The Alienist is a period drama TV series set in New York of the late 19th century. Based on the novel of the same name by Caleb Carr, The Alienist debuted in mid-2018 to mixed critical responses. The Alienist Season 2 was released in July 2020 and based on Carr’s sequel novel, The Angel of Darkness.
The main problems I had with the first season of The Alienist were related to suspension of disbelief issues and overall pacing. The former resulted primarily from the trio of protagonists that the series revolved around viz. Laszlo Kreizler, an alienist played by Daniel Brühl (as psychiatrists were called back then), John Schuyler Moore (Luke Evans), journalist and cartoonist and Sara Howard (Dakota Fanning), who begins the series as the first woman to be employed by the NYPD.
This motley crew basically get together to investigate a serial killer who is murdering street children. Since none of them are technically detectives, this authenticity of this quest stretches believability throughout the first season. As mentioned above, pacing was a dilemma as well. Not only that but also decision making by our character trio left much to be desired.
Thus, I was not quite sure whether to watch The Alienist Season 2 but when I found the entire eight episodes available on Netflix, I decided to take the risk. To its credit, I think The Alienist Season 2 is a marked improvement on the first. This is mainly because Sara Howard gets pushed into the role of main character and drives the narrative strongly enough.
The plight of women in this era is fodder for conflict and tension, not to mention character development. So, having Howard set up her own detective agency and take up the case of missing infants is stroke of genius! The subject matter is dark as it ultimately involves infanticide and child abuse but it brings to light the dreaded situation most women found themselves in back then.
Thankfully, Kreizler and Moore are pushed to the background as supporting characters and the series is all the better for that. It was often difficult to be invested in these two boring characters but Howard is a more engaging protagonist. Still, there are nagging issues related to plot logic and pacing once more but kept to a bearable minimum.
As an aside, it was also good to see former child star Fanning being given the opportunity to lead the series. Her role in the first season was a middling one but in The Alienist Season 2, she excels in driving the story forward. Hopefully, there is enough marketability to spin-off a third season with Sara Howard alone!
… still there’s more …