TNT’s smash horror series should be considered to take the Outstanding Limited Series Emmy.
The Alienist landing a nomination in the Outstanding Limited Series race should not have been a huge surprise to awards prognosticators. Not a lot of people had the Gilded Age thriller in their predictions going into the nominations, but we should have seen it coming. It’s an impeccably made thriller that could pick up a few craft awards on Emmy night. But could The Alienist pull off an upset in the main category?
The opening sequence of this limited series is stunning. A cop is walking through a bitter New York winter, his feet crunching in the piling snow. It almost looks like powdered sugar piled in the streets, but the sound of each step makes threatens to reverberate in the dead of night. It almost appears that the sequence is filmed in black and white–thanks to cinematographer PJ Dillon–and it immediately plunges us into a dark and threatening world. The color feels drained out of almost everything on screen, almost as if the characters have seen a threatening figure in a dark alley. The photography is lurid but dares you to tear your eyes away from it.
When it comes to world building, there is no more accomplished set than the one executed by production designer Mara Lepere-Schloop. Not only did she recreate 8 city blocks in Budapest to serve as New York City in 1896, the attention to detail through the roof. It sounds trite, but it appears that she somehow managed to transport us back in time. There are glossy sets like the recreation of Delmonico’s or the Met Opera House, but we spend most of our time exploring the dark corners of this city. The atmosphere of the boy whorehouses is enough to make any viewer’s skin crawl.
One of the most prominent storylines of The Alienist focuses on Dakota Fanning’s Sara Howard being the first woman to work at the New York Police Department. In most scenes set at work, she’s the only woman in sight, and she has to endure casual and blatant misogyny from her superiors and her coworkers. It’s an unfortunate theme that would feel totally different if the Harvey Weinstein scandal didn’t break late last year.
Sara’s main antagonist comes in the lecherous, slimy form of David Wilmot’s Captain Connor. In the first episode, he turns to Fanning’s Sara after he urinates in a chamber pot and exposes himself to her remarking, “There’s a sizable, hairless rat been spotted about the station house.” She looks at him and replies, “Funny, Captain Connor. I see only a little pink mouse.” His aggression towards her escalates as she becomes more involved with her own investigation. In the penultimate episode, Connor quite literally shoves Sara up against a closed door and details what he could do to her without suffering any consequences from the police department.
She doesn’t immediately wither in front of men because they challenge or harass her, and she is a proud member of the investigative team alongside Laszlo Kreizler and John Moore. Since she doesn’t have to deal with misogynistic crap in their company, her intelligence and gumption truly thrive. For The Alienist’s recently announced sequel season, Howard will be the first female detective
Not only does The Alienist have parallels to the scandals that rocked Hollywood last winter, but it eerily reminds us that attitudes towards immigrants haven’t changed much. President Donald Trump only wants people from “respectable” countries to cross our borders, and we see several scenes where police officers are less than kind towards Italian immigrants.
Make Room for the Thriller
Since the revitalization of the limited series categories, thrillers don’t usually get recognized at the Emmys. Sure, different iterations of American Horror Story have walked away with awards in the last few years, but that’s straight up horror. The Alienist feels akin to something that would arrive on network television in the 1990’s, but this age of television allows it to thrive on TNT. The Alienist feels similar to The Night Of from last season–a sophisticated adult drama with high-wattage stars and solid direction.
When it comes right down to it, The Alienist provides great, thrilling entertainment from a network on the rise. Since it’s not a drama on a streaming platform, the tension can climb from week to week, resulting in thrills that feel more genuine and earned.
It was a hit for a reason, people.
The Alienist is available online at TNTdrama.com