The Alienist was a surprise hit back in 2018. Not only did it grab good ratings for TNT, but it also garnered six Emmy nominations, including Outstanding Limited Series. Caleb Carr’s sequel novel, The Angel of Darkness, was inevitably going to be adapted, and it’s an even better series than its predecessor. Set one year after the events of The Alienist, Angel of Darkness is more mature in its storytelling, and it rightfully places Dakota Fanning’s Sarah Howard at the center of the story.
There was a grandiose luridness to the first series adaptation. Set in 1896, The Alienist revolved around a series of grisly murders of young boy prostitutes. The themes of xenophobia and homophobia hung over the series and provided its own darkness in addition to the gorgeously dark cinematography and direction. With the characters more established now, Angel of Darkness can take a new mystery and focus more on the emotional threads between the characters. I will admit to being very pleasantly surprised to how deeply this sequel balances personal pain and rage while showing how there are always going to be people that will contest scientific research or new avenues into the human psyche.
Dakota Fanning’s Sarah Howard has opened her own detective agency, but she is disappointed that the only clients she gets are old dowagers who are convinced that their servants are pocketing their silver. Luke Evans’ John Moore has become engaged to Violet (Emily Barber), the goddaughter of William Randolph Hearst, even though he blushes every time he utters Sarah’s name. Daniel Brühl has returned as the title role as our intellectual hero, Dr. Laszlo Kreizler.
With the Spanish-American War just around the corner, babies are disappearing from their cribs and their carriages and being replaced by nightmarish dolls. The daughter of a Spanish diplomat vanishes, and Sarah is eager to take on the case soon after a woman was sent to the electric chair after being wrongfully convicted of murdering her own child. Women are perceived in many degrading ways at this time and the men are pathetically clinging to power as if giving a woman a seat at the table would be of great sacrifice. Not only do rich men bring their mistresses to a sinister Lying-In hospital, but Sarah is seen fighting for women’s suffrage in the opening episode, and Violet even represents a submissive, affluent domesticity. Women can only be toys or trophies to the men in 1897 New York, so Sarah’s intelligence and drive spooks them.
With the characters established so well in the first series, Angel of Darkness can allow this mystery to unfold with less clutter and more drive. When we find out who is the baby snatcher, there is a substantial portion left to the story and we can feast on the emotional arcs of these characters so much more. It’s not just a question of who or what but an exploration of why, and it’s a bold move to make us understand how and why someone can become so damaged and full of rage.
Fanning delivered a solid, ambitious performance in the first season, but this a different Sarah Howard. As a young woman who knows what she is intellectually capable of, she can give odious, condescending men the truth with an articulate monologue. It’s awesome to see Sarah taking such charge of her own life as she acknowledges her past and doesn’t know what she wants in her personal life in the future. Fanning and Evans have a charged chemistry event though both characters are holding back from revealing their true feelings.
Angel of Darkness is immaculate from top to bottom. The production design from Ruth Ammon (taking over from Mara LaPere-Schloop) is so detailed, and she adds another dangerous world in the form of Hudson Street. There is a costume engagement party in episode four that will make your eyes bug out. The costumes, from Rudy Mance, are delicious. We can see Sarah’s confidence growing through her clothes, and who doesn’t want to just stare at Luke Evans in a beautifully tailored suit?
Angel of Darkness is a dangerous, dark, macabre game of cat and mouse, but there’s more at stake here. I loved the first season, but this time around feels more confident and assured. Everything is beautiful but it shows us there’s darkness in all of us and we have the choice to react to it how we want to.
The Alienist: Angel of Darkness will air 2 episodes a week on TNT starting July 19.