“Belly of the Beast” and “Memento Mori” see the cat-and-mouse game between Sara and her quarry continue, as Dakota Fanning continues to carry The Alienist: Angel of Darkness on her back.
This recap of The Alienist: Angel of Darkness episode 5, “Belly of the Beast”, and The Alienist: Angel of Darkness episode 6, “Memento Mori”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous two episodes by clicking these words.
Libby Hatch kills babies by breastfeeding them poison. I just thought I’d mention that since The Alienist: Angel of Darkness episode 5, “Belly of the Beast”, goes to such lengths to reiterate it that every time Libby lops a boob out it almost plays like a joke. Some are more eager to latch on than others. Ana Linares isn’t keen. But it turns out that Goo Goo Knox, leader of the Hudson Dusters, is well into it; Libby is his girl, and he’s pretty complicit in enabling her infanticidal impulses.
This rather surprising connection is turned up by Sara a bit later on and is another in a list of connections she manages to identify in large part thanks to everyone else being utterly useless and failing to realize that two plus two does indeed equal four. This is how Sara discovers the dead body of the Matron, eyelids painted with memento mori, after nobody thought it was a bit weird that a woman who never misses work didn’t bother to show up.
But I get it, it’s to make Sara seem clever, which is fair enough. “Belly of the Beast” also requires that Libby is seen to be smart, too, which is a slightly tougher sell given that she’s increasingly neurotic from the poison – she ingests it herself before feeding the kiddos, hence the black gnashers – and needs to be off her rocker in order to be frightening. Here, she breaks into Sara’s detective agency, stealing a gun once belonging to Sara’s late father, and leaves drawings and messages on the chalkboard including the word, “Stupid”. The idea of a cat-and-mouse game isn’t exactly subtle.
But it is a bit difficult to take seriously since Libby seems so overmatched that The Alienist: Angel of Darkness episode 5 has Moore try and literally lock Sara in his house just to make sure that she doesn’t solve the entire case before the first half of the double-bill is over (he does it under the guise of protection, obviously, like Sara isn’t the most competent character by a significant margin.) Once Sara and Joanna do a bit of sleuthing on Hudson Street, the latter promptly interrupts Moore’s dinner with Violet and Hearst, both of whom are appalled to see a black woman in the establishment, and perplexed when Moore immediately abandons his fiancé to go off with her on what Violet later disgustedly refers to as “capers” with Sara.
I always take this sort of thing as a joke at the expense of New York’s high society. We’re supposed to be on-side with the heroes, not the sneering toffs, so it’s a laugh when Moore darts off to the aid of the woman he chivalrously locked in his crib. There’s always been a certain will-they-won’t-they romantic tension between these two, granted, but it’s only in this episode that the ambiguity is abandoned and they get it on, which I think in many ways undermines their dynamic a bit. There’s something amusing and quietly subversive about a relatively well-to-do man in a period drama pining for a woman who doesn’t need or particularly want him.
That idea is reflected in Laszlo’s “date” with Karen Stratton, his fellow alienist, with whom he seems rather smitten. She definitely has an interest in him, too, but it’s through Laszlo’s star-struck eyes that we take in most of their excitable professional exchanges. When the show’s namesake is later waylaid by Fat Jack, he’s to be sorted out by Moore while Sara, self-sufficient as ever, tracks down Libby and Ana Linares. The former is able to escape, but the latter is taken home to its parents, and Sara spends the night, as mentioned, with Moore.
From the “Belly of the Beast” to “Memento Mori”, The Alienist: Angel of Darkness episode 6 continues to find this relationship rather comically weighted in favor of Sara, who suggests that everyone just forgets about it and moves on while Moore considers a breakup with the missus. It’s faintly embarrassing on Moore’s part, really, and helps to even further establish Sara as the lead of this show, in terms of both the plot and how she’s considered by other characters.
Laszlo is particularly poorly served by this focus on Sara since it leaves him somewhat detached from events now, even if Sara later claims how integral his mind is to her investigations. “Memento Mori”, presumably recognizing this, spares some time for a Laszlo subplot in which one of his young patients, Paulie, is inspired by a Houdini cameo to try and hang himself as an attention-grabbing magic trick. In the aftermath of this, Laszlo’s license is temporarily suspended, which means that Sara can’t have him consult on cases until he’s reinstated.
This essentially concentrates power over Laszlo in Sara’s hands – as if there isn’t enough power concentrated in them as it is, especially since Hearst’s deliberately scandalous article about Sara’s unusual proclivities only drums up more clientele than ever. The police are fed up with her newfound notoriety, but The Alienist: Angel of Darkness episode 6 justifies that she’s deserving of it by having the police be utterly incapable of following even basic leads. It’s up to Moore and Sara to find a treasure trove of goodies in the burnt-out husk of the St Ignatius Boarding House, including a cage and several bits of paraphernalia Libby took from the Linares house before she made off with the baby. Since some of the objects there boast the Vanderbilt family crest, the implication is pretty clear, and “Memento Mori” is quick to confirm it: A Vanderbilt child is the next victim.
Luckily for Sara, her initiative puts her in the good books of Cornelius Vanderbilt II, who is so impressed with her that he hires her to run the operation over Byrnes and Doyle, who will work for her and a reinstated Laszlo. Their first lead – arrived at by Laszlo helping Sara back through the story of Libby’s father’s suicide, which he reasons is probably true – takes them to Brooklyn, still a way ahead of everyone else, but a little behind their prey for now.