The Alienist– Episode 2: “A Fruitful Partnership”
Starring: Daniel Bruhl, Luke Evans, Dakota Fanning, Douglas Smith, Matthew Shear, and Q’oiranka Kilcher
Written by: E. Max Frye and Hossein Amini
Directed by: Jakob Verbruggen
Review by Justin Partridge
”It wouldn’t be fair to assume anything about me, doctor.”
The world is built. Now we get to live in it in the second installment of The Alienist, producer Cary Joji Fukunaga’s (True Freaking Detective) latest slice of stylish pulpy crime drama. After a thin, but still engaging pilot, the show returned this week. Complete with a fancy new opening credit sequence becomes re-energized as it takes us deeper into the seedy world it’s presented. They flesh out its talented and excessively good-looking cast of characters.
Opening with an absolutely haunting scene in a 19th-century morgue, creaking with the synthy, scratching score from Rupert Gregson-Williams, writers E. Max Frye and series creator Hossein Amini’s script again capitalizes on the grimy, yet gothically beautiful time setting. This calls to mind some of the best moments of Penny Dreadful (RIP). But while the pilot episode seemed okay to coast on that alone, along with some vague characterizations, “A Fruitful Partnership” hits the ground running. The episode gets our cast’s characterizations deepened as they wade into the rapidly unfolding mystery.
Bruhl’s Kreizler is still charmingly aloof. A bit of a smug weirdo at times, but this episode’s script gives him more of a purpose and identity. He bucks against conventional wisdom, the Church, and the NYPD in the pursuit of understanding and justice for the dead. Dakota Fanning’s Sara also shines through the dim lighting and drab colors of the police station. She pulls some real Veronica Mars ish to pull herself deeper into the case and into Kreizler’s orbit. We’ll get to that in a bit.
Douglas Smith and Matthew Shear’s Brothers Isaacson get a proper introduction this time around and lend a surprisingly youthful energy to the legwork of the case, bopping around the city doing DIY forensics in butcher shops and general stores. Luke Evans’ John Moore suffers a bit in this second episode. His character doesn’t quite fit into the makeup of the investigation team Kreizler is building just yet. His dynamic with Bruhl and his boozy charm as a bored 1%’er give the episode some of its funniest beats. For example, Moore falling asleep during an opera only to wake, groggily asks if it was over, and groan when he learns its only intermission.
The Facts of Life taught us that you take the good with the bad. “A Fruitful Partnership” does have its fair share. Most glaringly is this episode’s not-so-subtle introduction of a love triangle between Kriezler, Howard, and Q’oiranka Kilcher’s Mary, Lazlo’s maid. I don’t need to tell you that both Fanning and Kilcher are far too talented to be some flawed genius’ prize. I also don’t need to tell you that they both act the absolute hell out of the material. Kilcher doubly so as she has yet to speak a word in the show yet. But she was a striking surprise in the pilot and makes the most of her short establishing scene this week. But….eehhhhhhh, it still isn’t the greatest development for a show that has sold itself as a great showcase for women based around Sara Howard’s character.
I am holding off discussing the show’s depiction of sex workers for the time being. Unless it becomes something truly, outlandishly problematic. After watching the episode’s BTS about the episode, I feel confident the production team is very much aware of the tightrope they walk with a story like this, which is certainly encouraging. Even more that, so far, it has respected preferred pronouns (better than most current modern day set crime dramas tbh), given them agency as witnesses and informants. It hasn’t reduced them to broad stereotypes for cheap titillation just yet. So FACTS OF LIFE, y’all! We should make it a manta.
But all this aside, The Alienist truly comes into its own in episode two. With a more substantial script, more dreamily theatrical direction from Jakob Verbruggen, and a solid cast of actors that still seem very game for the material and personas they have built. Hopefully, next week we can knock off all this love triangle garbage and get back to the crime solvin’. There is a MURDERER OUT THERE (in the 1900s).
Verdict: Watch It. “A Fruitful Partnership” despite its missteps, really does make good on the promise of the pilot and starts to make full use of its talented cast. Even better, the mystery and the investigation as a whole finally feels like a more tactile thing. With subplots barely touched on in the pilot weaving through the main plot and bringing clues to focus. Until next week, ya lovely so-and-so’s, be seeing you.