When getting inside the mind of a killer becomes a study in sexual shame
This episode of The Alienist was a study in compulsion, with one conclusion: All of us are driven by our own perceived inadequacies — and the ways we’ve been hurt by the world become the ways we seek to hurt others.
Kreizler (and to a lesser extent, the rest of the gang) learns this over and over throughout “These Bloody Thoughts,” beginning with a visit to a former patient. Whatever she sought Kreizler’s help for (kinky BDSM sex stuff strongly implied!), he thinks she can offer some insight into the mind of a man who mutilates for sport — and he’s right.
“If your friend enjoys inflicting wounds, he has wounds of his own,” she says. She also suggests that Kreizler isn’t immune to mixing up shame and sexy pleasure himself, calling him a cripple. Kreizler’s jaw twitches. Is he wounded, or turned on?
The idea that we’re all more or less blank slates, driven much more by nurture than nature, is the through line in this episode. Sometimes it’s fuzzy, as when Kreizler questions a young patient who killed and dismembered his neighbors’ dogs (dude clearly has a real grudge against dogs, but the why is still a mystery). Sometimes it’s explicit, as when Kreizler questions Moore about being jilted by his fiancée and how he’s eroticized the shame, reenacting it with prostitutes. And sometimes it’s whack-you-in-the-face obvious, as when he describes to Sarah a young, wealthy woman who inexplicably murdered her children. Not so inexplicable when you consider the immense pressure put on her by society to marry and reproduce, eh? (Side note: Sarah doesn’t seem totally sold on this “There but for the grace of God go I” argument as it applies to child murder, and I don’t think I am either.)
While the alienist meditates on blank-slateism, John Moore strolls through the red-light district in the daytime, getting the stink-eye from passersby, who either (a) don’t think he belongs there, or (b) were witnesses to his pantsless escapades last week and really don’t appreciate what they saw. His destination: the Golden Rule, a now-abandoned brothel where the latest dead boy worked. After encountering Marcus Isaacson* and a hostile Scottish madam (Game of Thrones‘ Kate Dickie), Moore ends up on the roof, where bits of a frayed hemp rope provide another piece of the puzzle: The man they’re hunting doesn’t just like heights, but is a professionally outfitted climber. That’s also where the two meet another little boy dressed in girls’ clothing, who offers a new clue to the killer’s identity.
“He’s a saint,” the kid says. (Insert your own Val Kilmer joke here.)
*Totally tangential side note: This is the second episode in a row that shows Marcus in flagrante with a girlfriend his family doesn’t approve of. It doesn’t have anything to do with the plot (actually it feels like it’s just there to provide some comparatively wholesome contrast to all the violence, depravity, and sexual exploitation of children), but it’s getting weird not to mention it. So, we’re mentioning it. There.
Meanwhile, the simmering tension between Kreizler and Mary — who definitely do not have a standard doctor-housekeeper relationship — ratchets up another notch. Mary is jealous of Sarah’s interest in Kreizler, and Moore, seeing her unhappiness, takes her out for a stroll through Thomas Edison’s latest expo (also one of the funnest historical set pieces so far). At the same time, Kreizler comes home to find Mary missing, forcing him to remove his own shoes (the horror) and then wander into her room and sniff her undergarments (the actual horror! Dude! Stop that!).
It’s all been a long and sordid lesson in the connection between the things that humiliate and the things that titillate. But are Kreizler and Co. drawing closer to an epiphany, or are they being led to a grisly fate?
As the episode winds down, the whole gang converges on a nightclub and discovers they’ve been summoned there not by the doctor, but by the killer — who sent a horrific letter to Giorgio Santorelli’s mother, knowing it would find its way into the alienist’s hands. As Kreizler finishes reading the letter aloud (highlights include: “I took [Giorgio’s] ass and it fed me for a week, roasted with onions and carrots”), they all look nervously around the room and become a final study in opposites: hunters, ensnared by their prey. Lord knows how they’ll ever catch the murderer now…or how this horrible moment will burrow its way into the various sexual psyches of all assembled, which Kreizler will no doubt needle everyone about for the rest of their lives.