The Alienist (2018) s02e04 – Gilded Cage

I did go into this episode somewhat hopeful. It’s not the same writer as last episode, but it’s the same director (Clare Kilner). Sadly, outside some good direction to Luke Evans, who still has zippo to do in the show—though he gets a subplot about supporting Black female reporter Brittany Marie Batchelder at the New York Times in the late 1800s and… I mean, okay, there are some jokes. The show doesn’t make them. But it’s not hard to roll your eyes at the show’s desperate attempt to elevate Evans to professional respectability without actually giving him anything to do for himself.

It’s fine, I mean, Batchelder is good. Better than most of the cast. But she really ought to be working with Dakota Fanning because it’s Dakota Fanning’s show.

The episode’s main plot is Fanning’s detective Melanie Field undercover at Michael McElhatton’s hospital, which is also an abortion clinic for the rich guy’s mistresses, whether they want an abortion or not. There’s some actual tension and suspense with that storyline, which is something for “The Alienist: Angel of Darkness.” The first season was viciously cruel to its characters. This season is a lot less intense for them (and the viewer), despite the whole kidnapped baby thing. Especially since it seems possible the currently kidnapped baby is going to survive. It seems long (halfway?) into the season to kill it later.

Oh, there’s also Evans’s engagement ball, which Fanning kind of crashes and kind of ruins by being supportive of Evans but not romantically interested in him, a very evil thing for a woman to do, no doubt. Lots of jokes at Evans’s fiancée Emily Barber’s expense. Though no creepy stuff this time for her and dad Matt Letscher. I’ve cooled on Letscher on the show. The characters are all very one note, especially this season’s characters; even Ted Levine in his leprechaun impression is better than the new players.

There’s a potentially interesting development after the big—and narratively destitute—suspense sequence. It’d help a lot if Field were better or the writing were better. The episode introduces Lara Pulver as a love interest for Daniel Brühl, which is not a great sequence but if it keeps Brühl from messing up the main plot, I guess it’s fine.

The episode is decidedly lesser than the previous one, but… at least it’s half over. And maybe the previous episode’s writer will be back. Fingers crossed anyway.

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