The year is 1896 and a young boy has been murdered. Police commissioner Theodore Roosevelt (Brian Geraghty), yes that Teddy Roosevelt, has asked Dr Lazlo Kriezler (Daniel Bruhl), an alienist, to help catch the murderer. Helping him with his investigation is Sara Howard (Dakota Fanning), the commissioner’s secretary, and John Moore (Luke Evans), a humble newspaper illustrator. Based on the 1994 novel by Caleb Carr, this is The Alienist.
According to Merriam-Webster, an alienist is a term once used for a psychologist or psychiatrist and moreover for those who specialize in the legal aspects of psychiatry (as determining sanity or capacity to stand trial).
“Prior to the twentieth century, persons suffering from mental illness were thought to be ‘alienated,’ not only from the rest of society but from their own true natures. Those experts who studied mental pathologies were known as ‘alienists’.” — The Alienist by Caleb Carr
So far, The Alienist sounds like it’s going to be like any other procedural drama, right? Not quite. In a sense, the series uses the same old recipe that can easily be found in any detective show. You know the one: a crime is committed, the police investigate and the culprit is caught.
On the other hand, The Alienist’s period setting and gripping plot are what set itself apart from most other modern-day cop shows. It doesn’t have the main cop interrogating suspects until they identify the culprit, they admit their guilt, and close the case all within the span of a single episode. No, The Alienist likes to draw things out and it was nice to see our team put in a great deal of time and effort to unravel the killer’s identity.
There are a couple of reasons why I really liked this new series. Firstly, The Alienist displays a great deal of realism. It was easy to see that the creators had done a lot of research in order to accurately recreate life in New York in 1896, and I bet it didn’t come cheap either. The Crown is the most expensive television show ever made for good reason. I also appreciate The Alienist‘s willingness to tackle confronting topics including the impact of child prostitution and child abuse, police corruption and the power of society’s elite during the late 18th century.
But of course, what’s a season-long crime show without a compelling mystery? I was impressed by how well the writers kept the murderer’s identity and their motives a secret up until the very end.
Netflix (NZ), TNT (US)
19 April 2018