The Alienist finale recap: 'Castle in the Sky'
John Moore toasts the thrilling conclusion of the investigation (and possibly the whole series)
Last week’s bathhouse cliffhanger leads us in tonight to the season (and possibly series) finale of The Alienist, in which loose ends will be tied, old ghosts will be confronted, and a killer will be caught — or at least, let’s hope so! Otherwise, what are we even doing here?
“Castle in the Sky” kicks off with the discovery of the body in the public bath, a bloody ordeal that’s interposed with a second scene from Kreizler’s home. While the latest boy, mutilated in most of the usual ways, is lifted out of the water, the alienist stares morosely at a whole different (and much more delicious) piece of dead meat: a roasted chicken in an appropriately crimson-colored sauce. (A fresh mystery: With Mary dead, who cooked the extravagant multi-course meal on Kreizler’s table?)
This time, though, Kreizler won’t be spending the episode staring at the wall while his team does all the legwork. Sarah visits Kreizler and urges him to confront his demons, revealing her own at the same time. The ghastly truth: Her father’s death resulted from a failed suicide attempt, after which Sarah found him still alive with half his face blown off. Not only that, the poor girl had to help him finish the job.
“We held the gun together,” she says.
(Side note: In the aforementioned scene, Sarah is coming fresh from a meetup with John Moore, which included an unfathomably swoon-worthy moment in which he told her he loved her and tentatively kissed her, and she seemed like she might be into it? She doesn’t mention it, but we’re sure gonna, because WOW. Get it, Sarah! You deserve this!)
After visiting the bathhouse for a look at the crime scene, Kreizler finds his way to Beecham’s house, where the team is still digging through his stuff (e.g. jar of pickled eyeballs) in search of clues as to his whereabouts. Kreizler has a lie-down on Beecham’s bed…and gets up with a fierce yearning to attend the opera six days from now on June 24.
That’s a problem (as Moore tries unsuccessfully to point out to Kreizler without actually shouting the words, “EXCUSE ME BUT DON’T YOU REALIZE THAT IS MURDER NIGHT” in front of his grandmother). The 24th of June is also the feast of St. John the Baptist, at which point Beecham is scheduled to kill again — and this time it’ll be personal, since Moore’s little pal Joseph has disappeared, presumably kidnapped by the killer. Or rather, Moore and Kreizler presume. We, the audience, know for sure that poor Joseph is Beecham’s prisoner: Tied up, he watches helplessly as Beecham first puts a cat in a bag and viciously beats it to death, then kneels down by Joseph’s side and whispers, “I love you so much,” in a scene that is altogether terrifying no matter how you feel about cats.
A Night at the Opera
So, the thing about the opera? It’s actually a necessary act of subterfuge, because the alienist is being stalked. Former chief of police Byrnes follows Kreizler to a performance of Don Giovanni and stares at him all night long, while Moore gets increasingly agitated that another boy will die before curtain call. (Side note: If they awarded a primetime Emmy for best non-verbal performance by a guest actor, Ted Levine would own it. He’s been so, so good.) Kreizler and Moore are forced to wait until the opera’s climax (fireworks are involved) to make their escape, at which point they hop in a carriage to what Moore thinks is a meet with Sarah and the Isaacsons at Highbridge Tower, but is actually a surprise field trip to the Croton reservoir. Kreizler reveals his reasons: “The ritual has changed,” he says, to emphasize water over heights, and he’s desperate to capture Beecham alive (an impossibility if the police are there). (Recap continues on page 2)
It’s a hell of a guess, but it turns out to be right! The two find and confront Beecham, who’s on the verge of doing something very untoward to Joseph. This climactic scene also exposes the major flaw in Kreizler’s plan: A handsome, indolent playboy and a guy with one working arm are no match for the physically formidable killer, who knocks them both unconscious pretty much immediately. When Kreizler comes to, Beecham is looming over him — and his only hope is to psychoanalyze the guy into submission.
“Japheth,” says Kreizler, using Beecham’s birth name and prompting an uncontrollable bout of facial twitching. It seems like a good start! But when Kreizler tells Beecham that killing little boys won’t fix what his mother did to him, Beecham startles and then sneers.
“You think that’s why?!” he says, cackling.
From here, everything happens very fast: Kreizler and Beecham grapple, and a shot rings out. It’s Connor! He’s followed the alienist and saved the day — but because he’s also the absolute worst, he’s going to kill everyone, including Kreizler and Moore, and claim that Beecham did it. This is when Sarah shows up, carrying a little tiny purse. The purse is ridiculous. There had better be a gun in there.
Yep, there’s a gun in there
With a bang, Connor goes down, and Kreizler runs to the roof after the wounded Beecham. He’s desperate for answers: As Beecham lies dying, Kreizler grabs his head and demands to know why, why, why he killed those boys.
But Beecham isn’t saying. Instead, he dies, leaving behind a trail of bodies and a host of unanswered questions. A dissection of the killer’s brain reveals nothing — a specimen “in every way perfectly normal and healthy” — and as the investigation closes, Roosevelt tries to encourage Kreizler to look on the bright side. After all, they stopped a monster!
Kreizler, despite having learned a great deal over the course of this season, is still resolutely the guy who will rain on your let’s-feel-okay-about-this parade:
“All we found was a wounded child,” he says.
This moment sets the tone for the episode’s final scenes, which also serve as a (potential) loving goodbye to a show that always looked phenomenal even when the pacing wasn’t perfect. We pan through the glorious, gorgeous interiors of Kreizler’s home and institute, and through the streets of old New York, safe for now from harm. Inside Delmonico’s, the team assembles to celebrate the one undeniable good that came from their adventure: not just a fruitful partnership, but real friendship. Kreizler even gives John the ring he intended for Mary — although he may not be passing that bauble along to Sarah.
“You’re in love with what you don’t have,” she tells him, then whistles up a cab. (This plotline is technically true to the book, but nevertheless a shameful waste of Luke Evans’ onscreen kissing abilities, which are legendary.)
And as for the alienist, he walks alone — into a garden, where his own past awaits. Kreizler’s father, the mercurial brute who broke his arm as a child, is now a silent, staring old man who doesn’t seem to recognize his son. But that’s okay: Kreizler is here not to get satisfaction, but to ruminate, and bestow forgiveness.
“You did the best you could,” he tells his father, and departs. Appropriately, the lone alienist is the last thing we see: strolling purposefully but peacefully toward whatever comes next.
All told, this finale highlights the challenges of pulling off a limited series with a not-so-limited cast. It’s hard not to compare The Alienist with Cary Fukunaga’s flawless first season of True Detective, and imagine how different this series might have been with a similar close focus on only its central trio (and useless side plots like Marcus Isaacson’s love life left on the cutting room floor). But with no official word one way or another as to whether we’ll see these characters return for a second outing, The Alienist tries to have it both ways here, and mostly succeeds. We’d gladly join up with Team Kreizler for another round of vintage forensic thrills — but if this season ends up being all there is, it was a great ride, and my pleasure to take it with y’all. To quote our mutual pal, John Moore: Here’s to you, here’s to me, may we never disagree.