The Alienist: Angel of Darkness

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Dakota Fanning in The Alienist: Angel of Darkness.
Dakota Fanning in The Alienist: Angel of Darkness.
Screengrab: YouTube/TNT

OUR RATING

3/5 Stars

WHAT WE THOUGHT:

Set a year after the first season, Sara opens up a private detective agency and she teams up with Kriezler and Moore again on a new investigation. The team works to solve the mystery around babies that have been kidnapped in New York City, which leads them to another elusive killer. 

WHAT WE THOUGHT:

The Alienist: Angel of Darkness feels more like a sequel than a Season Two. The series is based on the popular detective novels by Caleb Carr, and the episodes are like chapters. It might not always be prestige television like Perry Mason, but it is thrilling enough to have you intrigued and to want to find out what happens next.

In the first season, the murders of boy prostitutes in New York City in 1896 are investigated. This season goes back to the same setting but a year later, and the team gets together again to investigate infant murders and kidnappings.

In Angel of Darkness, the leadership of the team moves from Dr Laszlo Kreizler (Daniel Bruhl) to Sara Howard (Dakota Fanning). In Season One, Sara was the first woman to work for the New York police department under Theodore Roosevelt as the police commissioner. This season she has left the police force and started her own detective agency with an all-female staff. It is with her detective agency that she receives the job to help the Spanish ambassador's wife find her missing child.

While Season One was interesting, I found myself even more enveloped in the case that was the central force behind Season Two. The first episode begins with a woman being put to death after being accused of murdering her baby. Dr Kriezler, who examined her, does not believe that she murdered her baby and later, while teaming with Sara on the case of the missing Spanish baby, they uncover that things are not what they seem. The season explores themes of corruption, class prejudice, gangsterism, tabloid journalism and the role of women in a patriarchal society.

The role of women is explicitly explored through Sara's character. In every aspect, she is symbolic of a strong woman – she is independent, she is fearless, and she owns her own business. But oftentimes, it is almost like she is a caricature of what others think a strong woman is. She is Wonder Woman without the powers; she is Captain Marvel, constantly showing up when our heroes are in dire need to save the day. It is jarring because we are so used to this type of role being played by men. In Season One, Sara always played by her own rules, but this season she takes it even further, always going her own way and not following orders. But it doesn't ever feel as if there are negative consequences for her actions. It is always as if she is living in an untouchable plane compared to the other characters. As good as Dakota Fanning is as an actress, I don't think that she has the agency to make this lead role as compelling as the script expects it to be.

With the movement of Sara as the lead member of the ragtag detective squad, Kriezler moves to the background.

It was interesting for the story to be told from a fresh perspective and that of a single woman in the 19th century, but it seemed as if the show didn't know what to do with Kriezler when he was no longer a lead. He made some observations, had a side romance with a new character who was coincidentally also an alienist (played by Lara Pulver, who played a similar role as Irene Adler in BBC's Sherlock), and mostly just piped up with smart comments. He was such a force in the first season, it was disappointing to see him so underutilised this season.

The third member of the main squad is illustrator turned journalist, John Schuyler Moore (Luke Evans). John played a pivotal role in the first season by illustrating crime scenes and the suspected murderer. This season, he uses his connections in his job at the New York Times to get information about the case. In an interesting twist, most of the romantic and melodramatic plotlines are centred around John. He is engaged to the illegitimate daughter of William Randolph Hearst but still in love with Sara. John also plays the role of the damsel in distress, with Sara having to save him many times. Last season, he seemed to be a tortured lovesick puppy, this season had him standing up for himself more and being honest about his feelings for Sara (at least to Sara).

I won't spoil who the villain of the series is, but the actor who plays the role does such an excellent job, that I was constantly on the edge of my seat, eager to see what would happen next. The character was so unpredictable and surprising that even if the melodramatic storylines of the main characters are annoying at times, the mystery will keep you entertained.

Throughout the series, there is the background noise of babies crying. The cacophony adds to the anxiety that you feel as they rush to solve the mystery before another infant is killed. It sort of mirrors what the characters are feeling and what they are trying to find. Like a mother, the audience also feels the panic and fear of the baby being in distress.

Although, The Alienist: Angel of Darkness is not the best period crime drama, it is captivating for the audience and will keep you entertained throughout its entirety. It is also bold in its attempts to subvert gender tropes, shock viewers, and make valid social commentary about the times in which it is set. If they return for a third season, I hope they use the side characters better and balance the melodrama better with the main storyline.

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