The Alienist– Episode 6: “Ascension”
Starring: Daniel Bruhl, Luke Evans, Dakota Fanning, Brian Geraghty, Robert Wisdom, Douglas Smith, Matthew Shear, Matt Lintz, David Wilmot, Sean Young, and Josef Altin
Written by: E. Max Frye
Directed by: Paco Cabezas
Review by Justin Partridge
A trap is set and sprung in this week’s episode of The Alienist. But a trap for whom, dear readers? That is the real question that writer E. Max Frye, director Paco Cabezas (another Penny Dreadful alum), and their talented cast aim to answer in “Ascension”, the show’s sixth installment.
Centered around Team Alienist setting a trap for their holy day obsessed killer, this episode finds the show basically becoming a slasher film. It deploys some the genre’s most tried and true narrative feints and camera moves, while still pushing along the class based true crime main plot. Though not exactly the best outing for the titular character, “Ascension” is a propulsive, horror tinged entry that manages a few genuine shocks as it barrels along.
The Feast of the Ascension is fast approaching and Lazlo is convinced that the killer will strike again on that day. In order to catch him in the act, Laz decides to break our band into stakeout teams. All are keeping a watchful eye on his ward Stevie (Matt Lintz). He dons a disguise and posts up outside of a “house of ill repute” as bait. While most of Frye’s script is based around this multi-day stakeout, he still manages to let the characters breathe a bit. This works wonders for Luke Evans’ John Moore and Dakota Fanning’s Sara Howard, who end up becoming the real MVPs this week. Moving away from a traditional romance plot, Frye gets them talking and interacting as equals, furthering their friendship and professional partnership along with a few choice bits of sass aimed at one another.
Unfortunately, Daniel Bruhl’s Kreizler is back to being a world class assh*le and that really bums me out. Though Bruhl is doing his level best to elevate the material he is given, it is hard to get behind him this episode, especially as the episode rumbles toward its bloody finale. It’s like the show (or at least certain episodes) want him to be both empathetic and severely aloof at the same time, but it hasn’t quite figured out how to jibe them both into a cohesive character. Here’s hoping that future episodes can at least pick a side, if only just for Bruhl’s sake.
But that aside, “Ascension” really does nail the horror movie tone and action that it seems to be aiming for. In the tested hands of director Paco Cabezas, the script comes to life with nicely deployed peaks and valleys as the team attempts to catch their killer red handed. Though the arguement could be made the the middle part of the episode, mainly centered around Roosevelt’s battle for reform and the perils of high society, saps some of the energy away from the overall A-story, you may be singing a different tune once you experience this episode’s final ten minutes.
Watch It. “Ascension” may be another weak sauce outing for Lazlo, but John and Sara thankfully are more than capable of picking up the slack and ushering audiences through this bullet-train of an episode. With its sights still taking dead aim at the class struggles of the time and brandishing a slasher movie inspired structure, “Ascension” shows that The Alienist isn’t afraid to make you afraid, while filling your head with period details and increasingly shippable characters.
Until next time, dream warriors, be seeing you.