TNT's 'The Alienist' Is Not About Aliens, Because That's Not What An Alienist Is
Perhaps you were excited to hear about a new television series called The Alienist because you love stories about UFOs and little green men. However, lovers of space alien-inspired escapades will be sorely disappointed to learn that The Alienist is, in fact, not about aliens. Unlike the Pentagon, The Alienist has no interest in UFOs or similarly extra-terrestrial matters. Instead of dealing with visitors from outer space, the show turns its focus to a topic far less supernatural but just as gripping: Murder.
The Alienist is about an alienist, which is a job that has nothing to do with the discovery or investigation of alien-related matters. So what is an alienist if the term has nothing to do with space aliens? As the trailer for The Alienist explains, "In the 19th Century, the mentally ill were thought to be alienated from their own nature. Experts who studied them were known as alienists." Essentially, "alienist" was a term used to describe mental health professionals like psychiatrists during the 19th century. The term has fallen out of favor as humanity's understanding of mental health has grown and evolved to become more empathetic.
So, no, Daniel Brühl does not play a space alien or UFO researcher in The Alienist. But, he does play Dr. Laszlo Kreizler, an alienist tasked with assisting in the capture of a serial killer in the late 19th century. He is joined by illustrator John Moore (Luke Evans) and police secretary Sara Howard (Dakota Fanning). In fact, The Alienist is less like alien-hunting procedural The X-Files and more like the serial killer procedural Mindhunter. Instead of hunting supernatural figures, Dr. Kreizler and his associates attempt to analyze the actions of a serial killer as a means of hunting them down.
The series is based on a novel by Caleb Cobb, which is also called The Alienist, and, much like the television series adaptation, the book has nothing to do with aliens. Originally released in 1994, the book was the first of multiple novels written by Cobb that followed the life of Dr. Laszlo Kreizler. A sequel to The Alienist, entitled The Angel Of Darkness, was released in 1997. There are no heavenly angels in The Angel Of Darkness, just as there are no space aliens in The Alienist. You can't judge a book by its title, basically.
The Alienist has so little to do with aliens, that it takes place before the term "alien" was even used to describe extra-terrestrial life forms. io9 explains that the word "alien" wasn't regularly used in the world of science-fiction until 1929, a few decades after the events of The Alienist. io9 attributes the popularization of "alien" as in referring to extra-terrestrial life to Jack Williamson's 1929 story The Alien Intelligence, as well as Philip Barshofsky's 1934 story One Prehistoric Night. It's no surprise that the term alienist has fallen out of public favor as the usage of alien to mean outer space creature has risen — especially since comparing those struggling with mental health to aliens is not exactly polite.
The Alienist may not be about aliens from outer space, but the show still looks to be as scary, surprising, and shocking as many great stories about sci-fi aliens tend to be. And who knows — perhaps Dr. Kreizler's hunt for a serial killer will provide a shocking revelation that the killer actually is a real space alien. But, unless The Alienist commits to a twist that out-there, it's safe to say that The Alienist will have absolutely no space aliens — just a psychiatrist analyzing murderers, which is honestly just as intriguing.