with our trio of central characters and fortune has certainly favored the bold. Sara Howard is now the head of a Private Detective Agency with a strong female-centric band of workers at her disposal. Laszlo is still up to old tricks while John Moore works for The New York Times and is currently engaged to Violet Hayward (ironically dressed in violet the first time Laszlo meets her.)
In the morning, Sara glances at the newspaper article about a “Monster Mother” and races out on her horse. En-route she picks up John before heading to the prison to try and stop this woman from being unjustly executed. Laszlo however is already at the prison and sits with Martha, hearing her side of the story. She begs Laszlo to find her baby girl and he promises to do everything he can to do just that.
On the way inside, Sara is stopped by an out-of-date ID card by the police officer standing guard. However, she and John both berate him heavily, especially given former police commissioner Thomas Burns is let past immediately. Eventually he caves but when they get there, they’re too late. Despite there being no circumstantial evidence and Sara giving an impassioned plea, Martha is put to the electric chair and killed.
In the wake of the execution, Laszlo visits Sara and they sit together and drink. Laszlo sets his sights on trying to find the missing child and vows to do everything he can. After what happened at the prison, Sara offers up her services going forward too.
The mystery deepens when a young child named Ana, born to Spanish Governor’s daughter Isabella Linares, is replaced by a doll in her crib. Traumatized, the woman decides against going to the police. A lot of this is stemmed from the narrative the newspapers (including The Times) are concocting surrounding the Spanish trying to attack the US. This instead brings her to Sara’s detective agency who convinces her that a woman’s touch is what’s needed for this investigation.
Sara gets to work and starts looking around for clues. The biggest one of all happens to be right under her nose. As she examines the doll, she finds a stamp on its spine for “Siegel Cooper.” Interspersed around this reveal are shots of a little girl picking up a doll from the store. Only, it’s not actually a doll – it’s a dead baby.
Upon hearing the news, John Moore and Sara head to the crime scene where she shares her concerns that this could be one of the missing babies they’re looking for. As they examine the child, they learn she was poisoned. Given the nature and severity of the crime, Sara realizes she needs an alienist.
Although he’s forbidden from going to the crime scene, Laszlo arrives at the lab and sternly reveals upon closer inspection that the child belonged to Martha. This diabolical crime leaves a Pandora’s box of emotions on the table as the trio wrestle with who could be responsible for this. That, dear readers, is where we close out episode 1 with lots of questions on the table and little in the way of conclusive answers.
The Review Write-Up
With some wonderful cinematography and set design, The Alienist backs up its strong style with some great narrative work too. Although the first episode is chock full of exposition as we become re-acquainted with our characters, there’s a really intriguing story at the heart of this one that makes it easily to overlook.
Given there’s two episodes released a week, Angel Of Darkness looks like its doubling down on the darkness but whether it can find the right balance to level that out with a lighter touch remains to be seen.