Stolen & Forgotten
Series Review: “The Alienist: Angel of Darkness”
The ace crime-solving team in turn-of-the-century New York City is back in a gripping and disturbing edge-of-your-seat mystery.
It’s rare when Norma’s Streaming Picks not only recommends a non-streaming title but also a second season of a previously reviewed cable series. Exceptions are made for exceptional productions, namely TNT’s current airing of The Alienist: Angel of Darkness, based on the historically set crime thrillers of novelist, Caleb Carr. The highly anticipated new season — whose 2-hour finale will air this Sunday, August 9th — reunites the original cast with a few extra historical characters, including newspaper mogul, William Randolph Hearst and legendary suffragette, Elizabeth Cady Stanton. But the core team is intact: Daniel Brühl as the controversial alienist, Dr. Kreizler; Luke Evans as New York Times reporter and socialite, John Moore; and Dakota Fanning as an early feminist, Sara Howard who is now a full-fledged detective with her own agency. Indeed, this new season belongs to Dakota Fanning’s Sara, whose inner and outer psyche — not to mention her conflicted feelings about the conventional trappings of womanhood — inextricably entwine her to the case at hand.
This new season takes place a year after the action in season 1. It’s now 1897 and amidst rumblings of impending war with Spain, the kidnapping of the Spanish Consul’s infant daughter must be hushed up before news of the crime is leaked out, for fear of stoking xenophobic alarm bells against a politicized powder keg of a media landscape. Sara is hired to recover the child, and she enlists the aid of Dr. Kreizler and John Moore to round out her criminal investigation with precisely the same forensic and psychological skill sets as previously employed to great success. Overshadowing the case yet strangely connected to it is the execution of a destitute young woman for the murder of her own newborn baby, a crime for which she begs her innocence. Because she was a patient of Dr. Kreizler after giving birth at a charity obstetrics hospital run by an unsavory medical doctor with troubling secrets to keep, the emotional stakes are ratcheted up when the team realizes that both crimes are intimately connected. As Sara and the team inch closer to revealing the identity of the kidnapper, they soon discover a wicked web of infanticide taking place in the dangerous neighborhoods of NYC’s teaming underbelly.
But what would a crackling murder mystery be without a love triangle subplot? Fans of season 1 may recall that John Moore had quite fallen in love with Sara, but it was not meant to be, and in this season John has reluctantly moved on and is presently engaged to the Goddaughter of William Randolph Hearst, who also happens to publish the rival newspaper to The New York Times. Where will it end this Sunday? You have plenty of time to catch up before the finale!
In keeping with the first season of The Alienist, this second season is equally intricate in plot, set design, costuming, etc. The attention to every detail — some more ghoulish than others — gives an overall impression of looking through a crystal ball back in time. For those of us so accustomed to the modern-day forensics components to crime thrillers or police procedurals, it’s astonishing to consider how much this team is able to discover with the historically limited resources of the day.
And throughout the entire series, there beats the thematic drum of social injustice, xenophobia, anti-immigrant prejudice, racial prejudice, misogyny, and class inequity. . . shining a light on a society not too distantly in the past. Gratefully, these socio-political themes are not heavy-handed and instead, offer a needed humanistic counterpoint to a crackling cloak and dagger mystery. You can think of it like an incredibly well-researched History book that’s both horrible and illuminating at the same time.
The Alienist: Angel of Darkness is presently available On Demand on TNT. So far, it’s not clear if a third season will be approved. Fingers crossed!
Norma’s Streaming Picks is a Baby Boomer’s Guide to the Best Streaming Movies/TV on the Planet. Check out my site for a TON more titles and reviews!
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