“We’re All Capable of Violence”: The Alienist, ‘Many Sainted Men’

Is it an exaggeration to state that this week’s instalment of The Alienist is its best yet? The show feels like it is finally fulfilling the promise it made in its first episode, answering those nagging little questions viewers have been asking, fleshing out the supporting cast, and revealing that heroes can often be villains, too (and vice versa).

Opening with the sound of a ticking clock, “Many Sainted Men” ratchets up the tension immediately, as John tries to sketch a portrait of the killer based on Stevie’s description. Everyone is on edge, not just because they came so close to death the night before, but also because another young boy has been murdered despite their best efforts.

There’s an unruly mob outside of police headquarters as John and Kreizler make their way in to view the corpse. Sara and Roosevelt are there, as well as the Isaacson brothers. Lucius looks especially disturbed, probably because the body on the table is none other than “Rosie,” the sweet-faced kid he’d been telling jokes to the night before.

Marcus notes the desecration on Rosie’s body and points out that the killer has removed his heart. “That’s new,” remarks Kreizler. Marcus also notes that the killer appears to have scalped the boy, which catches Roosevelt’s attention. Despite the somber tone in the room, the team seems glad to have figured out one thing: the killer is copying Indian rituals he may have witnessed as a soldier in the West. Kriezler asks everyone to leave and he sits with the corpse. Any speculation that viewers may have made as to Kreizler wanting to “look at his bird” is dashed when the man takes a nearby scalpel and plunges it into Rosie’s chest. “I’m sorry,” he mumbles afterwards.

When John and Kreizler leave the police station, they are once again swarmed until a man starts punching people in their path and leads them into a carriage. Waiting there is mobster Paul Kelly, who we first met in “The Boy on the Bridge.” He makes a veiled threat to the men, noting that if they don’t reopen the brothels “the rioting today will be just a taster.” Kreizler retorts that it was Roosevelt who shut down the brothels, but Kelly isn’t assuaged, warning them they are fighting “a monster… who reaches all the way from Million Mile Walk to Mulberry Street,” one that will devour them long before they find their child killer.

The real Paul Kelly was an imposing figure. When Kelly notes that he considers all of the poor people of the Five Points his children, it’s a reference to the intersection of five streets (Mulberry St., Anthony St., Cross St., Orange St., and Little Water St.), ironically titled “Paradise Square,” but in reality, one of the worst slums in New York. Kelly, born Paulo Antonio Vaccarelli, came from the Five Points, becoming a prizefighter in the 1890s. With the money he earned fighting, he opened a string of bordellos as well as athletic clubs, the latter being a front for the street gangs he controlled. While his actions wouldn’t directly influence elections until 1901, this episode shows Kelly’s nascent political aspirations.

Although Kelly and the corrupt members of the police force come across as powerful, it’s important to remember that they came from the same unwashed masses that families like the Van Bergens would rather pretend did not exist. This becomes clear when Connor and Byrnes share a beer in the next scene. Connor lets slip that there’s no way Van Bergen could have killed Rosie because the timing doesn’t fit. Byrnes, realizing the gravity of what Connor is saying, becomes enraged.

“Let me tell you how this city is run, you dumb Mick. We serve the rich, and in return they raise us above the primordial filth. And God help us if we don’t keep our end of the bargain. To them, you and me are nothin’ but dumb animals. So long as they have money, we do their biddin’.”

It’s a powerful speech that encapsulates the class system of New York at the time (and to some extent, the world of today).

Sara and the Isaacson brothers dig into the correspondence they received from mental hospitals to figure out if there are any soldiers who spent time in the West, while Kreizler and Moore visit the Natural History Museum. Talking to an expert on the customs of the Plains Indians, they discover that no self-respecting Plains Indian would ever enact ritual mutilation upon a child.

Kreizler then visits Cyrus in the hospital and is met by his niece, Joanna Crawford. She is not too pleases with the doctor: “I see keeping my uncle downtrodden through courtesy and progressive ideas is simply more effective than using shackles and a whip.” Kreizler looks severely chastened. Back at home, he tries to play piano with his damaged arm, but cannot. When Cyrus comes back to the house a few days later, Kreizler apologizes to him and Stevie for taking their loyalty and trust for granted. Cyrus assures him that an apology is not necessary.

While sketching in the confectioner’s shop, John is chloroformed and placed in the back of a police wagon, where Kreizler is also being held. They are soon escorted out by Connor, whom John irritates by asking him about his captain’s uniform. As it turns out, they are at J.P. Morgan’s house. Byrnes and Bishop Potter are also there. Potter demands they cease their investigation, but Kreizler isn’t having it, remarking acidly that the police seem to be unwilling or unable to stop this killer. Byrnes bellows that they are subverting the law “along with socialist agitators” like Paul Kelly. Morgan interrupts by stating that while he can understand art, he can’t understand this killer. Kreizler explains that understanding him will help to capture him. After Morgan tells Potter and Byrnes to leave, he gives the real reason why he is concerned about the investigation: they need a “compliant workforce.” He offers his help but Kreizler refuses it. On their way out, John asks why and Kreizler says he doesn’t want to owe a man like J.P. Morgan any favors.

Following a hunch, Sara takes a trip to the infamous Blackwell’s Island. In a clear attempt to intimidate her, the administrator (Mr. Chitters) has set up an array of women tied to chairs on the way to his office. Some are shaking uncontrollably, some are catatonic, and one has urinated on the floor. This woman begs a visibly rattled Sara to help her, telling her she’s not crazy. When she meets with Mr. Chitters, Sara find out that a patient named Rudolph Bunzl was at the institution, but was moved to St. Elizabeth’s in Washington, D.C., a mental hospital for former soldiers.

Sara then meets with John to inform him she’s going there to look into Bunzl’s history. When John suggests they tell Kreizler, she demurs. He quickly realizes from her demeanor and comments about how “we’re all capable of violence” that something has happened between her and Kreizler. She hugs him in an uncharacteristic display of tenderness. John goes to Kreizler’s to find out more.

What John doesn’t know is that Kreizler had earlier suggested to Mary that she strike out on her own. Feeling rebuffed, she furiously stomps off. When faced with John’s question of “what did you do to her?” Kreizler, clearly still smarting from that exchange and his earlier inability to play the piano, throws Sara’s earlier words at John, calling him “handsome and indolent.” “I’m afraid that’s all she’ll ever think of you,” he smirks. Furious, John warns him that he should be careful or he’ll end up a “lonely old man.”

Cleary frustrated and angry, John attends a boxing match (a sport which was illegal at the time) and promptly gets drunk. When he sees Connor leaving, he follows him to the alley, where the former police officer sucker punches him and accuses him of being a fairy. Using the only currency that Connor truly understands, John taunts him: “You don’t scare me.”

Meanwhile, Kreizler seems to have reconsidered his feelings towards Mary and asks her to sit with him at the dinner table. He reaches out to hold her hand, which ends in a series of trembling kisses. As romantic as this scene is, one wonders what Mary would say if she knew her paramour had slapped Sara in the face just a few days before.

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