The Alienist recap: 'Ascension'
Sarah learns a secret about Kreizler's "Mister Perfect" act, while the team launches a risky sting operation
It only took six episodes, but The Alienist finally gave us the A-grade episode we’ve all been yearning for this week — with a perfectly paced plot to catch a killer and a long-awaited chance to shine for the most criminally underrated member of the cast.
No, not that big dead horse who got so much screen time in the trailer (although he has his big moment, too. Well done, Dead Horse! You’re a star!). I’m talking about Stevie Taggert, the tough-talking teen played by Matt Lintz, who proved in the latest episode that even a self-serious grimdark historical drama about child murders can use a little tension-breaking levity in the mix.
Stevie shows up right off the bat in “Ascension” as a key player in the gang’s play to catch their killer, whose schedule suggests that he’ll be kidnapping his next victim on May 10th, Ascension Day. The strategy: Close all the brothels save one, position a tarted-up Stevie in the street, and wait for the mystery murderer to take the bait. This plan has a few flaws, namely that Stevie won’t stop swaggering, spitting, and generally failing to be even a little bit cute, but everyone seems enthusiastic about it — even after he sends his first prospective customer packing.
“How’d you like to rub up against me like a kitten?” asks the bowler-wearing pervert.
“Go bugger yourself,” Stevie replies.
Things only go downhill from there, as the whole evening suffers a series of mishaps. One of Stevie’s little street urchin friends recognizes him in drag, which seems to dissuade an approaching, shadowy figure in the background. Moore keeps lighting cigarettes on the rooftop, despite repeated warnings that he’s drawing attention to their presence. And Marcus chases down and tackles a shadowy figure on the roof who turns out to be a priest (awkward) and doesn’t even apologize or help the guy to pick up his sack of Bibles (rude). In the end, Stevie had to put on a corset for nothing; no likely suspects showed up during the sting operation, and that includes Willem Van Burgen.
Meanwhile, the gang is still split on whether they’re even actually hunting the upperclass ne’er-do-well (as Roosevelt believes) or an unknown perpetrator (as Kreizler insists) — but Willem’s parents want to hedge their bets by sending him to Buenos Aires, because if your large son is getting his jollies by murdering and dismembering child prostitutes, you at least want him to do it where none of your wealthy friends might see him. Unfortunately, Willem doesn’t want to go to Buenos Aires, and on the eve of Pentecost, he storms out into the night after drinking an entire bottle (!) of what looks like surgical alcohol (?!). Incredibly, this doesn’t kill him.
Instead, the disgraced Captain Connor does.
A brief chase along the waterfront leads back to the Williamsburg Bridge, where Willem screams, “I’m a Van Burgen! You cannot touch me!” and Connor immediately proves him wrong by touching him extremely hard, putting a bullet right between Willem’s eyes. The dead man’s body is wrapped in burlap and pitched off the bridge, and that’s the ignominious end of Willem Van Burgen.
But of course, Willem was never the killer, and the hunt goes on. For the second time, Stevie is dressed up and set out, this time inside a brothel where a younger prostitute named “Rosie” informs him, “You make an awful girl.” (Side note: He really does. It’s adorable.) And for a while, it seems like Stevie’s total lack of feminine wiles is going to ruin everything; even Moore and Marcus, who are supposed to be watching for anything suspicious, get bored and distracted as the night wears on. Hence, neither one is paying attention when a man approaches Stevie — and all Stevie’s swagger melts away.
And because his accomplices are complete hosers (I particularly can’t wait to see Marcus explain that he couldn’t do his job because he was too busy reciting dirty limericks to a child), Stevie’s customer manages to escape, luring the gang out and into the street — right past Kreizler, who is also not doing his job, because he was too busy slapping Sarah in the face after she called him a coward. (She’s figured out that he’s been lying about how he got a crippled arm, meaning Kreizler has been giving all of them grief about not facing their pasts while being evasive about his own, making him a jerk and a hypocrite.) Basically, the entire operation turns into a spectacular failure, right down to the part where they find Cyrus laid out unconscious on a rooftop and realize they’ve been had. With everyone distracted, the killer has doubled back to get what he came for.
And poor little Rosie, who had already suffered through the indignity of listening to Marcus Isaacson reciting poetry, is now lying dead and partially dismembered at the feet of the Statue of Liberty.