Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

The Alienist


Taken from a best-selling book by Caleb Carr which I haven’t read but which Lee enjoyed. It is a ten-episode series from TNT. It is 1896 in New York City. Before there were psychiatrists as such, people who studied the make-up of the mind were known as alienists. The story here is the quest by the fictional Dr. Laszlo Kreizler to track down a serial killer who is maiming poor street urchins, boy prostitutes dressing as girls in bawdy houses all over the city. He is aided by an alcoholic crime scene illustrator and the first woman hired by the NYPD, played by Dakota Fanning.

This is the time when Theodore Roosevelt was working as commissioner over the flagrantly corrupt police. The cops don’t give a shit about any number of poor children butchered, so long at the payoffs keep coming in regularly. Daniel Brühl is good as the alienist, and so is Luke Evans as the artist. Fanning has to play it as very, very reserved, since the cops have no use for her and would like to get rid of her. I mean, to this day you can find video compilations of female cops fucking up on YouTube, posted by pathetic misogynists who really believe that there should be no female cops. Imagine how tough it would have been to be the first. She is basically a typist, laboring away on one of those early machines that were insanely complicated and prone to seizing up.

The only place where the casting director has gone astray is in the role of Roosevelt. He is played as being very quiet and very still, never losing his temper. It just doesn’t jibe with the hearty, “bully” man who was only two years away from charging up San Juan Hill with his volunteer cavalry. Other than that, it’s a damn good production. It was shot on a huge outdoor set, with special effects that really portray what it must have been like before Edison had installed electrification on any large scale. It was dark after sundown. Light came from gaslights and lanterns burning kerosene or whale oil.

The contrast between the incredible wealth of the “400” and the people down in Hell’s Kitchen is stark. The Williamsburg Bridge is under construction. (I had thought it was the Brooklyn Bridge, but that opened in 1883.) The first of the butchered boys in girls’ clothing is discovered atop one of the towers. I understand that Carr has published two more books in this series. I wouldn’t mind them bringing this cast together again and filming those.