The TNT drama series The Alienist took slightly of an extended, circuitous route to finally make it to the air (at one point Cary Fukunaga was visiting directly all the episodes), but the finished product proved to be a compelling, binge-worthy mystery committed during a prestige drama series’ clothes. And while the mystery was solved by the tip of Season 1, the show’s second season – which features an almost entirely new and different creative team – offers up an innovative grisly murder trial for the show’s trio of amateur detectives to resolve.
It may be a smaller amount of a Season 2 and more of a sequel to the show’s first season because it nearly resets the board and forges ahead with an innovative narrative. And while the show struggles to indicate something truly remarkable, it remains a compelling enough watch because of solid performances, high production value, and a genuinely captivating new case.
When The Alienist: Angel of Darkness begins, the show’s lead characters are separated. Sara Howard (Dakota Fanning) – previously a secretary for President – now heads up her own agency. Meanwhile, John Moore (Luke Evans), previously an illustrator, is now a reporter for the massive apple Times, and Dr. Laszlo Kreizler (Daniel Brühl)… well, Dr. Kreizler continues to be putting his expertise as an alienist to good use.
When a kidnapped baby turns up dead and displayed in grisly fashion, followed by the kidnapping of another baby, Sara suspects a liquidator is additionally on the loose. She reconnects with Laszlo and John to try and do and find this recently kidnapped child before it’s too late, and has happened within the show’s first season, their investigation leads them down some shady paths.
The Alienist Season 2 opens with a potentially wrongful execution of a woman accused of murdering her child, which Sara and Laszlo protest, and a good chunk of the season’s story appears to revolve around female agency – or lack thereof within the NY City’s “Gilded Age.” It’s no surprise, then, that Sara takes center stage in Angel of Darkness, and Fanning clearly delights in absorbing a more forceful role this season. Sara leads the charge for much of the investigation, which makes for a pleasing change of pace from Season 1. Laszlo is compelling, but a touch goes a protracted way.
Also back from Season 1 is the charming brothers Marcus and Lucius Isaacson (Douglas Smith and Matthew Shear, respectively) to run some forensics on the increasing pile of bodies doping up, Robert Ray Wisdom as Cyrus, and Ted Levine as former NYPD Commissioner Thomas Byrnes. Levine specifically could also be a delight, chewing the scenery and quite literally twirling his mustache together of the show’s effective antagonists.
Like Season 1, Angel of Darkness digs into themes concerning status, corrupt policing, and thus the spillover of politics into, well, everything – to varying degrees of success. Indeed, while the show’s heart is within the correct place, it somewhat stumbles to look out an elegant due to tackle all the issues it wants to.
Sara just outright saying, “I am a sturdy, independent female woman!” wouldn’t feel entirely out of place.
Pretty much the full creative team is new this season. Stuart Carolan takes over as showrunner, and Peaky Blinders alum David Caffrey effectively takes over because of the show’s primary director. The transition is relatively seamless – this still looks as if The Alienist, it’s just less of a continuation and more of “another story.” Again, Angel of Darkness is much more type of a sequel than a Season 2, but the assembly value remains high.
It’s also not significantly better or worse than the show’s first season. The Alienist never quite joined the ranks of The Americans or even Boardwalk Empire as a “great” period drama series, and Angel of Darkness doesn’t really see the show making that leap in quality. But sometimes all you’d like is also a very compelling whodunit with high production value and compelling characters, and therein way The Alienist: Angel of Darkness delivers.
It also must be said that, as we head into Month 5 of quarantine, a touch quality goes an extended way. Is Angel of Darkness great? Not really. Will I keep watching to hunt out who did the murders? Absolutely I’ll.