Synopsis 1×02: The investigation heats up as Sara gets her hands on a clue and Kreizler tries to connect the evidence left behind by the serial killer; tensions rise within the police department.
Things are picking up as The Alienist dives deeper into their murder, finding more victims, gathering new information, and raising suspicions in newfound enemies. My previous review was pretty critical of the premiere episode due to its slow pace, but thankfully this episode no only picks the story back up but starts moving at a much more enticing speed.
In “A Fruitful Partnership,” we learn much more about the victim Georgio Santorelli: about his family, about his death, about his co-workers, and about his killer. I made note of this last episode, however, I’m glad that the investigation returned to Georgio as the subject. Unfortunately, to everyone except our investigative team, he seems to be nothing more than a sexual deviant and a sex worker — someone to be forgotten, who got what he was asking for. He’s viewed as a sinner and the police do not want the case investigated.
Captain Connor, the ginger mutton-chopped cop, seems to be the villain we can put a face to whereas the killer is still simply a faceless monster in our minds. At best, he’s deeply corrupt, not only being paid by gangsters Ellison and Kelly but willing to turn a blind eye to an investigation for the sake of continuing to be paid, at worst, he and the two gangsters know exactly what is going on and choose to perpetuate what is happening. If the killer is our big bad for the season, Connor could easily win the award for best minion/sub-villain.
We see him abusing the Santorelli family, throwing the kids down the stairs and beating up their father, using the priest (who should win his own prize for being an evil bastard) as a conspirator, informing them not to talk to the police. When he’s not harassing civilians on the street, he’s harassing Sara at work. He’s creepy, invading into her personal space and plucking a fallen eyelash from her face to let her blow it for a wish. In no decade was this ever okay, however it does tip Sara in on visiting the Santorellis.
This episode only proved to me that I actually really enjoy Sara’s character. I like that she is played as a straight-laced bluestocking, though she still has moments of insecurity and frailty that don’t demonstrate her weakness, but rather the strength of the patriarchy and the world that she has to wade through. She clearly wants to be seen as an equal amongst the men in her life. She calls the team her “colleagues” rather than men she needs to impress, she takes her own initiative in visiting the Santorellis, she takes pride in being called by Lazlo to be a part of the team.
But, at nearly every turn, we see her underestimated, even by her team members. John is almost comically and consistently worried for her sensitivity, and the Isaacsons presume she’s there to take notes. You might say that Lazlo sees her for who she really is, but again, I’d disagree. He recognizes her hunger for significance and uses it to his own benefit. He knows her position as a woman makes her easily underestimated by the men around her and utilizes her as a part of his investigation because of it.
Is it ultimately for a good cause? Yes. Does Lazlo kind of treat everyone based on how useful they are to him? Definitely. But, by the way his maid Mary reacts to Sara being invited to dinner and Lazlo’s keen interest in Sara’s personal life, it’ll be interesting to see how Sara and Lazlo’s relationship develops over the course of the series.
When John and Sara report to Lazlo about their discovery from the Santorellis, how not only did Georgio get kicked out of the house for his cross-dressing but that there were two other victims on file potentially killed by the same man, Lazlo begins to formulate an image of the killer. The killer is escalating his amount of attacks and potentially devolving, unable to go long amounts of time without attacking.
Lazlo and John attend the opera, where they see Roosevelt watching the show alongside the Mayor of New York. The audience also includes the magnate J.P. Morgan, who is definitely not painted in a forgiving light. Lazlo ambushes Roosevelt after the show to ask for the bodies of the other victims and requests to conduct a parallel investigation to the police, utilizing Sara’s access to the police department, while Roosevelt doesn’t seem to agree to this, he doesn’t… disagree?
Lazlo gathers the team for a meeting. He invites Sara, John, Marcus, and Lucius to discuss their findings. The Isaacsons bring forth the potential murder weapon: the Arkansas toothpick. They then propose utilizing fingerprint analysis — a practice still very much in its youth — to determine who the killer is. Testing the weapon on an animal head, they determined that Georgio’s eyes were cut out and his torso was cut up with the same dagger.
The dinner ends with the team going separate ways, with John struggling with the idea of Sara working for them. It’s interesting to see how Sara and John protect each other, which does make you wonder what their relationship is exactly. She’s confident enough with him that she has no problem calling on him to help her conduct her own investigation, and he’s insecure enough with her that he’s literally only worried about her sensitivities and protecting her. Both inform Lazlo not to be fooled by the other, “He/She’s not as strong as he/she would like you to think.” Heavy-handed, but we get it, they’re protective of each other.
Curiously, the episode doesn’t seem to shine quite as favorable of a light on Lazlo. While we see him advocating for science and reason when it comes to his patients, he is also quite manipulative. He admits to using John’s weaknesses against him in order to utilize him, while Sara recognizes that he’s potentially staged their whole evening knowing what the end result would be. It’s Lazlo’s harsh words to John — that perhaps he isn’t needed anymore — that sends John stomping off into the shadier side of town to the brothel from which Georgio worked.
John is anything but subtle. Bustling into the brothel and directly confronting Ellison about Georgio Santorelli. It doesn’t take much time for Ellison to drug him and get him upstairs into a private room with one of his sex workers, Sally**. Sally refers to Georgio as Gloria, and while she gives John some information it’s all mired in subtext, mentioning only that Georgio had some very rich clients, one of them a man with a “silver smile”. We saw earlier in the episode another brief scene with the killer in which another potential victim asked what was wrong with his mouth. Ultimately John ends up immobilized by the drug in his drink and robbed by Sally. We then see Ellison, Kelly, and Connor come into the room, trying to decide what to do with him before bringing the boys into the room.
The episode ends on a cliffhanger, leaving us uncertain of John’s fate. We know that one of Lazlo’s men has followed him, and obviously, he’ll be alright, but how does it all play out? Does John get raped? Does Stevie rescue him? What’s the deal with Marcus and his new romance with this socialist Esther? How did Sara’s father really die? Do the police all know who the killer is? Is it J.P. Morgan? Will John actually just die of liver failure before anything else? Find out next week!
** Author’s Edit: I find the topic of pronouns with the sex workers a difficult task here. While Sally identifies Georgio as “Gloria” and sometimes the workers are referred to as the girls, I really don’t know how to label the workers within the brothel. Because I am dubious of how much consent the workers have, I’m not sure if they all identify as female or by female pronouns. Until clarified within the show, my recaps will refer to the general workers as male.