The Alienist– Episode 3: “Silver Smile”
Starring: Daniel Bruhl, Dakota Fanning, Luke Evans, Brian Geraghty, Robert Wisdom, Sean Young, GRACE FREAKING ZABRISKIE (sorry), David Wilmot, Matt Lintz, Q’orianka Kilcher, Douglas Smith, Ted Lavine, and Matthew Shear
Written by: Gina Gionfriddo
Directed by: Jakob Verbruggen
Review by Justin Partridge
”The rich will always choose dead children over social scandal.”
The Alienist blooms into a true ensemble mystery in its third episode. Thanks to the solid foundation of the first two installments, the wildly talented cast of character actors finally get to stretch their legs through the lavishly macabre world of the show. Better still, they get to do it together! Though this episode takes its lumps concerning characterization, particularly with Bruhl’s Kreizler, “Silver Smile” keeps The Alienist on solid tracks as it barrels through its turn of the century dark pulp delights.
After a stony cold open at the height of society and a super effective opening bit of creepiness, writer Gina Gionfriddo and director Jakob Verbruggen settle well into the legwork of the case. This week’s script neatly folds our three leads into the case with the Brothers Isaacson. Our team starts to uncover more clues about the killer’s profile and just how deeply the cover-up goes in the NYPD. Gionfriddo’s script throughout finally does what the previous two episodes has failed to. Make the subplot of police corruption mesh well with the A-story of the murder.
This works for the episode two-fold. On the one hand, it finally feels like the show’s main narrative is finally cohesive. Instead of how the previous episodes always felt like two different shows, to some extent. Secondly, and perhaps best of all, it finally gives the show a real sense of scope beyond its 1900’s setting. Like, it was cool enough just seeing the earliest days of criminal profiling. Now, we get to see a pretty historically accurate depiction of police work in the middle of a violent age of reform. As a history nerd myself, it’s a neat novelty to see a major cable drama tackling that era. Even sweeter that I get a heaping helping of true crime to go along with it.
Keeping pace with the show’s expanding scope is its fantastic troupe of actors. Fanning’s Sara finally gets an honest-to-God arc this time around. She tackles the material with aplomb. Sara, this go around, is a woman at odds with herself and her interests. She yearns to continue working the case but is horrified when faced with the actual loss of life attached to all the papers and drawings she has studied. Though it occasionally flirts with the “you just need a husband” kind of direction we usually see from this era. Fanning still imbues Sara with a genuine sense of justice and drive beyond her expected station.
Luke Evans’ John Moore also gets a genuinely great turn with “Silver Smile”! After questioning the co-workers of the latest victim (and getting drugged for his trouble), he retires to his home where we meet his kindly mother, played by the Queen of Twin Peaks Grace Zabriskie. We start to get a better understanding of his aloof nature, need for acceptance, and drive to step out of his father’s shadow.
Unfortunately, Daniel Bruhl’s Kreizler takes a hit this week. Though he is still the investigative anchor of this team, the show has to start showing the toll profiling takes on the profiler. Regrettably, that means Kreizler has started being a dick to everyone early. Instead of the noble thinker we got in the first episodes, Kreizler is now a bullish, probing weirdo. One who can’t stop grilling his friends and taking advantage of his position as an outside investigator. The upside is that the other actors in his immediate orbit. Robert Wisdom (who gets a bravura monologue this week) and Q’orianka Kilcher get great showcases as his foil. I just wish it didn’t come at the cost of his character this week.
Verdict: Watch It. The priggish direction of Kreizler aside, “Silver Smile” might be the most complete episode of The Alienist yet. Amplified by stylish direction (in particular when Sara sees her first actual dead body), a substantial script, and the veritable wealth of acting talent at its disposal, The Alienist episode three takes the show to its highest point yet. Let’s just hope the show doesn’t bottom out next week. Until then, fellow mutants, be seeing you.