“The world works on a system of patronage, and like it or not, Vanderbilt sits at the top of the heap.”
“Belly Of The Beast”
Last week’s Alienist Double Digest ended with revealing the antagonist’s identity, Libby Hatch, one of the ward girls at Dr. Markoe’s Lying-In Hospital. It also low-key revealed how she was poisoning the babies, by drinking it and transferring the poison via breastfeeding. This week makes sure to spell this out, in case viewers didn’t catch her teeth were charcoal black. (It was easy to miss, considering all the Matron murdering gore going on.) It also drives it home with the Linares baby biting back rather than feed as if the infant knows the stuff is killing her.
This week’s episode also sets up what will become a running theme, as the police involved keep failing to take the next logical step. In this case, both Byrnes and Doyle instinctively recognize the Matron should be questioned, though Byrnes’ concern is more with keeping the “Research” wing’s actual activities quiet. At the same time, Doyle wants to make sure the Matron wasn’t in cahoots with Libby. But both immediately settle for “she’s not here today,” despite the woman not missing a day of work in decades. It leaves the door wide open for Sarah to catch the scoop, discovering the Matron dead, her eyelids painted with memento mori.
Byrnes and company are happy to take out their Matron failure on Colleen, presenting her with Byrnes’ proto-mugshot album to find Libby, whose photo is in there, as a “known associate’’ of gangsters. While Moore puts her picture in the Times, Sarah heads out to track down more leads, and turns up Libby is GooGoo’s girl, the main moll of the Hudson Dusters. Unfortunately, Libby sees herself in the paper just as she’s stalking Sarah’s detective agency, inspiring her to pay the empty offices an unannounced visit.
When Moore and Sarah return, they discover Libby took the gun belonging to Sarah’s late father, a deliberate reminder of the conversation they had about being the daughter of men who committed suicide. She also left a message on the chalkboard, drawings of eyeballs, and the word “Stupid.”
Speaking of stupid, Moore’s response is to take Sarah to his house and order her to stay there until Libby has been captured. (C’mon now, everyone, say it with me: That’s not how any of this works!) Even more hilariously, Moore then heads out to dinner with Violet and Hearst, because the best way to be a gentleman is to lock the woman you want to be with up in your house while going to dinner with the one you’re engaged to.
Moore’s not the only one out on a date. Kreizler follows up on Karen Stratton’s invite to call on her, and the two are off drinking absinth and talking infanticide. It’s a genuinely delightful scene, especially since it highlights how much he and Karen connect while Moore and Violet are merely pretty when they stand next to each other.
Sarah heads down to Hudson St, she and Joanna not only track Libby and GooGoo but also find them having some pretty kinky sex in an alley. Poor Joanna is dispatched to not one, but two establishments that stop dead at a Black woman walking into the door. Hearst and Violet are appalled not only at Joanna being there but also at Moore dropping everything to go with her.
Moore shows up undetected, but Kreizler gets caught by Fat Jack on arrival, forcing Moore to redirect to saving our hapless alienist while Sarah goes it alone. But Sarah doesn’t need backup, even when she finds herself held at gunpoint by Libby. It does mean in the struggle, Libby gets away. But Sarah gets the baby back, safe and sound.
It’s a happy reunion at the Spanish consulate and joyous relief. Unfortunately, Sarah is still apparently supposed to sleep at Moore’s house instead of going home, and in their jubilation, well, that’s the second time Moore’s been laid two episodes running. Perhaps Byrnes’ idea of running an article suggesting Sarah Howard is a homewrecker isn’t going to be as far off as assumed.
One of the reasons I liked the first season of The Alienist was the mostly unspoken relationship between Moore and Howard. I liked the “will they or won’t they,” and I loved it as landing on the side of “won’t.” It’s a rare show that dares to stay on the “won’t” side of the line, so I was so thoroughly disappointed in how Episode 5 ended.
Luckily, these double episodes mean I was disappointed for all of a commercial break and change. Moore might be wandering around trying to suggest he can throw over Violet, but Sarah knows better. As far as she’s concerned, it’s out of their systems. Moore considers a breakup, but even he realizes Violet doesn’t deserve to be humiliated. It seems like everyone is just going to move on.
Yes, let’s move on because Houdini is down on the docks giving a show.
Moving Cyrus to his own business on Hudson St. is a step up for the character (and quite convenient for this season’s plot). But it also means there’s been less excuse to ground the series at Kreizler’s Institute, especially now that Sarah has an office, making him feel even more third wheel than last season. The only real tie to Kreizler’s work is young Paulie (Lucas Bond), a disturbed teen obsessed with magic. Kreizler takes him to see Houdini hang upside down from one of his famous escape tricks, but the result is Pauly, feeling ignored, attempts to hang himself as a magic trick.
The only magic is Kreizler finds him in time, so the kid doesn’t die. But this does conjure up an excuse to bring back Markoe, who was in danger of being left behind now his Lying-In Hospital is no longer the center of Sarah’s investigations. The school is temporarily closed, Kreizler’s license is suspended, and Sarah is now stuck with the realization she can’t use him to consult until the board reconvenes at the end of the summer to reinstate him.
Sarah needs him now more than ever. Hearst’s article about this “outrageous” woman who rescued the Linares baby had the opposite effect than Byrnes intended. Bitsy arrives to say the offices are swarmed with clients begging for Sarah to help them. But Sarah isn’t done with the Libby case yet. The woman got away, and she’s going to strike again.
The police, irritated at Sarah’s notoriety, refuse to let her back in to see Libby’s room, but Sarah remembers enough to realize there is another space. There were no diapers, no bottles, no baby paraphernalia of any kind there. And by the light of day, it’s blindingly obvious where to look: The place Sarah tracked Libby down to is next door to the burnt-out St Ignatius Boarding House.
So while the cops dither and find nothing next door, Sarah and Moore march into the burnt-out building and find all sorts of goodies. There’s the baby cage, pictures of at least three other baby victims (including the Napp child), and objects stolen from the Linares household from Libby casing the joint ahead of time. There are also new objects from another joint she’s been casing, covered in heralds, which Moore discovers are the Vanderbilt family crest.
Perfect timing, because the Vanderbilt baby was just kidnapped from Central Park, right out in the open.
This is where Hearst and Byrne’s article really backfires because Cornelius Vanderbilt II doesn’t just call them in; he also sends an unmarked carriage for Sarah. All their badmouthing and sneering make them look like fools when she arrives with the stolen items and leads already in progress. Vanderbilt is so impressed that he not only hires her on the spot but also puts her in charge of the entire operation, over Byrnes and Doyle. He even has Kreizler reinstated to advise once again professionally. It must be nice to have a Vanderbilt on your side.
Kreizler’s return is timely because Sarah is still beating herself up over liking Libby when we met her back in Episode 3. He points out that a connection like that is probably proof Libby was telling the truth about some of her life, and Sarah realizes the story of her father’s suicide was possibly real. Moore immediately heads to the Times archives, because someone hanging themselves off a New York bridge would have been serious news, and he finds it. The man’s name was Hunter and hanged himself off the Brooklyn Bridge. He was survived by wife Mallory and his daughter, Elsbeth, who live on the far side of the Bridge.
Sarah realizes with all her Manhattan haunts robbed of her, Libby’s next stop will be Brooklyn. She again shows herself to be a full step ahead of Byrnes, who’s busy boasting Manhattan covered. Do those homeless people sleeping on the roof realize the woman teaching her child about the Brooklyn Bridge is carrying the wealthiest heir in New York City? Too bad they probably don’t.
- Love how Markoe and Byrnes straight up go with “Martha Napp had an abettor” rather than admit they were wrong.
- Byrnes almost showed some spine there, when it starts to dawn on him that the Lying-In Hospital might not be as above board as he tells himself it is. Still, any hope for him seem to have gone out the window, as Hearst continues to tee him up against Sarah.
- That scene of Harry Houdini’s escape is about 20 years ahead of when it happened, but the video of him doing it in 1920 is as amazing as the one in the show.
- Cornelius Vanderbilt is not the original Cornelius who founded the family fortune; he’s the grandson. Cornelius II will pass away two years after this, in 1899. The grandson’s father is never named, but it is most likely the child of older son Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, who would die when the RMS Lusitania sunk in 1915.
- Fun Fact: Cornelius Vanderbilt II is Anderson Cooper’s great-grandfather. (CNN and TNT are both owned by Warner Media, so this is all in-house.)
- Brooklyn didn’t become part of the five boroughs of New York City until 1898, a year after the show is set. Before that, it was an independent city, which is why everyone talks about it like it might as well be New Jersey.
- Karen is my new favorite character. Watching her see right through Laszlo at every turn was super gratifying, and I look forward to more of her and their absinthe filled dates.
- Also, I need Karen and Sarah to meet before the end of the season and start matching wits. Kreizler won’t even know where to turn.
- I am here for a spinoff centered around Bitsy and Lucius’ relationship, please and thanks.