Douglas Smith cast as Marcus Isaacson

Although there has not yet been a press release regarding this piece of news, Douglas Smith is now listed on IMDb’s cast summary for TNT’s adaptation of The Alienist to play Marcus Isaacson. The thirty-one year old actor has appeared in a number of TV series over the years, including Out There (2003), Cold Case (2003), CSI: Miami (2004) and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (2006-2007), Big Love (2006-2011), and Vinyl (2016). Recently, he has also appeared in the feature film Miss Sloane (2016) and will be appearing in the new TV mini-series When We Rise (2017).

With the casting of Marcus now finalised, we finally have a complete investigative team, at least with regard to the fictional members of the team. (We are yet to know who will be playing Theodore Roosevelt.) And with that, I’m curious! Are you happy with the casting? How well do the choices match your imagination? I would love to hear your feelings and thoughts below.

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Audition Recordings from The Alienist TV Series

Earlier this week, I reported that a troubling audition recording for the role of Marcus Isaacson in The Alienist TV series had surfaced publicly on Vimeo. The recording suggested that Marcus had taken a woman with a baby into his family’s house so that he could “fornicate” with her. As any Alienist reader would know, this is completely inconsistent with Marcus’ portrayal in the novel. Since posting this, I have been made aware that several more — equally troubling — audition recordings have surfaced, also publicly on Vimeo (see below).

I am making this public because it disturbs me significantly that the team working on this adaptation appear to be corrupting the characters from the novel. Please note that this concern does not relate to the actors whose recordings have surfaced; it relates exclusively to the script they are reading from. Although most of the recordings have now been pulled down, I strongly encourage Alienist readers to share your feelings about what is being done to your favourite characters and spread this news to any other fans of the novel that you know.

Sara Howard

One of the most offensive portrayals in the audition recordings relates to Sara Howard. In the worst scene, Sara is portrayed as silly and immature, giggling and unable to bring herself to say the word penis, before naively asking her maid about the size of one she saw earlier that day. (This from a character who, in the The Angel of Darkness, told John, “even through the sheets I could clip off both your testicles with one shot — so I advise you to unhand me.”)

In another scene that does not appear in the novel, she indicates that she could be enticed to steal coronial reports, betraying Theodore Roosevelt’s trust, if John would portray Roosevelt and herself in a more flattering light in The New York Times.

The recording has now been removed.

Transcription from the recording —
Sara: “Tessie, have you ever seen a…”
Tessie: “Yes, miss?”
Sara: “I’m trying to say the word but I’m failing…”
Tessie: “What is it, miss? Is it a man’s… manhood?”
(They both giggle.)
Tessie: “Oh dear, what sort of things have they been exposing you to downtown?”
Sara: “It has been mainly civilised, Tessie, I swear it. But I did see one today. And it occurred to me, I didn’t know whether it was a large one or a small one.”
(She tries to demonstrate size using her fingers.)
Tessie: “Was it rigid?”
Sara: “Dear God, Tessie, I didn’t touch it! Have you ever…? I’m sorry, I’m being impertinent, aren’t I?”
Tessie: “No, it’s fine, miss. I never thought I’d have this conversation with you of all people. Yes.”
Sara: “Yes! And…”
Tessie: “It felt… dangerous.”

Marcus Isaacson

As I explained above, Marcus is portrayed in the following recording as a man who would take a woman with a baby into his family’s house under the pretext of caring for his mother so that he can “fornicate” with her. He also chuckles inappropriately at the conclusion of a bastardised ‘prayer’ he sings over the mutilated bodies of the Zweig children that, according to another tape in which the prayer is read in English, translates to: “May the Lord bless us and keep us and our loved ones off the autopsy table.”

Although the recording has now been removed, much of the same dialogue can be found in a Lucius Isaacson audition that is still publicly available.

Transcription from the recording —
Marcus: “Doesn’t the Torah say desire is no more a sin than hunger or thirst?”
Lucius: “If you’d bothered to read the Torah, you’d know it says no such thing. It says there are impulses we have to control. That’s what makes men different from beasts.”
Marcus: “I guess I fall somewhere between the two, then.”

Dr. Laszlo Kreizler

No audition recording has surfaced as yet for Dr. Kreizler. However, hints about how his character has been changed can be found in lines that appear in auditions for other characters. For example, he appears uncharacteristically rude in the preceding Sara audition:

Transcription from the Sara Howard recording —
John: “Miss Sara Howard, this is Dr. Laszlo Kreizler. Dr. Kreizler, Roosevelt, and I were at Harvard together.”
(Sara holds out her hand to Dr. Kreizler.)
Sara: “It’s a pleasure to meet you, doctor. I believe I’ve read a great deal about you.”
(Kreizler does not return the handshake.)
Kreizler: “A pleasure to know you can read. We’re here to see the Commissioner.”

The Sara Howard audition also suggests that Theodore Roosevelt does not want to associate himself with Dr. Kreizler, in complete contrast to Kreizler and Roosevelt’s relationship in the novel.

John Schuyler Moore

As with Dr. Kreizler, no recording of John has surfaced as yet. However, the first scene from the Patrick Connor recording suggests that John is no longer a crime reporter in the adaptation, while the first scene from the Sara Howard recording suggests that he is a society reporter who has published a piece containing the following line: “Her [Sara’s] father was a childhood friend of Commissioner Roosevelt, although the intimacy of their working quarters calls decency into question.”

As anyone who has read the book would realise, this is the last thing John would ever write about either of his friends. In addition, Sara would have to be exceptionally young in order for Sara’s father and TR to have been childhood friends.

Patrick Connor

The recording that has appeared of Captain Connor indicates that he is being used in place of Sergeant Flynn when the body of Giorgio Santorelli has been discovered, and that he has multiple scenes in the adaptation long before he first appears in the novel. While the decision to blend Flynn and Connor may not appear problematic at first glance, I would like to remind readers that Connor’s role belongs exclusively behind the scenes for most of the novel. If he is introduced this early, what will be the big reveal two thirds of the way into the story at the meeting with J. P. Morgan?

The recording has now been removed.

Please share this news with any other Alienist readers who may be interested.

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New Developments in The Alienist TV Series

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.

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NY Public Library Discussion of The Alienist, Part III

View Part One, Part Two, and Part Three of the NY Public Library Discussion of The Alienist.

Over the past fortnight, I have provided my responses to the NY Public Library Reader’s Den discussion points for The Alienist’s Part I: Perception and Part II: Association. This week’s Part III: Will discussion points were perhaps the trickiest of all, especially for me as a non-New Yorker, but I’ll still give them a shot.

Regarding Kreizler’s final insight on the killer, what do you, dear readers, feel about this?

You can read the final insight the question refers to here. My mind is immediately drawn to what is probably my favourite passage in the entire novel, found all the way back in Chapter One:

The country, [Kreizler] declared tonight, really hasn’t changed much since 1896 … We’re all still running, according to Kreizler — in our private moments we Americans are running just as fast and fearfully as we were then, running away from the darkness we know to lie behind so many apparently tranquil household doors, away from the nightmares that continue to be injected into children’s skulls by people whom Nature tells them they should love and trust, running ever faster and in ever greater numbers toward those potions, powders, priests, and philosophies that promise to obliterate such fears and nightmares, and ask in return only slavish devotion.

In my view, The Alienist and The Angel of Darkness are as much a commentary on today’s society as they are on society of the 1890s, so it should come as no surprise to any regular visitor of 17th Street that I wholeheartedly agree with the above passage and final insight regarding the killer, and believe they are just as applicable now as they were for the time period in which the books are set. Although we’ve come a long way in many respects, in others we’re as blind as we’ve ever been — perhaps worse, in some ways, with the escapism certain technologies have provided along with the band-aid solutions certain drugs have provided. But that’s a topic for another day.

What about the contrasts in the lives of New York’s lower class denizens and those of Kreizler’s team members?

Bandit's Roost (1888) by Jacob RiisThe beauty of the team’s composition in my view is that Mr. Carr appears to have made a point of including characters like Stevie Taggert who, prior to being taken under the protection of the doctor, very much fell into the “lower class denizen” bracket. I think that’s what I appreciate so much about The Angel of Darkness as well. Not only does the sequel provide us with a contrasting murderer, a contrasting developmental context for the murderer, and a contrast between city and country that we didn’t get (to the same degree) in The Alienist; it also provides us with a contrasting narrator in Stevie Taggert. As much as The Angel of Darkness captures the same city as The Alienist, we see many aspects of New York in a totally different light thanks to Stevie’s vastly different life experiences brought about by his early life on the street.

Does this contrast still resonate, especially in light of the recent mayoral campaign?

As for whether the class contrast still resonates, I’ll leave that one up to New Yorkers to answer. The only thing I will say, being from overseas, is that a comment on the recent New York Times Big City Book Club chat about Jacob Riis’ How The Other Half Lives struck me: “The HALF is now the ONE PERCENT. Looks like we need to review our arithmetic…” If that really is the case, I wonder how it might influence a third Alienist book, assuming Mr. Carr does decide to write one. Will it affect the parallels New Yorkers could draw from the book? Will it affect how Mr. Carr would choose to write the book? Mr. Carr certainly hasn’t been shy in expressing his opinions on the new class divides (or lack thereof) in the city in recent months.

How about the political and law enforcement structures of 19th century New York? They seem more concerned with keeping the immigrant population in check than with actually solving the crime and conditions that makes it so restive.

Corruption — it’s a universal theme that pervades the novel. This was an era when Tammany ruled New York; when police captains were rewarded with transfers to the most lucrative graft precincts in the city, thereby ensuring the protection of brothel and dive owners provided they could continue making the required payoffs; when agents for reformers were found guilty of blackmailing the same individuals they were supposedly trying to clean up; when the largest slum landlord in New York was the Episcopal Church; and when the Catholic Church relied on the donations of thousands of immigrants barely surviving in the crowded tenements of New York. Where money and power is concerned, I think the Paul Kelly of the novel said it best: “It’s a sucker bet, a crooked game, whatever you want to call it, and there’s a part of me that just wouldn’t mind seeing it go the other way for a little while.” Although, obviously, I don’t quite agree with Kelly’s methods!

Do you think Carr did well in making the doctor more relatable and sympathetic as a person? What about the others? We never really delve further into the characters of the Isaacson brothers … Perhaps in Carr’s sequel?

I believe that I’ve adequately explained my view on Kreizler’s portrayal in my responses for Part II. I absolutely agree that further background for the Isaacson brothers would be fascinating, though. Other than the tidbit we were told about the brothers being drawn to detective work after reading Wilkie Collins as boys, we know very little of their individual or shared motivations and background. My fingers are crossed that such an explanation will be provided to us one day in a third book.

Final brainteaser: What location is this and where does it figure into the book?

The image the brainteaser refers to in the blog post a little unclear, but I’ll suggest the Croton Reservoir. And for anyone who doesn’t know where that particular structure figures into the book… well, you’ll just have to keep reading!

Thanks to the NY Public Library Reader’s Den for the interesting discussion points this month! It’s been fun.

What do you think? Leave a comment!