The Alienist– Episode 5: “Hildebrandt’s Starling”

Starring: Daniel Bruhl, Dakota Fanning, Luke Evans, Josef Altin, Brian Geraghty, Douglas Smith, Matthew Shear, and Sean Young
Written by: E. Max Frye
Directed by: James Hawes

Review by Justin Partridge

It is beautifully broken slobs vs. murderous rich snobs in the fifth installment of The Alienist. Now that we have our suspect, the time has come to investigate, and question said suspect. But, of course, with the accused being a member of the upper crust, systemic corruption and gerrymandering rear their ugly heads and stymie our heroes at every turn. Despite the headway they’ve made on the profile of their silver smiled suspect. Though I am not exactly crazy about this episode splitting up our team for the time being, “Hildebrandt’s Starling” is another solid piece of period pulp, keeping the show overall in good standing.

Last week, we got our first chilling look at the “man with the silver smile” and this week we get his name, Willem Van Burgen, played with a petulant creepiness by Josef Altin. You may remember as Pyp from Game of Thrones. Standing as probably the most straightforward of the show’s scripts, “Hildebrandt’s Starling” (written by E. Max Frye) really brings the long-simmering subplot of the period’s rotten NYPD and the seemingly limitless influence of the rich to the forefront of the episode.

This is both a boon and hinderance for the episode overall. On the one hand, it is great that the show and its writers are continuing to make good on the merging of plots that happened a few episodes back. Thus, making it feel like more than just a period procedural and adding a nice layer of historical drama onto the main arc depicting the early days of criminal profiling. But, on the other, it kind of makes the overall mystery seem like its spinning its wheels a bit as Team Alienist gets closer and closer to the suspect, only to have their efforts curtailed.

It also doesn’t help that Frye’s script splits up the team almost immediately and doesn’t ever put them back together. Don’t get me wrong. I think that all the actors can support episode plots on their own and they mostly do here. Lazlo and John take a Mindhunter like trip to visit a former child-killing patient of Lazlo’s. Sara engages in a Leslie Knope like letter writing frenzy looking for more clues, and the Brothers Isaacson still walking the beat and contending with their own personal lives. That said, the show was really just starting to move and shake based on the cast’s chemistry. I was disappointed to see Frye kind of torpedo that for the sake of moving the show’s narrative forward.

Director James Hawes, however, makes up for it, delivering a sophomore effort that capitalizes and improves on his first outing well. Anchored by the intensely creepy and cacophonous sequence set in the upstate prison that Lazlo and John visit, Hawes brings a real focus and drive to his directing. Though Hawes’ lens loses a bit of the “stagey” quality that the show made good use of it, this episode really moves thanks to Hawes’ constantly moving, but not frantic, camera.

Verdict: Watch It. If you have come this far, it would be kinda goofy to stop now. I will say that this may be one of the weaker installments of the show to date. “Hildebrandt’s Starling” still contains some great performances, well deployed period trappings, and some a few standout sequences thanks to Frye and Hawes. Hopefully, the next episode will not only get Team Alienist back together in all their shippy and sassy glory. Also, I hope it will get them pointed in the right direction when it comes to overcoming the rich in pursuit of justice. Until next time, fellow pulp mongers, be seeing you.

Justin Partridge
A writer, a dandy, a Friend of Tom, and a street walkin' cheetah with a heart fulla napalm. He has loved comics all his life but he hasn't quite got them to love him back just yet. That hasn't stopped him writing about them or about any other media that hoves into his sights. He can usually be reached via the hellscape that is Twitter @J_PartridgeIII or by e-mail at

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