Season 2 of The Alienist has just come out on Netflix, and instead of revolving around the title character, it focuses more on the female characters and how they deal with their condition in 1896, New York City. If we compare the setting to today’s NYC, we can see the great strides civilization has taken in building, transportation, and police procedure (thankfully). What is astounding is that, in the more than 120 years that separate our times from the ones portrayed in the show, I’m not that sure women have gained as much territory as it would have been ideal.

Dakota Fanning (Ocean’s 8, The Twilight Saga) plays Sara Howard, a private investigator who is hired to find out the whereabouts of a missing baby, who had been kidnapped from his bedroom. She’s helped by John Moore, a reporter for the New York Times, and Laszlo Kriezler, the psychologist (aka alienist). Luke Evans (Beauty and the Beast, Dracula Untold) gives a pungent performance as John Moore, conflicted between his own needs and his commitment, and the brilliant Daniel Brühl (Rush, Captain America: Civil War) plays the alienist who is so good at understanding patients but who fails to interpret the feelings of those closest to him. The series also counts with a new addition, a professor of psychology who Laszlo greatly admires, Dr. Karen Stratton, played by Lara Pulver (Sherlock, Quantico).

Then there are the suspects of heinous crimes which include infanticide and the kidnapping of babies – definitely not for the weak-stomached – and all of the suspects are women (and all of them also brilliant in their roles.) As the story unravels, the characters’ stories mingle, and you see them more as victims of a men’s world than criminals. If that’s enough to absolve them of the crimes committed, it’s up to you to decide, but there are clear parallels between all the female characters and how they are not completely at the helm of their own lives.

Sara is a detective who investigates crimes in a world where men dictate what is right and what is wrong; Karen is a psychologist in a world where men decide what is moral and what is immoral. The suspects, well, I can’t go on or I’d be giving you spoilers. Both Sara and Karen can see way past their reality and try to act around it, but they still feel the restrains of their time tying their hands.

Times have certainly changed, and mostly for the better, but why is it women still have to fight for equal rights? Because we don’t have them. Why is it women still have trouble expressing their opinions and being heard? Because it is still a men’s world out there, where a woman’s voice doesn’t carry as much weight. The 120 plus years that separate us from the time portrayed in The Alienist certainly have brought progress for the female condition, but even if we can see how far we have gotten, we still have a long way to go.

by Cris Gontow