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The Alienist - S1E5 - Hildebrandt’s Starling

Previously on The Alienist: These Bloody Thoughts

Let’s talk about Dr Laszlo Kreizler for a little while, shall we? Our friendly neighborhood alienist has a persistent habit of rubbing everyone up the wrong way. He’s no doubt a brilliant man, but his bedside manners could use a little work. This is down to the conflict he feels when confronted not only with the truth, but when this truth is at odds with his personal bias. Case in point: the beginning of this episode. Kreizler hires a professional graphologist to examine the letter the killer sent to Mrs Santorelli. Clues from said letter lead the team to believe their killer is young, aged 23 to 35, and from a privileged background. Further analysis of the language used tells Kreizler that the killer sees himself like his victims, an immigrant “painted and dirty”. When Sarah suggests that a dominant female figure in the killer’s life may have some say in why he murders – and who he murders – Kreizler vehemently rebukes Sarah’s argument, causing the police secretary to leave the room, feeling bullied and slighted. Kreizler doesn’t take to challenges on his authority too well. It may also be a case that he has childhood trauma issues of his own. (Who doesn’t?)

Images: TNT

He seeks to know more, I give him that. Realizing that he may have to go back to basics, he visits a former mentor, Professor Kavanagh (David Warner, in a guest star role). In a scene that goes someway in explaining the title of this episode, Kavanagh urges Kreizler to “go look at his bird again.” In other words, look for what isn’t immediately obvious. At least, I think that’s what he means. The alienist then brings Moore on a train journey to a hellhole of a penitentiary, where child-murderer Jessie Pomeroy is locked up in solitary confinement. Using a killer to catch a killer isn’t anything new – Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lector springs to mind – but the men’s hopes of gaining fresh insight are dashed when Kreizler and Moore realize they’ve been played for fools by a man who killed not because of the lack of a mother’s love but because he’d had enough of people being alive in general. Pomeroy even mocks Kreizler’s disfigured arm. These men have their own history, it seems. The visit, however it turned out, leads the alienist to an inalienable truth: he doesn’t know as much as he thinks he does. Not quite back to the drawing board, but another angle of enquiry is needed – and Sarah provides it.

Having had enough of Kreizler’s bullying ways, Sarah uses the information gleaned from the graphologist to send out letters to various institutions, specifically asking about individuals who have displayed violent and sadistic behaviours. This is painstaking because, remember, this is a time before Xerox and email. Each letter has to be individually typed and mailed out.

Meanwhile, Commissioner Roosevelt is under severe pressure to both end the investigation and cover it up. The mayor of New York City has got wind that the wealthy and influential Van Bergen family are under suspicion and orders Roosevelt to let the family take care of business themselves. This is the first that Roosevelt has heard of any suspect in the murders, and both Captain Connor and (to a lesser degree) feel the force of his displeasure.

Sarah takes the commissioner’s message to Kreizler, who’s enjoying some downtime in a fancy restaurant. In an immaculately produced and acted scene, Sarah presents Kreizler with the results of her solo investigation. Bonding over Sarah’s love for whiskey and winding men up (she shares a wonderfully intimate and surprisingly funny scene with Moore earlier in the episode, where she spurns Moore’s haphazard attempts to woo her into marriage), the pair are still aloof in their interactions, but Kreizler’s interest is piqued when the name of a local bishop turns up in a police file, redacted by former Chief Byrnes.

I whooped with delight to see veteran Irish actor Sean McGinley guest starring in this episode. There’s not an Irish production he hasn’t been a part of. The man is truly ubiquitous. He plays the aforementioned Bishop H. (Harry?) Potter. Kreizler interviews him at the school he oversees, and both trust each other as far they can throw each other. Bishop Potter is sceptical of psychology, while Kreizler is a lapsed Catholic and staunch atheist. However, Potter inadvertently utters the Van Bergen name, and the alienist subsequently gives this vital piece of information to Roosevelt later in the day. Thinking he now has his man, the commissioner orders Connor to find out where Willem Van Bergen is. Once Connor comes back, albeit reluctantly, Roosevelt leads the team himself and heads out to catch the killer. Connor has been rumbled, though. He’s been paid off once too many times and now he’s led his boss up the garden path and to the wrong address. Meanwhile, Mrs Van Bergen spirits her son away from the prying eyes of the law, just as he was about to get intimate with a young boy.

But – and this is the clincher – Kreizler doesn’t believe Willem is their killer. He maintains the murderer is deliberately targeting immigrants because he relates to them. He could very well be a person of privilege, but he’s not Willem Van Bergen. Also, his findings suggest the killer is following the Christian calendar and the next holy day is five days away. He will strike again on the Feast of the Ascension.

This is a great episode because not only is the hunt for the killer moving at a faster pace than in earlier episodes, but there are some lovely character moments between the five crime solvers. I chuckled when the Isaacson awkwardly explained “self-gratification” to Sarah outside the commissioner’s office, only to be put in their places when Sarah says she understands a woman’s needs but not a mature gentleman’s. The Jewish boys’ dinner with their other, with Lucius’ Russian girlfriend in attendance, is a masterpiece in understated awkwardness. I’ve already mentioned Dakota Fanning’s individual scenes with Luke Evans and Daniel Brühl. The plot may be detailed and enthralling, but it’s the characters you’ll remember once this show has finished.

The Alienist S1E5 Review Score
  • 9/10
    Plot - 9/10
  • 8/10
    Action - 8/10
  • 9/10
    Dialogue - 9/10
  • 10/10
    Performances - 10/10

"Hildebrandt’s Starling"

The Alienist - Episode 5: “Hildebrandt’s Starling” | Starring: Daniel Brühl, Dakota Fanning, Luke Evans

User Review
5 (2 votes)
About James McShane (97 Articles)
James McShane is Irish, and damn proud of it. A recovering caffeine addict, he lives a full life, devoted to his books, friends, family, and Doctor Who calendar collection. His interests include reading three books at once, stalking his favourite people on Facebook, and going for long walks at four in the morning. Insomnia is a bitch. He hopes to be a published author one day, so he should really get around to finishing that damn novel of his.
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