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Preview: ‘The Alienist: Angel of Darkness’ promises another addictive, grizzly romp through Gilded Age New York

Preview: ‘The Alienist: Angel of Darkness’ promises another addictive, grizzly romp through Gilded Age New York

Preview: ‘The Alienist: Angel of Darkness’ promises another addictive, grizzly romp through Gilded Age New York
July 25
13:00 2020

“Every mind is like the ocean. There’s surface and depth in all of us.”

After two-and-a-half years of quiet, TNT’s “The Alienist” is creeping back out from the shadows to take viewers back to New York City at the turn of the 19th century with it’s second miniseries, “The Angel of Darkness.”  The original miniseries, based on Caleb Carr’s novel of the same name, followed an impromptu team of investigators, led by Daniel Brühl’s forward-thinking proto-psychologist Dr. Lazlo Kriezler, as they scoured through the city for a serial killer targeting child prostitutes.

A year later in 1897, Kriezler and his team, New York Times reporter John Schuyler Moore (Luke Evans), former police secretary, now private investigator Sara Howard (Dakota Fanning) and the forensics-pioneering Isaacson Brothers (Douglas Smith and Matthew Shear), are hired to covertly investigate a mysterious serial kidnapper and murderer of children, with a potential international incident looming in the days prior to the Spanish-American War.

Despite the switch in creative teams, the stars fully step back into their roles. Brühl is ever as insightful as Kriezler, fully embodying a hotheaded man with an ahead-of-the-time conception of the human mind and empathy for the troubled. Evans compliments him as the sardonic, down-to-earth Moore, who bounces off both Howard and Kriezler’s more seemingly-fantastical and open-minded attitudes.

However, the show wisely pushes Fanning’s Howard more to the front. Now a confident investigator and out-and-out suffragette, her role as a woman navigating a minefield fraught with the gender prejudices of the time make her a much more compelling force in the story. It’s especially satisfying when she publicly shames Kriezler for going behind her back to interrogate a witness — a nice big humble pie for Kriezler becoming more arrogant and cementing how confident Sara’s become.

One criticism is the creators pulling some retconning with Moore — his job inexplicably switches from cartoonist to crime beat reporter, his literary counterpart’s occupation, and the new writers have seemingly dropped his show-only bi-curiosity. A shame for the only confirmed LGBTQ+ representation, aside from a stereotypical gay man in episode two.

This change also coincides with season one’s underlying meditations on gender identity being snubbed, though focusing on women’s places in society isn’t necessarily an inferior, if less unique, replacement.

Another critique is the new ostensible antagonist, Dr. Markoe (Michael McElhatton), the head of the insidious Lying-In Hospital. There’s some potential in positioning him as a shadow to Kriezler, but that remains to be seen. The creators going out of their way to create and center a male antagonist also goes against the novel’s themes around women’s place and degradation in an oppressive society, in my opinion.

Ted Levine’s grumpy, former NYPD commissioner Thomas Byrnes also shows up to stop the heroes from breaching the sanctity of the wealthy, but he seems to have a more downplayed presence this time. Fitting, considering he was nonexistent in the book.

One thing that still cannot be criticized, though, is the production values. Massive, outdoor sets combine with minor uses of CGI to create a grimly stunning recreation of 1897 Manhattan, with its not-quite towering citadels for the wealthy against backdrops of elevated railways and the poor struggling to survive beneath them.

The brooding atmosphere also survives unscathed, with scenes of the rich galavanting in silk gowns and tuxedos in ornate dining halls and offices against the seedy underbelly of Manhattan’s slums. In the Gilded Age of the “Alienist,” the line between the rich and the poor is razor-thin. You could walk out of a furnished store and be greeted in the next ally by those in poverty. In all levels of society, there are threatening antagonists with their own motivations.

The costuming is just as unmistakably immaculate and as impeccable as last time, some of the best I’ll probably see all year.

“Angel of Darkness” is set to very much be a slow burn investigation across eight episodes. While the stiffness seems a bit more pronounced than last time and some scenes drag on with excess dialogue, the first two episodes establish the stakes conclusively and the novelty of an investigation into the underworld of Gilded Age Manhattan helps make “Angel of Darkness” too much of a novelty to pass by.

Stay tuned for the full season review for a final rating.

Featured image: Courtesy TNT

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Will Tarpley

Will Tarpley

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