Any true crime fan knows that it’s an investigation in itself to find a crime drama show that stands out amongst the countless mediocre detective shows on air today. When a show with interesting characters and a fascinating crime comes along, we naturally want more of it. The Alienist is no exception to that. Its premiere season was an unapologetically disturbing investigation into brutal murders of young boys in late 19th century New York City. The psychological series received six Emmy nominations last Thursday, including Outstanding Limited Series.
Despite its success, executive producer Rosalie Swedlin told Indiewire that it was conceived as a limited series and will likely stay as such. In an interview about the finale of the first season and the possibility of a second she said, “We love the characters, and our goal when we set out to make the show was to tell the story of the book, which has a finite ending when they catch Beecham. At the moment, there are no plans for a further installment, but the whole process has been a great joy. So, who knows?”
The Alienist wouldn’t be the first show to abandon its status as a limited series after demand for a second season, considering HBO’s wildly popular limited series Big Little Lies is having a second season its huge success with fans and critics alike. That being said, we’re hoping that Swedlin and the rest of The Alienist crew changes their minds to leave the powerful story after one season. Below is a recap of the first season and the five reasons why we desperately don’t want the season finale to be the end.
1. There are sequels to the book the TV show is based on.
The TNT series is based on a novel of the same name by Caleb Carr, originally published in 1994. The show tells the original story of the book pretty accurately, which follows child psychologist Dr. Laszlo Kreizler (Daniel Brühl), policewoman Sara Howard (Dakota Fanning) and reporter John Moore (Luke Evans) as they work together to solve mysterious murders for then-commissioner Theodore Roosevelt. Categorized as historical fiction, the novel and show draw on real-life people and real-life crimes for the investigation at their core.
Swedlin said in her interview with Indiewire that they wanted to tell the story by the book and that it should end where the book ends, but author Caleb Carr wrote a sequel to The Alienist in 1997 called The Angel of Darkness. It also follows the three main characters in the first book, but with a new case. Sara Howard is now a private detective and she seeks Dr. Kreizler’s help in locating a kidnapped infant. Like the first book, The Angel of Darkness draws on the issues of the period, with the case intertwined with the tensions between Spain and the United States in 1897. The creators of the TV show could easily use Carr’s sequel as a basis for a second season just as they did for the first season.
2. It puts the period issues to good use.
Not to mention the extraordinary costumes, sets, and special effects that went into making The Alienist a wonderful period piece to look at, the period its set in plays a huge part in the case at the center of the show. The story isn’t simply set in the late 19th century because it looks cool, but because the politics of the 1890s control how the investigation happens and the motivations of many of the characters. The looming effects of the Civil War still have a hold on many of the characters and the crime. The anti-Semitism of the time prevents Jewish detectives Marcus and Lucius Isaacson from gaining the respect they need to do their job. The city’s elite, including Roosevelt, influence how the case is solved and who they want to avoid arresting, out of fear of upsetting other powerful people of the 1890 NYC. Political issues happening in the workforce are part of clues that the team tries to follow. All of this feels so satisfying to witness as an audience because it makes the story feel inherent in its time and important to tell in this way. There is no detail spared when projecting realism in The Alienist and we can always appreciate that in television.
3. It deals with more than just murder.
The show is about the first psychologists understanding violent mental illness, but the case highlights an aspect of 19th-century life not represented on television in any other show. The murder victims in The Alienist are all young boys working as prostitutes for men interested in boys dressed as girls. The complex sexuality and gender identity at play in the case are not as dismissed or shunned as it would be if the main characters were simply cops because psychologist Lazlo and his team are trying to understand behavior. They are interested in understanding why men are interested in boys dressed as girls in order to catch the killer.
This open approach offers a perspective on the 19th century that many people never talk about and certainly never show in television shows. The sexuality of the case makes it different from others in crime dramas because it shows early (albeit problematic, sinister, and tragic) examples of LGBTQ+ characters and the crimes committed against them, which still happen today. There are hardly any crime dramas that embrace that history and are willing to show the underbelly of history many have ignored for centuries.
4. It has the best twists.
If you watch a lot of crime shows, you are familiar with the ebbs and flows of detective fiction. Maybe you can spot red herrings before the detectives or know when a character is fooling the audience, but The Alienist does a wonderful job of keeping the audience on its toes. From following the wrong suspective for most of the show to killing off surprising characters, The Alienist is harder to predict than most crime dramas and fans of the genre always want to be outsmarted.
5. Understanding the psychology of killers is fascinating.
The mystery of why people commit such horrific, demented crimes like in the show is what draws people to crime shows in the first place. Just as Mindhunter does so well, The Alienist sets out to understand the minds of the killer its investigating and those with similar mental traumas. The term “alienist” comes from the fact that people believed those with mental illness were alien from society and those who studied them like Dr. Lazlo Kreizler titled themselves alienists.
The investigative team doesn’t just try to figure out the thought process of the killer by looking a the crime itself, they interview other famous killers of the same caliber to understand people like them. The interview between character Jesse Pomeroy, who was a real person who became a sadistic serial killer at 14 years old, was one of the most terrifying scenes in the whole series. You can listen to a great account of his crimes and his involvement in The Alienist show’s story on this episode of the podcast My Favorite Murder. If the creators of the show don’t want to follow the sequel of the book, they could use the real crimes like Pomeroy’s to shape a whole new season, considering there are plenty that fit in the time period. It’s clear that the show values the fascination of the psychological aspect of crime and capitalizes on it in a sophisticated way, unlike other serial killer dramas like Criminal Minds.
We’re hoping TNT changes its mind about The Alienist and brings it back for a second bone-chilling season soon.