“Libby Hatch sells more papers than the war.”
“Last Exit To Brooklyn”
Last week’s double episode digest ended with Libby on a rooftop in Brooklyn overlooking the bridge, with her new prize, the Vanderbilt baby, in her arms. But she won’t be safe there for long, as the episode also ended with Sarah realizing, as a Brooklyn native, that would be where the former Elsbeth Hunter would run.
While the baby’s whereabouts stay unknown, Sarah takes Moore with her to visit Sgt. Kelly, head of Brooklyn arm of the NYPD. He’s been with the department long enough to remember the Hunter suicide incident, but he’s hesitant to believe Libby is the same person as the Hunter daughter her remembers from the case. The family was wealthy, living just off Prospect Park, and Elsbeth was a dutiful, charming child.
But digging through the files turns up things changed after her father’s death, and not just because the Hunters had to move out of their parkside mansion. Elsebeth Hunter was confined to an asylum for two years for the attempted murder of her mother.
While Sarah and Moore are on the Brooklyn track, Kreizler has asked Karen to help him understand why Libby would be obsessed with babies. Libby made memory boxes for each of the victims, but one is older than the others, which Kreizler believes is the actual daughter, mourned as if it were dead. Their date takes them to a brothel, erhm, an “alternative club.” Alice, the owner, is non-binary, and her girlfriend is similarly obsessed with breast milk, having been pulled from her family unit at a young age. We don’t learn much here we didn’t already know, other than non-binary people don’t like being called “disordered” in the 1800s either. (Karen’s covering for Kreizler’s faux pas in this department is a familiar situation.) Karen tells Laszlo she’s been offered a position at the Institute of Psychology in Vienna, and she’ll be leaving in two weeks if he doesn’t decide to step forward in this current dalliance of theirs.
Sarah, Kreizler, and Moore head back to Brooklyn to interview Libby’s mother, Mallory. Being the honest sort, she invites Byrnes along on their trip because it’s the right thing to do. Mallory isn’t surprised to see them, having seen Libby’s photo in the papers, but insists she hasn’t seen her daughter for years and only has a single box of the girl’s things from her childhood. It was an idyllic childhood, too, according to Mallory, including a year in Paris to study ballet. Kreizler recognizes Mallory is, much like Libby, telling a fantasy version of their former life, but it’s Sarah who asks the right question about Libby’s child born out of wedlock.
It was a girl, and Mallory insists she was given away to a high-end children’s home to be placed elsewhere, as Libby was deemed “unfit” for motherhood, and in response to having the baby taken away, the girl came at her with a knife. But Kreizler knows the home Mallory mentions, the Children’s Aid Society. They don’t just take unwanted rich people’s children. He correctly guesses Mallory was enraged at the idea of another child, when she hadn’t wanted to raise Libby in the first place, having had a child because it was what society told her to do. With the husband dead, all Mallory wanted was to be free, not saddled with a child who had a child, so she made up the attack to have the girl locked up, and gave the baby away. Confronted with the truth of her behavior, Mallory cracks but insists that she doesn’t know where the girl is.
Sarah should not have brought along Byrnes, who is still working to undermine her investigation and “win” this battle to look good in front of Vanderbilt. He’s already attempted to come at the problem by bribing FatJack to get GooGoo to turn the baby over for cash. (GooGoo nearly did too, but arrived late, and discovered Byrnes men beating FatJack within an inch of his life, so he retreated.) Since that failed, Byrnes is now looking to have Hearst back him on a different plan: Use what he learned from Sarah’s investigation. He wants to go behind her back with it, and see if he can draw Libby and the baby out. Hearst agrees to pay for it.
With Hearst’s money, he goes to Mallory and says Vanderbilt will pay her to bring Libby’s real daughter forward in an interview to run in the Journal. Mallory falls for it hook, line, and sinker, revealing she’s known where her granddaughter, Clara, has been this whole time. When Bitsy brings Sarah the paper the next morning, she is livid, returning to Mallory’s home, where she reveals to Mallory Byrnes lied about Vanderbilt’s involvement. But it’s worked, as GooGoo brings Libby the paper with Clara’s image in it.
Byrnes’ gambit draws out Libby and GooGoo. He seems to have won this round until the door opens, and it’s not Libby, but a decoy redhead with a message that she’ll kill them all for this. But Libby is watching from nearby, and one of Doyle’s men spots her as they hustle Clara and Mallory off to safety. Doyle tracks her down but makes the fatal mistake of turning his back on her for a second, and then he’s dead. Sorry, Doyle. We’ll lay your death at Byrnes’ feet too.
But Libby’s not done. Unaware Clara’s gone to the Kreizler Institute and put under Karen’s care, she makes her way to Sarah’s offices. Sarah’s currently on the phone with Moore, where he’s trying to convince her to tell him to throw over Violet and marry her instead. Believing Moore has gone to Violet, Sarah decides to bargain with Libby since no help will come. But just as Libby aims to shoot Sarah, Moore rushes in. In the scuffle, Sarah gets the gun, but Libby gets a knife to Moore’s throat.
The final episode picks right back up on the cliffhanger from season 7’s penultimate finale. With Sarah begging for Moore’s life, Libby realizes she’s probably in love with Moore. (Listen, everyone else assumes, why shouldn’t she?) As the knife begins to sink into Moore’s neck, Sarah breaks and admits Clara’s with Kreizler. Libby thoughtlessly relaxes her grip, and Moore flips her down, to tie her up and arrest her.
Byrnes is surprisingly bitter over Doyle’s death, blaming working for the “rich greenbacks” instead of his stupid gamble. But with Libby now in jail, it seems she will be the one he takes it out on. He’s got a torture method calls “The Byrnes Degree,” of which the first degree is waterboarding. But it doesn’t break her. She attacks one of her water borders and bites off his ear.
Sarah comes in protesting this torture method, only to have Byrnes tell her to stuff it. Blessedly, Kreizler recognizes Byrnes’ emotional driver is his guilt about Doyle’s death. Byrnes tries to tell him to stuff it with that crap too, but, recognizing Kreizler knows what he’s talking about, suggests turning “that claptrap” on Libby. Kreizler sends Sarah in, because that’s someone Libby trusts.
Breaking her with kindness works better. Both were raised by mothers who had children out of duty, and fathers who left them by suicide, so they have a bond. Libby wistfully talks of her love of dance. She also reveals she loved Clara from the first moment, and her mother’s rage was from not understanding that. Sarah promises to bring Clara in exchange for where the baby is. Poor Libby believes her and reveals where GooGoo has left the Vanderbilt baby. But Sarah’s lying, which Libby realizes a moment too late. It’s a betrayal beyond anything Byrnes could have done.
When Moore and Byrnes arrive at the address Libby gave, GooGoo’s gang is nowhere to be found, but the baby is safe and sound, GooGoo’s mutt proudly guarding it. But the lack of anyone to fight them should have raised alarms because they’re aiming for the station where Libby is locked up. It’s a slaughter; only Kreizler and Sarah survive by hiding in a darkened cell. Libby at first wants to hunt down Sarah, but then realizes she doesn’t need them. She knows where Clara is.
GooGoo shoots their way into Kreizler’s Institute, where the Isaacsons are standing guard. Lucius hesitates to shoot and gets knocked out, as Marcus takes a bullet to the chest before GooGoo and Libby flee with Clara in tow by the hair. Kreizler deduces Libby will retreat further into her lost childhood life, and Sarah realizes she’s taken Clara to her childhood home, the one they lost when the father committed suicide.
Byrnes is rounded up, and Kelly gives them the address of the old Hunter mansion. Byrnes assumes (correctly for once) if they go in guns blazing, Clara will die. So it’s up to Sarah, Moore, and Kreizler to sneak in and take Libby down themselves. But their presence does not go unnoticed. GooGoo rounds on the group with a gun, and this time Lucius doesn’t hesitate to take his brother’s murderer out.
Poor Clara tries to run for it, alerting the group to where she is. Sarah and Kreizler talk the weeping Libby down, convincing her if she loves Clara, she’ll let the kid go. Clara has a chance at a happy life, and if Libby lets her go, this can end the cycle. Libby weeps that all she wanted was a baby to take the pain of her loss away, and how it only ever worked for a little while. It works, and in return, Sarah prevents Byrnes’ men from shooting Libby when they burst in.
With a job well done, Vanderbilt is singing the praises of Sarah Howard. The Times is chuffed at breaking the story, leading to Moore getting promoted, which means any offer Hearst has at the Journal for him is out the window. Moore offers Joanna a position, but she’s going to work for the more progressive Weeksville paper in Brooklyn.
As for the relationship with Sarah, that’s just got pushed off the table. Violet’s seduction of Moore at their engagement party has worked its magic, and she is, as they say, “in a delicate condition.” Honestly, I’m not the only one who says thank heavens for that. Sarah may be heartbroken, but the relief she feels is palatable. She does not want to be anyone’s little wife or produce a family, which Moore does very much want. And she’s right, the things he loves about her are the things he’d grow to resent long term. Good job, Violet.
As for Vienna, Karen’s invite is from Freud himself, which means there’s nothing Kreizler can say to make her stay. His only choice is to go with her, which he does. He’ll be gone for two years, by which time it should be time for TNT to bring us The Alienist season three, no?
- Unlike Roosevelt and Byrnes, Kelly does not seem to be based on a real person, though the Irish last name does reference the massive influx of Irish immigrants into the Brooklyn corner of the NYPD during this era.
- Byrnes on horseback and the wagon of police is an impressive sight.
- Marcus’ death scene was stunning. If we don’t get a spinoff Bitsy & Lucius Show, I riot.
- On that note, a proper home shiva is the best place for a romantic scene. Convince me otherwise.
- I love Cyrus giving Kreizler Frederick Douglass’ book to take with him on the trip to Vienna.
- Joanna says the paper in Brooklyn she is going to work for is more “progressive.” It’s not clear which she means, but The Progressive American was one of many African American alt-weeklies that existed up North in those post Civil War years.
- Thomas Byrnes had five daughters, and though the show does not make it clear, Kitty is almost certainly supposed to be one of them.
- If there’s a The Alienist Season 3, set in 1899, as soon as Kreizler returns, I will need Violet to have a wardrobe to match.
- Any season three for this series won’t be based directly on a Caleb Carr novel. The “third” in his New York trilogy, Surrender New York, is a present-day set mystery, and it’s already under contract to be adapted over at Fox.