by Sandy DeVito
I decided to combine my thoughts about the final two episodes of The Alienist because they feel like one episode chopped into two parts. I'll be honest; I am not happy to see the end of this show, and my greatest hope is that the executives at TNT will consider the 10-episode series to be enough of a success (which is not totally clear yet ) to fund a sequel series covering the second book, Angel of Darkness. Author Caleb Carr also has other Kreizler novels in the works; my hope is this is not the last we've seen of Bruhl, Evans, and Fanning in these roles. I've become deeply attached to them and want more time with them.
One of my favorite scenes from episode 9 is when Fanning's Sara Howard and Evans' John Moore are discussing their motivations for taking on the case. Moore makes a knee-jerk comment that implies Sara became involved to advance her career as the first woman to work for the police department; she balks at the implication. As she states in a similar scene in the novel: she wants to sleep again someday. Sara's motivation is the same as the audience's. We want to know what motivates someone to kill. The hope of finding an answer drives us despite our apprehension or fear. It's a moment of clarification for John; and one that inevitably brings them closer, united in their mutual desire for a moral explanation. John is a deeply moral character, and so we know he is always motivated by what is most right; any doubt he would have had about Sara's motivation is soothed. In episode 10, when we see them in a moment of private intimacy - John once more professing his feelings, but this time, with complete earnestness - I was glad. In Carr's novel, they are afforded only an embrace at the end of the story, though I can empathize with heteronormative attachment fatigue in media, I think it's important to point out that a woman is allowed to be both extremely motivated and indulge in her own emotional happiness and sense of romance. Romance is often looked down on because it's considered "feminine"; it's important to establish that Sara's strength is not rooted in some sense of masculine strength, rather it's a uniquely feminine strength, one that belongs to her entirely, and would not cut her off from physical and emotional affection.
There's a scene between Sara and Bruhl's endlessly fascinating Kreizler that had me in tears; as Kreizler has cut himself away from the group after Mary's death, Sara has taken it upon herself to try to coax him out of hiding by sharing a moment of emotional vulnerability with him. It was out of "regard for you", she says, that she confronted him with the knowledge that his father was responsible for his handicap, and tells him the story of her father's "melancholy" - which would no doubt have been diagnosed depression - that caused him to attempt to take his own life. Sara was the one who found him, half his face blown away by a botched gunshot, and she aided him in ending his life. There is nothing quite as emotionally intimate as sharing a heart wrenching secret with someone you want to trust you; it's one of the best ways our kind can truly feel empathy. It's a beautifully orchestrated scene that illuminates the emotional complexities of the material, not just to understand what motivates someone to do the morally abhorrent, but what motivates us to be kind and transparent. It's a lovely scene.
There are major differences between the finale of the series and that of the novel, the greatest being Japheth Dury's final intended victim being Thomas, who is a prior victim in the novel and does not survive as he does in the show; the motivation there seemed to be a desire for higher emotional stakes for John Moore and a sense of attached dread in the audience. But I felt the spirit was genuine. I also appreciated the opportunity to finally see Sara get to use her gun. It's been a long time coming after being robbed of the scene where she first uses it in the book in the home of the Santorellis.
In the end, Kreizler is not gifted with the answers he wanted regarding Japheth Dury's murders; and though he admonishes the others that he hopes the future will bring such answers, I wonder if we are any closer to truly understanding what motivates a person to take the life of another, despite the truth that, as Kreizler suspects, "there will be others". The most important thing is the knowledge that doing good is a choice, the same as doing ill; one can always choose to be better. The final scene, one that was created for the series, shows Kreizler visiting his now-senile father in a sanitarium, bestowing his forgiveness, but in a way that felt utterly fundamental rather than contrived. We know in that moment that Kreizler will never visit his father again; some forgiveness is finite, and its bestowal is also a farewell. As he says goodbye to his father, we know he is also saying farewell to us; I just hope it's not forever. What a pleasure to see this story come to life.