‘The Alienist’ Season 1, Episode 4: Onions and Carrots

‘The Alienist’ Season 1, Episode 4: Onions and Carrots


More such unsubtle material abounds. In the opening scene, Kreizler visits a former patient, now a professional dominatrix, seeking insight into the connection between pleasure and pain. In keeping with the show’s depiction of sex workers as both insatiable and lacking savvy, the dom comes onto the doc like a wolf in a Tex Avery cartoon. No doubt his discomfort is supposed to be revealing.

But the insights offered in the scene are meager, or at least simplistic, even for its era. (“The man who enjoys defiling women is usually dominated in his daily life,” she tells him, “while man who enjoys being beaten is probably a bully.”) Likewise, at his institute, Kreizler comes across a boy who’s in a funk because his parents didn’t visit him that week. He peps the boy back up with a bit of unorthodox therapy, suggesting that the boy kick a ball for a while. “Let’s pretend it’s someone special,” Kreizler says. “Who would you choose it to be?” The boy chooses his mother.

After the boy leaves, Kreizler punts the thing himself, effectively begging us to wonder whose head he imagines kicking. Considering his frustrations with local law enforcement, the triangle of tensions between him and John and Sarah, his inability thus far to stop the killer, and even the story Roosevelt tells about almost coming to blows with Kreizler in college, there is no shortage of prospects, including his own. The better question, perhaps, is whether insights like these are very interesting.

And yet the episode still manages to entertain, in part because the investigation is picking up steam. Thanks to a piton left behind at one of the crime scenes, the Isaacson brothers discover that the murderer is able to make his seemingly inexplicable locked-room escapes and scale the tall buildings because he’s an experienced climber.

In another scene, Moore pursues his clue about the killer’s “silver smile” to a dentist, where he learns from a patient — whose slurred mid-operation speech is helpfully translated by the dentist himself — that silver discoloration is a common side effect of a then-common treatment for syphilis: mercury salts. In addition to possibly accounting for the killer’s increasingly unhinged behavior, this revelation leads to one of the hour’s funniest exchanges, when Moore bursts into Kreizler’s house to share the news: “Syphilis!” “I beg your pardon?”

And if Kreizler’s interviews with his patients and his needling of Sarah and Moore are at times overwrought, they do lead him to a key insight into the killer’s mind: Their suspect is “eroticizing a past trauma,” inflicting pain in a way that both reflects and alleviates some pain that was inflicted on him.

As if in acknowledgment of the team’s progress, the killer finally shows his silver-toothed face in the final shot of the episode, flashing his telltale grin at a bunch of kids at a candy shop. (From this we can surmise that continued attempts by Chief Byrnes to persuade the killer’s society-matron mother, Mrs. Van Bergen, to spirit her son out of the city have been unsuccessful.) But he remains hidden for his flashiest move of all: luring Kreizler’s entire crew to a restaurant under false pretenses, so he can observe their horrified reactions to a taunting letter he sent the mother of one of his victims.

It’s a tense scene that makes skillful use of the core cast’s natural abilities — they all have great “uh-oh” faces — and cribs liberally from a similarly horrendous letter sent by real-life serial killer Albert Fish. Among the highlights? The killer is a bigoted xenophobe who has been eating the flesh he removes from his victims — “roasted with onions and carrots,” no less.

For a rare moment, the show trusts us to hear the message loud and clear, without further need for explication. The facts and the faces tell us all we need to know.



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