Although no official news has been released as yet regarding casting in the TV adaptation of The Alienist, a recording of what appears to be an audition for the part of Marcus Isaacson surfaced two days ago (the recording has now been pulled down), suggesting that casting may now be in progress. If this recording is genuine, it is certainly an intriguing time in the production’s development for fans of the novel, and I am sure that visitors to 17th Street will join me in wondering who will land the parts of their favourite characters.
Also as a result of the audition recording surfacing, some insight into the direction being taken with the script appears to have come to light. Here, however, the news is more troubling. Specifically, two of the excerpts used in the audition recording suggest that Marcus has been developed into something of an immoral character, completely inconsistent with his portrayal in the novel. In addition to singing a Jewish prayer over the bodies of the Zweig children with an inappropriate chuckle at the end, we discover that Marcus has invited a woman with a baby into his family’s home, with Lucius suggesting that he only did so in order to “fornicate” with her. Although Marcus attempts to defend his actions through the Torah, Lucius retaliates with a suggestion that if Marcus had “bothered” to read the Torah, he would know that it states that we need to control our impulses because, “That’s what makes men different from beasts.” The scene ends with Marcus stating, “I guess I fall somewhere between the two, then.”
Typically I would not share my concerns like this in a public forum, but given the extent of the changes that have been made to a character like Marcus in what appears to be a genuine audition recording, I can’t help being concerned at what this signifies about the direction in which the production may be heading. After all, if it was felt necessary to provide Marcus with a sexual partner and portray their relationship in this manner, what might it signify for the portrayal of characters such as John and Sara, or Kreizler and Mary? While the inclusion of gratuitous sex and violence seems to have become a standard part of book-to-screen adaptations in recent years, the inclusion of such material should, at the very least, be psychologically realistic and respectful of the original source—and this is especially important for any characters that have known trauma.
Of course, I still retain hope that the excerpts from the script that surfaced in the audition recording will not be representative of the production as a whole, particularly as it pertains to the changing of characters. The novel’s themes of corruption, hypocrisy, the impacts of childhood trauma, and psychological determinism are powerful enough in and of themselves without the need to add any further drama.