The Alienist: A Fiercely Feminist Detective Series That Introspects Human Psyche


While the general perception from the title of the Netflix Series suggests that it is based on a psychiatrist who assesses the competence of a defendant in a law court meaning – The Alienist, it is much more than that.

Based on the 1994 novel by Caleb Carr which goes by the same ccname this period drama first aired on TNT and Netflix in 2018. It is back with its second season – Angel Of Darkness which released on the OTT this month.

The Alienist first season stars Daniel Brühl, Luke Evans, and Dakota Fanning as an ad hoc team assembled in mid-1890s New York City to investigate a serial killer who is murdering underprivileged minors.  The series incorporates fact with fiction by including historical figures, such as Theodore Roosevelt, who held the post of police commissioner from 1895 to 1897. As per the plot, newly appointed police commissioner Teddy Roosevelt calls upon Dr. Laszlo Kreizler, a criminal psychologist, and John Moore, a newspaper illustrator, to conduct the hush-hush investigation. Sara Howard, Roosevelt’s headstrong secretary, as well as twin brothers Marcus and Lucius Isaacson, both detective sergeants in the New York City Police Department (NYPD), join them in the probe.

In the second season (Angel of Darkness), set a year later, Sara (Dakota Fanning) has opened her own private detective agency becoming the first lady detective in New York City. She, Kreizler, and the now–New York Times reporter Moore team up to find the Spanish consul’s kidnapped infant daughter. Their investigation puts them on a path of an elusive killer while showcasing institutional corruption, income inequality, yellow journalism, and the women in the 19th century.

The first season’s protagonist is indeed Daniel Brühl as Laszlo Kreizler, an alienist (or psychiatrist) who is focused recently on children suffering from mental illnesses, called upon by his former Harvard classmate Theodore Roosevelt to try to understand the psychology behind grisly murders. Brühl carries the character too well delving into the human psyche, irking the nonsensical world back then which deemed mental illness as nothing but madness.

Yet in the second season the focus shifts from Laszlo to Sara who carries both Laszlo and Moore in her team, leading them.

Dakota Fanning plays the role of Sara Howard extremely well. One is completely taken aback by her resting face while facing the crime scenes and criminals. She is the embodiment of radical women in the late 19th century who gave away the societal norms to prove their mettle. In each of her steps, she is belittled in the first season. She had to go overboard and work underground defying every single colleague including her probe mates to be the detective she has always dreamed to be. Though after slaying the first serial killer she did become a detective, she was still undermined by the otherwise patriarchal society. She was given petty cases to solve such as household thefts by servants. Just then, a case involving an alleged child murderess came to light. What made the case even irking is that the accused was penalized with death by an electric chair. Soon a similar case was found – that of the Spanish Consul. This gave Sara the chance to prove her ability as a detective.

Sara bears the mockery of the entire world and carries on her work with utmost diligence.  She creates an army of female detectives defying what the world expects women to be. Yet she shows her human nature and fragile heart with her intense emotions when with her lovers – both Laszlo and Moore. She is bold enough to not give up her job to fulfill Moore’s terms of marriage by declining it and remaining single. The loss of her father both haunts her and lifts her to be the feminist she is. Indeed the credits go to Caleb Carr for writing such an uplifting character representing fierce women.

And honestly, if you watch the series, you will surely fall for the exquisite wardrobe of Sara Howard designed by Rudy Mance.

Then we have Luke Evans as John Schuyler Moore, a New York Times cartoonist and illustrator, as well as a society man who attended Harvard with Kreizler and Roosevelt. He lives with his grandmother and is estranged from his father following the drowning death of his brother. He is handsome and charming, but is an alcoholic and frequenter of brothels, and remains unmarried after his fiancée left him. After spending time with Sara in their first probe, Moore falls in love with her and proposes to her. He is the prototype of misogynist men in the world who no matter how sensitive they are, want women to be bound. Though he loves Sara deeply, he fails to understand and stick to her.

Rosy McEwen as Libby Hatch in Season 2 plays a young nurse at the Lying In Hospital. McEwen gives the chills of cold-blooded murder and also makes one cry for her damaged soul. She is the example set for women being mistreated by families and men at large when they conceive without marriage at a tender age.

The cast has been stupendous in both the series creating a massive thrilling experience for the viewers.

A winner of Primetime Emmy and Art Directors Guild for Excellence in Production Design, The Alienist has also been nominated in Golden Globes, Saturn Award, BAFTA, Costume Designers Guild, Golden Trailer, Motion Pictures Sound Editor, Visual Effects Society, and Satellite Awards. This speaks of the precision of each department of the series.

If you haven’t watched it yet then you should definitely add it to your list.


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