Review: the Alienist

AlienistSomebody decided that a late-nineteenth century police procedural/drama set in New York was just what we needed, so they made the Alienist. I think they were right.

The story

Dr. Laszlo Kreizler is a psychiatrist who deals with mentally unstable children. In the late nineteenth century, this profession was called ‘alienist’, hence the shows name.

It’s 1896, the twentieth century is coming, and New York is growing rapidly. There’s has been a constant influx of immigrants, and industrialization is changing the world. When a serial killer starts eviscerating young boys, the corrupt New York police is powerless. Commissioner Theodore Roosevelt decides to ask his old friend Laszlo Kreizler for help, who in turn calls in his friend John Moore to draw the crimes for analysis.

The conflict quickly escalates when Laszlo starts digging and the corrupt elements of the police, led by the corrupt Captain Connor and the retired Commissioner Byrnes, are revealed to know more than they let on.

Characters

Laszlo Kreisler, played by Daniel Brühl from Inglourious Bastards and Captain America Civil War, has traits similar to those of the Sherlock Holmes from Sherlock. He’s arrogant, overbearing, and oblivious to the feelings he hurts. Where he differs is that Laszlo comes across more scarred and flawed. During the show he overcomes some of his flaws, where Sherlock remained himself throughout the show, and only seemed to get worse.

John Moore, portrayed by Luke Evans — from Dracula Untold and the Hobbit, is an alcoholic who illustrates for the papers and lives on his family wealth. He wrestles with his addiction and his less than stellar career.

Dakota Fanning, finally, known for the only good scene in War of the Worlds, plays Sara Howard, the first woman working at the New York police department. She has her own haunted past, but she’s determined to make her way in a men’s world. The backdrop of the show is the time of protests for women’s suffrage in New York, and she is clearly at the front of that fight, if in a different way than protesting on the streets.

A mix of many things

The Alienist is a mix of things that we’ve seen before. It borrows from Sherlock and Ripper Street, then seasons the result liberally with some CSI and True Detective.

Does that make it original? No. Does that make it fun? Yes.

I loved the first season of Sherlock, Ripper Street, and True Detective and I like to indulge in CSI and other crime shows as well. This show is like the more exotic flavors of Ben & Jerry’s. It’s a weird set of ingredients, but it has its charm.

Because of the complex nature of the plot, my wife and I binge-watched it  – well, the we-have-a-toddler equivalent, meaning over a three week period. The show never got boring. I wasn’t at the edge of my seat by the end, like I was with Hannibal, but I was still engaged. And it was not like Star Trek Discovery or the second season of Daredevil, where we watched the last few episodes just to get it over with.

The show is also a mix of police procedural details, romance, drama, corruption, and historical eye winks. Again, a mix of many things. Most of them are not too in your face, and reasonably executed, but there are some flaws.

I liked the Kreizler, Howard, Moore love triangle, but when it resolves… it was a bit too much ‘WTF, really? Him and her?’ for me. You’ll know what I mean when you see it. Also Kreizler is a control freak, and constantly interviewing people, but he rarely asks anything relevant to the investigation. It wasn’t too bothersome, but it was… noticeable.

Conclusion

If you like police procedurals and late-nineteenth-century drama’s, you’ll probably like this show. If you hate either of those two, or both, you won’t like this one either.

I liked it, and in the end it’s only a ten episode show, so you won’t have to watch a gazillion episodes just to know how it ends if you don’t like it.

Author: Martin Stellinga

I'm a science fiction and fantasy writer from the Netherlands

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