By VERONICA GRAY
Over the last few months, TNT has been building anticipation for their newest miniseries The Alienist. Commercials have been teasing viewers, giving them the expectation of a dark, gritty tale of a serial killer and those who will stop at nothing to find him. The first episode premiered Jan. 22, and opened with a simple explanation of the title.
“In the 19th Century, persons suffering from mental illness were thought to be alienated from their own true natures. Experts who studied them were therefore known as alienists.”
We are transported through time to winter 1896 in New York City. The sound of the snow crunching under a policeman’s boots draws in viewers to the setting and directly contrasts the discovery of a murder victim. This is the launching point for a Sherlock Holmes type mystery as news quickly travels to Dr. Laszlo Kreizler, played by Daniel Bruhl (Captain America: Civil War, The Zookeeper’s Wife), who is, as defined at the beginning of the show, an alienist. Dr. Kreizler’s main focus has been on children and how their minds work. His interest in this murder stems from the death of two children, one of which had been a patient of his and had been killed in the same manner as the current victim. He is accompanied by newspaper illustrator John Moore, played by Luke Evans (Beauty and the Beast, The Hobbit), who will help him navigate a world that doesn’t accept alienists or their ideas.
The episode starts slow, inviting viewers to take a tentative step into the world that the creators are presenting. As with any show, the first episode is an introduction to the atmosphere and characters that will dominate the story ahead. Some of the more interesting moments can actually be found in the camera work and audio editing. The opening scene is so interesting because of how it sounds. The snow crunching, the dripping of blood, and the different tones of clanging from the policemen sending out a warning call on different metal objects on the street, all of these sounds help create a building sense of urgency, of dread, and of the detailed world that we will be spending a good amount of time in.
The camera work also was a large part of the introductions. One moment in particular involves Dakota Fanning’s character, Sara Howard, who is the first female employee of the NYC police force with responsibilities beyond scrubbing the floor. Sara sits at a dining table and behind her is a wall full of portraits of men, more than likely her family. This shot gives a silent message that is vocalised for viewers just moments later by Sara’s maid as they are discussing why it is socially acceptable, and even expected, for women to wear a corset. “They believe us to be delicate creatures miss.” The phrase is simple, possibly something that is said often in whispers between woman. It is the only explanation for the moment, but not one Sara seems to accept.
The main characters of The Alienist had my attention from the start, each coming in with their own set of problems with society around them. A doctor that isn’t widely understood or accepted, a journalist illustrator who is deemed untrustworthy, and a woman in the late 19th century. This group of outcasts comes together for a case that viewers have very little information on so far. As interesting as those characters are, they are a drowned out a bit by their surroundings. We will surely dive deeper into these characters and their backstories as the show progresses, which will help build this thriller series and bring it to a more personal level. If not, TNT will have wasted the talent of some excellent actors.
All in all, The Alienist looks promising. For those who enjoy Criminal Minds, historical dramas, and the thriller genre, this is a good weekend filler. The Alienist airs on Mondays at 9 p.m. and is available for streaming on both TNT’s website and the free Watch TNT app the following day.
Veronica Gray can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.