A few years ago, I read the 496-page crime novel, The Alienist, written by Caleb Carr, originally published in 1994, but I wasn’t in the habit of making notes then. The film rights to Carr’s book were purchased by Scott Rudin and Paramount Pictures but didn’t come to their television division until nearly 24 years later when a 10-part-event tv series was adapted.
I watched a marathon of the first season of The Alienist television show on TNT recently. All the characters were deeply flawed. And, adult men preyed on young boys who only wanted to survive, eat, and find a place to sleep. Some boys had poor parents while others were homeless. Prostitution of boys was not shown in history as much as that of girls.
Doctor Laszlo Kreizler, played by Daniel Bruhl, attempted to solve the murders of young boys by using the 19th century version of psychology. Of the people he recruited to help him, the doctor pointed out everyone else’s faults but his own. He has book learning, but the “friends” have common sense enough to add up the facts and draw their own conclusions. He needed all these people to come into his life or he eventually would have ended up in an asylum himself. He had read all the popular writers in his field of psychology and tries to help others of lower standing in society, but he himself was emotionally and physically disabled.
His housekeeper, Mary Palmer, played by Q’orianka Kilcher, hooked his shoes and helped him to dress as well. She didn’t speak at all, but the looks she gave the doctor and others was understood. The doctor and Mary became lovers.
The newspaper illustrator and painter of portraits, John Schuyler Moore played by Luke Evans, lived with his grandmother and ventured into the city’s red-light district nightly to have sex with the same prostitute and drink, reliving a love lost. He tried to use his knowledge of brothels to help find the murderer, and in trying to be of help to the doctor, got himself into dangerous situations.
Police Commissioner Theodore Roosevelt, played by Brian Geraghty, is a quiet honest man among corrupt police (like Captain Connor, played by David Wilmot, counting bribe money openly in their offices) and political crooks (like former police commissioner Thomas Byrnes played by Ted Levine). Roosevelt was Police Commissioner in New York in 1896 and “authorized the purchase of a standard issued revolver for the NYPD”. It was the “Colt New Police Revolver in .32 Long Colt caliber”.
The Police Commissioner’s female secretary, Sara Howard, played by Dakota Fanning, was rare in the police department at that time. Though she dressed appropriately for her job, she was raised like a boy and drank whiskey in public. Sara was abused by her male co-workers in a male-dominated profession. She had a good mind, but she too felt like an outsider socially and emotionally.
The two Jewish detectives, Marcus and Lucius Isaacson (played by Douglas Smith and Matthew Shear), did the research for the doctor, introduced new criminology techniques they heard about such as fingerprinting, etc. to help find the murderer. They, too, were treated like outsiders and were also in danger.
The doctor’s Black male servant, Cyrus Montrose, too, (played by Robert Wisdom) was always ready to serve and defend the doctor in this dangerous undertaking.
Stevie Taggert, played by Matthew Lindzt, was the young boy who went under cover in the brothel which catered to older men by providing young boys for sex.
Maxie, played by Dominic Boyle, was the main male prostitute who dreamed of being free like one of the murdered boys.
I really liked the historical flavor of the show with the fights for rights that were going on then: women’s suffrage (right to vote), one woman in the police department, etc. The mutilation and slaughterhouse ripping of the children’s bodies brought tears to my eyes, but the men who ran the brothels were just as much to blame as the murderer.
As usual, the rich got away with their bad habits that would put the average person in jail. While the poor might sleep several generations in one apartment. Mass production did give people jobs, but those people were treated as part of the machinery with no safety precautions, lived in housing that should have been condemned, and had no medical care, nourishing food, or living wage.
TNT definitely knows drama!
Written by Rosa L. Griffin