The Alienist – Hildebrandt’s Starling

If you read my recap of last week’s episode, I say at the end that we may have seen the killer’s face. I would like to retract that statement upon starting this week’s recap. Though yes, Willem Van Bergen has a silver-toothed smile, and is as creepy as ivy running up and down the brick walls of Yale University, I do not believe him to be the killer. At least the killer that our Victorian CSI Team of Kriezler, Moore, Howard, and the Issacsons are after.

We see our team confiding and listening to a handwriting analyst, also called a Graphologist.  He is looking over the letter and deducts that our killer is educated, particular, and could be between the ages of 24-35 years of age based on the length of time it looks like he learned his penmanship. How interesting that even back in 1896 there were these type of sciences to figure out whom you were by your writing abilities.  Fascinating! After the graphologist leaves, Sara starts on a roll about what she thinks and how the killer deals with women, why he chooses boys and how he treats them. Kriezler says that possibly the man is reliving what has happened to himself, to which Sara answers back and gets Kriezler to explode with such underlying ‘Mommy issues’ I was just as stunned as she was at his reaction. We know from last week that this was true, but not to the level we just witnessed.


Moore chases after Sara to try and apologize, though it is not his place to. He stops when a boy asks if he can shine his shoes, and this moment was the perfect break from the tension we witnessed in the scene prior. Moore proposes to Sara while getting his shoes shined.  She playfully says if she thought he has a serious bone in his body, she may consider it.  It was a lovely moment between these two characters.  If there is a love story, I am totally on Team Moorard, or Team Howoore. (I guess cutesy couple names do not work in this time period.)

Kriezler goes to visit one of his Harvard professors. This was another Twin Peaks cameo where I screamed at the television. David Warner, aka Thomas Eckhardt himself is Kriezler’s professor. He reminds Kreizler of his first experiment, Hildebrandt’s Starling. He gives him the same advice he gave him when he was still a student: “Look at your bird, Lazlo. Look at your bird.” It is not what you have learned, but how you learned. You must study something so much until itself reveals what you need to see from it.  Which can be used to explain many things in this episode. I would go as far as to say it is also not who you have learned from but how and why you learned it from them.

Moore is called by Kriezler to join him on a trip to the penitentiary. We find out from Moore that the reason for his nervousness is because he quit drinking. Might it be because of Sara? I guess we shall see. May I add this scene was shot beautifully. The close-up of Moore’s hand, shakes and all: brilliant.  They are visiting a man, named “The Boston Boy Fiend”,  who has been locked away in solitary confinement for 22 years. He killed boys and maimed their faces and eyes, since he himself is blind in one eye.  Kriezler believes he killed because of envy.  The killer gives Kreizler a sob story about his mother never kissing his face, which Kreizler falls for, and then attacks Kreizler with a sharp metal object. As Kreizler and Moore leave, he screams after them that they will never know why he killed those children.  Only he will know why.  We see how much this affects him for when Moore asks what Kriezler is thinking, Kriezler admits that he does not know as much as he thinks he does.  Interesting note: right before Kriezler’s admission, Moore has a dream in which he is saving his drowning brother, after seeing him sketching him. When he reaches into the water, we see Joseph (the boy whore from last week) being pulled out of the water. What is the significance of this? Could Moore believe that he could not save his brother, but he may be able to save this boy?


Roosevelt runs into the Mayor of New York, while riding his horse in the park. The Mayor tells Roosevelt that they need to protect the First 400. A Google search revealed, ,   this was the elite of New York society that could fit into Caroline Astor’s private ballroom; though the true number was less, in my eyes 400 sounded better than the First 393.  The Mayor tells Roosevelt to take care to not push a certain family—the Van Bergens-–to desperate measures. Like going to the Mayor is not desperate measures?  I digress. We see Roosevelt approach Connor about the possibility of a suspect, which he denies.  While waiting, we get another comic relief moment from Sara and the Issacsons discussing how a man would have sexual relations with another boy.  Marcus volunteers the, um, areas in which a man could have relations with another man, not unlike, he adds, the same ways you could with a women. You really need to go and watch this scene. Pacing is spot on.

Roosevelt gives the Issacsons revolvers and asks Sara to do research but be discreet. This is important because not only does Roosevelt trust and rely on Sara, he is treating her as a police officer and ally at a time when women weren’t taken very seriously at all. She has an advantage, which I think she is starting to realize.

We come upon Kriezler at dinner. Sara goes to visit with two suspects in hand. In an unusual moment, they discuss the hows and whys of Sarah’s upbringing. Her father taught her to shoot, be strong, and to drink whiskey because to live in a man’s world means you have to be on their level. Kriezler tries his whiskey but does not care for it. I believe Sara is onto our good doctor, something Kriezler seems very aware of himself.


One of the suspects used to volunteer for the Episcopal Church. Kriezler interviews the clergy member about Willem Van Bergen. This is the man we have seen with the silver smile and who I am thinking (I could be wrong) is a red herring.  When Kriezler leaves he starts to hear things the clergy member says and figures out from a calendar hanging from the front that our killer saw Giorgio for the first time on Ash Wednesday, the line was “he was covered in dirt and paint”.  Kriezler then calls Roosevelt to give him the name Willem Van Bergen. Roosevelt goes to Connor to ask, and Connor vehemently declines.  Roosevelt tells Connor to find the Van Bergens address, discreetly.

The next few scenes are filmed so brilliantly it is like watching a picture book unfold right before your eyes. Page by page perfect in balance and clarity. Then we get blindfolded. While we see Willem running a milk bath for his newest “girl”, the police are getting ready, led by Roosevelt himself, to storm the Van Bergen’s home to arrest Willem. We see someone from above looking at the cavalry calling on their suspect. Is this our proper killer? We then see Willem put something in the drink of his new found friend and playmate. We also see he has dressed him in a white dress, much like the other boys found before. Is this again to throw us off? As Roosevelt and the police run up a grand staircase and go up to the door, we hear the knock, hear Roosevelt say, “Police, open up!” And the door opens, except it’s not Willem but a woman who opens the door to Roosevelt.  Willem opens the door to find his mother, Mrs. Van Bergen.  She tells him he must go away for a while.


Can I take a moment to say that Sean Young oozes the right kind of sadism, showing she is the type of mother who will do anything for her child, but who also makes your stomach turn at how far she is willing to cover up for her son’s indiscretions.

We end this episode with Roosevelt, figuring out that the address he was given by Connor was false, stripped Captain Connor of his badge and gun. I’m not one to buy into the whole, “You’re going to pay for that!” cliche, but in this case I do believe our poor Commissioner Roosevelt is definitely going to pay for that in some way.

We also see Kriezler filling in Moore that the killer is not who they thought at all. First, he is not a man of privilege but rather was one of the impoverished, growing up like his victims. The second, he is strategically choosing when to kill by the Christian calendar. With the Feast of the Ascension coming up just days away, there is not much time to stop him from taking his next victim.

Questions to think about before next week: What does Dr. Kreizler have against mothers, especially his own? Will Moore succeed at drying out? Will Sara continue to be a step ahead and continue putting Kriezler in his place?  Where will Mrs. Van Bergen send Willem? Will Roosevelt truly pay for what he did this week? I guess we will see when The Alienist returns next Monday.

Written by J.C. Hotchkiss

J.C. Hotchkiss is a Office Manager by day and Managing Twin Peaks Editor for 25YL Site the other 16 hours of the day. When she isn’t writing of her love of FBI Agents with a penchant for doughnuts, coffee and pie, she enjoys getting lost in a good book, sipping a damn fine glass of wine among friends, chatting with her "TB's" about Cevans and Fleabag's Hot Priest, and trying to keep up with the latest cartoon craze via her 6 year old. She lives smack in the middle of the Big Apple and Beantown, so for a girl with many different interests and tastes it's the perfect place to be.

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