Synopsis of 1×03: Innovative evidence leads the team to discover a crucial element in the case has gone missing; Kreizler and Moore interview a witness to find out what happened to Moore at the brothel; Sara attempts to live in a world outside the investigation. the alienist


“Silver Smile” gave us a deeper look into our case, while slowly revealing more and more layers to our investigative team. While this episode had many aspects that had me anxious and excited to continue the series and solve the mystery, I found the character building in the episode far more fascinating.

We find out early in the episode what actually happened to John at Paresis Hall from the conversation between Kelly, Connor, and the ex-police chief Byrnes. The scene of Byrnes visiting the well-to-do family is effective in illustrating just how the police and the upper crust view these murders. To the police, it’s another rich man’s mistake that they must conceal, to the rich, it’s a nuisance, an embarrassment, something best swept under the rug and dealt with quietly, perhaps over some pudding.

This meeting between Kelly and the corrupt cops is one of the most disgusting. Kelly and Byrnes are intent on keeping everything quiet, underplayed. To them, Roosevelt and Lazlo’s digging will unearth a load of issues and they’ll both lose a lot of money. They’re eliminating suspects, warning the families of what might come.

As for John, who stumbled into Paresis Hall, they are satisfied that what happened to him there will keep him from speaking for fear of humiliation. Connor clarifies what we’ve already surmised, joking that John “won’t be sitting down for a week”, albeit to two serious faced compatriots. Connor’s vile joke points to one aspect of the story that is always uncomfortable to face. Often times, rape and sexual assault are used frivolously and callously in storytelling. It remains to be seen what will happen when John remembers what occurred. 

There are a lot of aspects of the episode that I want to address, but key among them is our trio of leading characters. We learn a whole lot about John, Sara, and even Lazlo in this episode. In previous ones, it was always kind of an infodump in service of setting up the story, but the show has begun to keep pace and is able to show different sides of these characters lives.

John and Sara, in particular, have particularly interesting lives, mirroring one another. Sara attends a reunion for Vassar, where she sits as the singular young spinster a crowd full of her peers who are either engaged or married. When questioned by her old roommate whether she has someone in her life, she fibs, saying she’s got a doctor, hinting as Lazlo. Disregarding the psychological implications of that lie, it’s an interesting commentary on how different Sara’s life is from someone like John, who is a part of the same social circle.

John does not need to fake fiancées or lovers. When confronted by his grandmother for his cavalier lifestyle and dropped into a meeting with a potential future wife, John feels none of the same social pressure that Sara does. Sure, he’s being pushed by his grandmother to get married and settle down, but he can easily fumble through meeting Caroline or Madeline or any other girl and simply shrug it off. Boys will be boys, no one ever called an unmarried man an old maid.

It’s what makes their kiss uncomfortable as well. In a moment in which Sara finds common ground with John, perhaps even someone to commiserate with over Lazlo’s mistakes, instead of finding a friend, John leans in to kiss her on the cheek. Sara’s sexuality and her relationship with men are touched on in several moments, whether it be through her workplace, her close relationship with her father, her moments with Lazlo, or her reaction to her roommate mentioning having sex for the first time.

To her, it seems foreign, perhaps she is someone who has prioritized her professional life before the personal and starting a family and therefore, sexual pleasure. She can not visit brothels, buy a night with a stranger. She’s a lady and she is expected to be proper. In a moment when she feels like she’s on level ground with John, who puts her on a decency pedestal the most, she is immediately reminded she is not an equal or a confidant. She’s still a woman, and he’s still a man.

Still, Sara and John’s social lives are put into stark contrast to Lazlo’s personal life. We learn both Cyrus and Mary’s origins in this episode, and instead of surrounding himself with friends or even loyal servants, both seem to be more like subjects. Indeed, this week I continue my crusade against Lazlo’s character. I acknowledge that his motivations are in the right place, but his plan of attack is ruthless.

His disregard for people’s feelings is, as John correctly defines, insufferable. He pushes every button he can to get the data and results he needs. He pushes Cyrus to reveal how it felt to kill a man; he pushes John about having a broken engagement, his estrangement with his father, and his brother’s death; and he pushes Sara about her father’s suicide.

He forces them to relive and face their trauma with as much subtlety as a sledgehammer. He emphasizes this with Sara; when John yells at him to stop his line of questioning, Lazlo makes it clear that in order to be useful, Sara must divulge and expose the most painful part of herself. In that moment, it’s not her knowledge or her insight that’s important, it’s her pain and her suffering.

His lack of bedside manner seems to alienate him from everyone. It’s telling that Sara can see that Lazlo’s relationship with Mary is more than what it seems. After arriving home from a night of investigating, Lazlo insists they jump right into work. Mary has prepared food for them, obviously hoping to impress Lazlo with her work, but rather gets reprimanded and kicked out. Sara deduces that Lazlo was embarrassed to show his concern for Mary and that embarrassment made him angry.

Lazlo is a curious figure. He seems to collect outcasts, broken things, social pariahs. Is it because he feels sympathy for them and simply can’t express that? He is clearly frustrated by his own harshness and perhaps by a lack of progress as the killer continues to elude, but does he not see the consequences of his actions? Mary burned her father to death, Cyrus murdered a man and enjoyed it. Does he surround himself with these outcasts, broken things, and pariahs because he empathizes, or because he wishes to keep the outside world at bay? 

In “The Boy on the Bridge“, Lazlo expressed the desire to get into the mind of the killer, to be like him in order to understand him. Perhaps this is his way? Not only to push everyone away but to take advantage of them. The killer lures people who trust him into his grasp so that he can deal the final blow and kill them, is Lazlo not doing the same on a smaller scale?

the alienist
[Turner | Photo by Kata Vermes]
When Lazlo and Sara discuss the findings, Sara suggests that the police do not have an appetite to approach matter analytically like Lazlo. But Lazlo replies, “Every new thinker is first condemned by those for whom change is more terrifying than the murder of a child.” Lazlo is right. It’s not that the police refuse to accept Lazlo’s help on the murder, it’s what his diagnoses suggest. 

The police are stupidly confident in themselves, shown best in characters like Byrnes and Connor. They enjoy the power they have over the city, especially the benefits. Changes present the necessity to grow. People like Roosevelt, who want to bring in fresh police officers, people like Lazlo, who want to bring in new ideas, people like the Isaacsons, who want to bring in new techniques, they’re a threat to the status quo. The police have their equilibrium, and they are hard-pressed to rock the boat, even if there is a serial killer.

With Georgio’s body gone, we see evidence of just how corrupt the police are. They’re ready to make evidence disappear to make sure the case never gets solved. Knowing this, it makes the team’s efforts far more urgent. The team gathers at the site where another boy is found on the roof of an old immigration building. This time the team makes it there before the police arrive, with Roosevelt there to give them an hour of time before the police arrive.

This is one of the scenes that was most enjoyable to watch. Well crafted, the atmosphere was pitch perfect. Sara’s shock at the crime scene is a crack in her veneer, but she jumps into the psychological analysis of the killer at the scene. She and Lazlo deduce that the killer has an obsession with heights and with water, his previous two killings were hidden but Georgio and this new victim are out in the open for everyone to see. As the Isaacsons attempt to get a full fingerprint from the killer, the villain himself is only a few feet away, underneath the roof.

One of the things The Alienist does the best is how the villain seeps into each episode. From “A Fruitful Partnership“‘s chilling scene where a child asks him what’s wrong with his mouth, to the shot of him euphorically enjoying himself at a bathhouse surrounded by young boys, to his whispered, “What’s wrong, child?” He’s become a veritable boogeyman. 

He lures in victims, either with his money, his charms, his protection. He treats them like pets. In a place where the sex workers will give up a bulk of their pay to be protected from the rougher clients who come to them to do things real girls won’t, he can paint himself as a savior. At least for a moment.

As the team evades the police who finally arrive at the scene, infuriated by Roosevelt’s actions, John drops his art folio, which the killer then picks up. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out now that the killer has drawings that paint the victim in a way in which he can relive his own bloody actions again and again.

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