Have you seen The Alienist?



By Caitlin Kelly

Dark, brooding, scary and addictive.

This ten-part series, set in New York City in 1896, is a compelling adaptation of the book by Caleb Carr — an “alienist” was the word used then for a psychologist. The plot follows a grisly and brutal killer of young male prostitutes and the efforts of Laszlo Kreizler, the alienist, to find and stop him.

He’s aided by Sara Howard, (played by Dakota Fanning), and John Moore, a friend who’s a wealthy freelance illustrator for The New York Times and a pair of brothers, Marcus and Lucius Isaacson, NYPD detectives. They’re threatened and thwarted by a corrupt police captain and his shadowy boss, aided by a young Teddy Roosevelt — later to become President — then the commissioner of police.

The production values are fantastic — at $5 million per episode — with exquisite costumes and hair, and period-authentic transportation in gleaming black horse-drawn carriages through cobble-stoned streets and an early steam train.

Like so many other fantastic television and film productions, (Game of Thrones, Blade Runner 2049), it was made in Budapest.

It’s been nominated for six prime time Emmy awards, including its main title, which is fantastic, and was very popular with viewers.

It’s a grim story, for sure, but if you have any interest in or familiarity with New York City, it’s interesting to see re-created, long-gone landmarks like the Croton Reservoir and to re-live that period.

The characters all have complicated emotional lives, several of them estranged from their fathers. The character of Sara Howard is my favorite — a whisky-drinking, cigarette-smoking iconoclast who stays steadfast in the face of violence, gory murders and everyday sexism as she becomes the NYPD’s first female member.


Have you seen it?

What did you think of it?

18 thoughts on “Have you seen The Alienist?

  1. I read the book earlier this year in preparation for the TV show. I agree with you on a number of points: the production values are amazing and create some great sets, it’s twisty and gory and full of mystery, and the majority of the changes made to the original story I can get behind.

    The biggest problem I had with the TV series I had, however, were the characters. Don’t get me wrong, the actors (most of them) are great, but I felt the way they were written made them too emo for my tastes. Each of the core three characters–Kreizler, Moore, and Sarah–seemed to be one-upping each other in how dark and tortured their souls were. I contrast this with the book, where even though their dark pasts are explored, it doesn’t seem to cause friction between them, and they work better as a unit there.

    And by the way, Sarah Howard is my favorite character in the book, but I didn’t care for Fanning’s portrayal of her in the show (which is sad, because I usually like her performances when I see her in something). In the TV show, Sarah talks the talk, but it feels like she’s still trying to embody that confidence and spunk that her character is supposed to have. It’s only in the last episode or two that she really feels like the character I got to know in the book and its sequel (both of which I highly recommend, print or audio book), where she’s this strong, independent woman who has no time for what men think of her.

    Also didn’t care for her will they/won’t they romance arc with John Moore. I didn’t see what that added to the story.

  2. Pingback: [BLOG] Some Sunday links | A Bit More Detail

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