‘The Alienist: Angel of Darkness’ Review: More Thrills, Fewer Chills in a Solid Dakota Fanning-Led Second Season
Posted on Tuesday, July 14th, 2020 by Hoai-Tran Bui
It was hard for The Alienist to escape comparisons to “True Detective in 19th century New York,” as the first season of this macabre crime drama came out just on the tail end of the HBO detective show’s pop culture domination. People were looking for another prestigious replacement for the crime drama, and despite some of the surface-level similarities — a serial killer who carves up their victims and leaves a series of grotesque clues, which a team of morally dubious detectives chase through the seedy underbelly of America — they wouldn’t find it with The Alienist. The TNT crime drama based on the novel by Caleb Carr was more pulp than prestige, with elements dipping into melodrama and even camp at times. Led by a likable group of actors who easily filled in their somewhat stereotypical roles — Daniel Bruhl as the brooding alienist (an early term for a psychologist), Dakota Fanning as the ambitious aspiring detective, Luke Evans as the sensitive newspaperman — it was macabre and grotesque, sure, but it was also a lot more fun.
Two years after The Alienist first premiered on TNT (and after the show looked like it wouldn’t continue past its original intent as a miniseries), The Alienist: Angel of Darkness continues the first season’s penchant for the lurid with a slightly lighter, more accessible touch. Based on Carr’s 1997 sequel to The Alienist, the second season shifts the attention away from Bruhl’s arrogant Dr. Laszlo Kreizler and gives it to Fanning’s Sara Howard, now a private detective. The result is a series that is less about the show’s unique conceit of a 19th century psychologist who pioneers the early uses of criminal profiling, and more of a typical detective drama. But though the novelty of the show has gone, and the unsettling aura has faded a bit (don’t worry, it’s still as gory and grisly as ever), the characters and twists are so good that the show still feels fresh.