It’s the late nineteenth century in New York and delinquent children are starting to go missing. Future President and newly appointed Police Commissioner Theodore Roosevelt (Brian Geraghty)contacts criminal psychologist Dr Laszlo Kreizler (Daniel Brühl) and illustrator John Moore (Luke Evans) for help to solve the case. When Dr Keizler and Mr Moore realise that the job is too big for two people they enlist Commissioner Roosevelt’s secretary Miss Howard (Dakota Fanning), who Mr Moore has a previous romantic history with, and Police Officers Lucius and Marcus Isaacson to help with the investigation.
During their enquiries, the team uncover the full gruesome extent of the abductions, the reasoning for them along with a conspiracy amongst high ranking officials and members of high society to keep the investigation and the main suspect secret.
I had high hopes for The Alienist as it was born out of several impressive creative talents, namely Cary Fukunaga (True Detective) and Eric Roth (Munich). What we get is a lavishly recreated world but one that isn’t quite sure of its axis. Is it an exploration of how people in a position of power exploit the poor and disadvantaged, or of what men are capable of based on the world they live in and experience? Neither is clear.
That’s not to say that this is a good show, as it is jam packed with superb performances from Daniel Brühl, Luke Evans and Dakota Fanning although Brian Geraghty as the future POTUS is by far the stand out when he’s on screen but halfway through what appears to be a pretty standard period detective show, just as it’s starting to find its feet there’s a twist that feels pointless and misguided, completely shifting the show’s direction and pace.
With the twist we are introduced to something far more menacing in its build-up than its execution that unfortunately falls flat in the final reveal and leaves you thinking ‘was that it?’. It’s a real shame as there’s clearly a great premise locked within the shows shell but maybe the time has passed for this type of story. Had “The Alienist” been released five years ago it would be hailed as a masterpiece but it doesn’t forge into any new territory that shows like “Ripper Street” and “Sherlock” haven’t already done. For that reason, a lot of it feels stale.
The ‘will they won’t they?’ side plot between John Moore and Sara Howard feels pointless and undermines Dakota Fanning’s character’s role as a headstrong female struggling for credibility in a male-dominated Police force, but my biggest gripe is that every dramatic scene is proceeded by five seconds of black screen. I’m presuming that this is because it was originally broadcast in the US on TNT and that these were to facilitate ad breaks, but if Netflix wants to keep presenting bought-in series as ‘Netflix Originals’ they would do well to judiciously edit these kinds of things out. Watching it on an iPad is incredibly infuriating.
Less than the sum of its parts and feeling past its sell-by date, “The Alienist” ends up alienating the very viewers it needs to impress. Watch this if you liked: “Ripper Street”, “From Hell”, “Sherlock”, “Se7en”