The Alienist (S01E02) “A Fruitful Partnership”

The episode opens at what looks to be the morgue, where a not terribly pleasant man is turning corpses into Bunsen burners by tapping into the gases built up in them and lighting them. It’s an arresting image to begin the episode, a room dimly lit by all these little flames. This is the era of gaslight of course, but somehow I never quite pictured that. Like so much of this series, and like New York City at the time, it is both grim and yet visually striking. Kreizler is asking the mortician about mutilation, but the mortician thinks that if that’s what happened to Giorgio, he deserved it. So, no help there. He’s probably best buds with Captain Connor.

Speaking of which, the captain and some of his men, along with some of the local baddies, are beating the hell out of Giorgio’s father, who was asking awkward questions about his son. He is advised to cease such questions forthwith. Connor later informs Sara in a message for Roosevelt that the Santorellis didn’t have much information and that that line of inquiry was probably best abandoned. He also removes and eyelash from Sara’s cheek with a blood encrusted hand and is less than pleased when she refuses to blow it off (the eyelash, that is). Sara, smart woman that she is, suspects that the Santorellis know more than Connor says, and convinces Moore to take her to see them. While there, she learns that there were other boys who had died in similar ways.

The Isaacson brothers are testing a blade using it to remove the eye from the head of a cow at the butcher shop. Bingo, they’ve found the weapon that killed Benjamin Zweig! (Well, not the actual specific weapon, but the type of weapon.)

Sara has gone to look for files on the other murdered boys, but the file drawer is mysteriously empty. Where have the files gone? She finds them locked in a drawer in a desk in Connor’s office. No surprise there, Connor and his boys would have a vested interest in not investigating. After all, if word got out, Roosevelt might make it his business to shut all the brothers down, and then the payouts would stop. Can’t have that. One of the boys was named Aaron Morton and worked at a brothel called Shang Drapers. She takes what she has learned and visits Kreizler at his home, where his housekeeper Mary listens outside the parlor. Kreizler asks if she is available that evening.  (Sara, that is, not Mary.)

Moore and Kreizler are in Kreizler’s carriage heading to the opera. Kreizler wants to catch Roosevelt and ask if he can have Sara’s assistance in helping him investigate. He also wants the Isaacson brothers to have access to Giorgio’s body for examination. Roosevelt doesn’t exactly agree, but Kreizler goes with it anyway.

This is it, the moment we’ve all been waiting for, dinner at the legendary Delmonico’s. Kreizler is all about teamwork, and he has invited the Isaacson brothers as well and Sara to join himself and Moore. He even has food brought out to Cyrus and Stevie. Sara is wearing a gorgeous green gown.  The Isaacson brothers show them something called an Arkansas Toothpick, which is apparently a thing similar to a Bowie knife. Yes, I checked and they are a real thing and can get them on Amazon. You’re welcome. They also found a bloody fingerprint. Moore clutches his pearls and reminds them that there is a lady present, much to Sara’s annoyance. Moore is sulking at Kreizler’s suggestion that he may not be needed anymore and after dinner goes off on foot, leaving Kreizler to see Sara home by himself (which I don’t think Kreizler minds a bit). He sends Stevie off to keep an eye on Moore, but Stevie doesn’t succeed. Moore ends up at the brothel where Giorgio worked and asks awkward questions. He is drugged and the episode ends with him lying on a bed helpless, surrounded by some rather unpleasant looking men, including Connor, and a couple of boys climbing on the bed with him. We zoom in on one terrified eye, and that is the last thing we see.
One of the interesting things about this show is how handle Victorian views on such things as transexuality (is that a word? If not, I just invented it) and balance it with more modern views. Kreizler has pretty advanced views on all kinds of sexuality, as illustrated in the way he told the family and priest that there was absolutely nothing wrong with the girl who had been caught masturbating. He also informs Moore that “being effete and being inclined to a contrary sexual instinct are two distinct things.” I’m not entirely sure I don’t agree with Kreizler that Moore may have already played his part in this investigation. He doesn’t do much in this episode, other than get into trouble at the end. Again, I have a tough time buying the two men being college friends. Kreizler and Sara have much more chemistry. And though I’m enjoying the series, I continue to wonder if the story can be sustained over ten episodes. I also thought the “She’s not as strong as she’d like you to believe”/“He’s not as strong as he’d like you to think” was way too neat. My eyes rolled. Hard.

Other things:
– Dakota Fanning does some amazing work just with her eyes. She conveys so much with them while silently refusing to blow the eyelash off Connor’s hand and also later in the carriage with Kreizler
– What was the significance of the boots dangling outside Paresis Hall? Is that some kind of code?
– I absolutely love the Isaacson brothers. Marcus and Esther introducing themselves while in the middle of sex was a much needed light moment in a pretty dark and serious show, even though the side plot has nothing to do with the story.

“In capitalism, man exploits man. In socialism, it’s the other way around.”
“It wouldn’t be fair to assume anything about me, Doctor.”
“I don’t think the wine is kosher.”