Dakota Fanning Dives Back Into the Dark Side of 1890s New York in ‘The Alienist: Angel of Darkness’

Kata Vermes/TNT

In early 2018, TNT debuted The Alienist, an often gruesome psychological murder mystery set in 1896 Manhattan, where the Gilded Age’s economic expansion, industrial advances and scientific achievements hid a grimy underbelly of corruption, organized crime and social inequality.

In a dark corner of this world stalked a killer with a compulsion for ritualistically killing young boys. With the police force crippled by crookedness, it was up to psychologist (a.k.a. “alienist”) Dr. Laszlo Kreizler (Daniel Brühl), newspaper illustrator John Moore (Luke Evans) and police secretary Sara Howard (Dakota Fanning) to crack the case.

The Alienist returns for a sequel season, called Angel of Darkness, based on the second book of Caleb Carr’s Kreizler series. While not exactly light summer entertainment, viewers who couldn’t take their eyes off the first season will definitely get hooked into the disturbing case of a Spanish diplomat’s kidnapped infant daughter and the ritualistic murder of a baby snatched from its mother in a hospital.

The story picks up in 1897, as the case of a young woman wrongly sentenced to death brings Kreizler, John and Sara back together.

 

Sara has opened her own private detective agency, and while her biggest clients have been wealthy ladies who want to know if the servants are stealing silverware, she’s about to take on the toughest challenge of her young career.

“We see Sara get kind of propelled into the next level of her life,” Fanning says. “She has forced her way into a man’s world even more so by opening her own detective agency. She’s kind of riding through this period of still being the ‘lady detective’ and still coming up against barriers. But she’s persevering, and even just being a lady detective is groundbreaking.”

Sara provided a unique opportunity for Fanning, as well. “It was my first time getting to go back and play the same character again, and it was really exciting,” she says. “I felt like I had gotten to know her so well while doing The Alienist, so I was very protective of her this time around.”

Meanwhile, John is a reporter for The New York Times and engaged to vapid socialite Violet Hayward (Emily Barber), but his relationship with Sarah remains complicated. “John and Sara definitely have some unfinished or unrequited feelings for each other, and that’s definitely a part of this story,” Fanning teases. “For Sara, so much of the time we see her being strong and we see her being tough and we see her breaking down barriers and pushing boundaries and fighting. In the scenes that Sara and John have together, you see her as just a young woman … you see the softer side of Sara in those scenes. That was really lovely to get to play out. I can say that the journey’s not over for them.

The Alienist: Angel of Darkness premieres on TNT Sunday, July 19, at 9pm ET/PT and airs as a four-week event with two episodes airing every Sunday.

Factual Fiction

While a fictional story, The Alienist interwove actual historical events and famous figures of the period into its narrative — with a twist of embellishment. Then-police commissioner and future president Theodore Roosevelt (Brian Geraghty) was a major character throughout the first season.

“I’ve always loved that there have been real characters peppered through a fictional world,” says star Dakota Fanning. “I definitely think it adds a layer of something extra to the story, and I do think people respond to that.”

Angel of Darkness opens with the case of Martha Napp (Hebe Beardsall), a young mother convicted — despite an astounding lack of evidence — and sentenced to death at Sing Sing Correctional Facility for the killing of her infant daughter. Napp is to be the first woman put to death in the newfangled electric chair, which is believed to be “more humane” and less messy than the gallows. Roosevelt, who is now the assistant secretary of the Navy, is asked to intervene in halting the execution.

In truth, the first woman to be executed in the electric chair was 49-year-old Martha M. Place in 1899. Place was found guilty of murdering her 17-year-old stepdaughter. Despite an appeal to then-governor Roosevelt to commute the sentence, Place was put to death at Sing Sing.

Also in Angel of Darkness, we find William Randolph Hearst sensationalizing newspaper headlines, Elizabeth Cady Stanton fighting for social justice and Americans of Spanish descent enduring heightened acts of racism driven by political tensions between the U.S. and Spain.

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About Ryan Berenz 2045 Articles
Devotee of Star Wars. Builder of LEGO. Observer of televised sports. Member of the Television Critics Association. Graduate of the University of Wisconsin. Connoisseur of beer. Consumer of cheese. Father of two. Husband of one. Scourge of the Alaskan Bush People. Font of Simpsons knowledge. Son of a Stonecutter.