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Thursday, 19 April 2018

The Alienist: A new dark thriller lands on Netflix

Despite gifting us with Lost In Space only last Friday, Netflix is already treating us to yet another original series. The series, which aired on TNT in the US earlier this year is now available on the service in its entirety. The Alienist takes things back to basics, dealing with murder. A brutal, heinous murder, that is. The story goes like this: A young boy turns up dead, disembowelled and mutilated on the Williamsburg bridge. When local alienist Doctor Laszlo Kreizler (Daniel Bruhl) finds out that the boy was found wearing women’s clothing, he becomes obsessed with the case and attempts to get to the bottom of what really happened — despite others telling him to keep his nose out. However, like any good sleuth, he persists.


For those of you who, like me, didn’t know, an alienist is the name given to someone who attempted to treat those with alien behaviours. You learn something new every day. Simply put: he’s a psychologist. The ten-part series has already aired in the U.S on TNT, but it’s been acquired by Netflix for worldwide distribution, so it’s not necessarily your usual Netflix Original. But it's one that definitely requires your viewing. 

Arguably my favourite thing about The Alienist is that doesn’t hang about. There’s no slow-burn here. It’s all kicking off from the very beginning. Although, I should warn you that there are some extremely graphic images from the outset so I wouldn’t recommend watching during dinner time. It’s never gratuitous though, which is good. The show is dealing with hard-hitting stuff, so some level of gore is to be expected. Anyway, A strong script from Hossein Amini pulls you into this horrific world, and once it does, you won’t be able to let go until the very end. Murder isn't an original concept by any means, but The Alienist manages to make it feel new. Perhaps that has something to do with the time period. The lack of modern-day police procedural tropes — like forensic evidence — means that Amini has to be clever about how Kreizler investigates.  


I’m not usually a fan of period dramas, but I must admit that The Alienist held my interest the whole way through. I’m not sure why maybe it’s because it’s dealing with a more interesting topic. At the risk of generalising, period dramas often tend to deal with issues of family, marriage or love. Murder isn’t often something that we see often in these types of dramas. And it’s not just the storyline that’s great, it’s the cinematography too. Jakob Verbuggen’s directing is wonderful, and the show looks stunning on a big screen. From the grotty brothels of downtown New York to Kreizler’s lavish fancy home, everything pops. TNT didn’t hold back on the production values that’s for sure, and The Alienist is better off because of it.

While never deviating from the storyline for too long, The Alienist does manage to take the time to explore the societal attitudes towards things that were deemed alien. However, it's done in a way so that’s not completely transparent as to what Amini is doing. It’s subtle references, such as when a policeman shows no interest in pursuing the case of the murdered boy when he discovers he was wearing a dress. What I find pretty ironic is that, even though Kreizler is an alienist, it is him that often finds himself ostracized — or alienated — from society. He’s thought of as a quack, and several of the town’s people refer to his work as “theories”. But of course, that makes us like him even more. Why? Because he doesn’t care what society thinks of him, and he plans to educate them with his knowledge of the mind. Remember, a conflicted, ostracised protagonist is the best kind. 
Being the outsider makes him much more relatable and, as with all great protagonists, we want to see the underdog overcome opposition. I love how he is so nonchalant about the way he comes across. He asks all the right questions, even though many do not want to hear them, perhaps because society wasn't ready to hear them at the time. Kreizler has confidence in what he does, and this conviction is what makes him such a compelling character. Bruhl is truly wonderful in this role.

The Alienist isn’t your average period drama. It doesn’t shy away from the brutality of murder, it deals with it head on and through the eyes of one of TV’s most interesting protagonists. The series also taking a look at the social attitudes towards things that were out of the norm. Again, murder is hardly an original subject, but a strong script, compelling characters and a period setting make The Alienist worth your while. Think Mindhunter — if Mindhunter was set in the 1800s.

Contributed by Stephen Patterson

 The Alienist is now streaming on Netflix. 

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