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I’m the first female employee at the NYPD. Times are changing, whether society is prepared or not. When I discovered an “alienist” would be investigating the horrific murders plaguing the streets of New York.
I wanted in.
— Sara Howard [2]

Miss Sara Howard is a headstrong secretary at Police Headquarters who find herself involved in the investigations of some mysterious murders in 1896 New York City.

Sara Howard is one of the main characters in ‘The Alienist’ and she's portrayed by Dakota Fanning.

Character Overview Edit

"SARA HOWARD is the first woman hired by the New York Police Department as a secretary to Commissioner Theodore Roosevelt. She sees this job as a steppingstone to becoming the first female police detective in New York City. Self-possessed and intelligent, Sara grew up as an only child who was doted on by her father. She not only "shakes hands like a man," but considers herself just as competent – if not more so – than any of the men on the force. Well-bred and well-spoken, Sara becomes the liaison between Roosevelt and Kreizler’s team and is immediately intrigued by the case being investigated by Dr. Laszlo Kreizler and John Moore. " [3]

Backstory Edit

Sara Howard lost her mother when she was very young and was raised as an only child by her father, Steven Hamilton Howard [1], an old acquaintance of Theodore Roosevelt and the family of John Schuyler Moore.

Mr. Howard thought that if Sara was to endeavor to live in a man's world, then it was necessary for her to learn to act like a man. And so he taught her to ride, to shoot, to live without fear of her own convictions. Sara also learned how to drink whiskey. However, it took her years to accustom herself to the taste. [4]

When she was a teenager, Sara's father committed suicide – despite the official version stating that he died in a hunting accident. [5] Sara later confessed to Dr. Laszlo Kreizler that her father did try to commit suicide but he'd lost his courage and tried to pull the gun from his mouth. In excruciating pain when Sara find him, he guided her hand for a last deadly shot. [6] In the aftermath of her father's death, Sara had a nervous breakdown that led her to be admitted to a sanatorium. [5]

Fully recovered, Sara pursued a groundbreaking career and attended Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, the first degree-granting institution of higher education for women in the United States, where she befriended her roommate, Jane Gooding. After that, Sara entered the New York City Police Department as a secretary to Theodore Roosevelt, becoming the first woman to serve in the police department. [7]

In an unspecified time, Sara distanced herself from her friend John Moore when he used one of her portraits for the illustrations of a fashion magazine and Sara was very annoyed at having been objectified and reduced to something beautiful to look at, based on the description attached to the portrait that focused only on her look. [8]

Story Edit

New York City Police Department, March 4th, 1896. [9] Miss Sara Howard was sitting at her desk wearing a beautiful and simple green and black dress, with puffed sleeves and a brooch on the collar. She was typing some notes on behalf of the Commissioner Roosevelt when she was approached by two gentlemen, one of whom she recognized immediately as John Schuyler Moore, an old acquaintance of her family. Getting up and standing in front of the office door, Miss Howard asked John for explanations about the reasons that led him to the police station. When John referred to her by her first name, she corrected him immediately, demanding respect of her position in the workplace. As the second man proposed that Miss Howard could help them organize an impromptu meeting, Miss Howard answered sarcastically, wondering if she could do it with her "especially rosy mouth" or her "sparkling blue eyes," mocking the description from a fashion magazine that published one of her portrait drawn by Moore. Moore tried to mediate between the two, but Miss Howard corrected him again on how to properly address her. At this point, Moore introduced the man as Dr. Laszlo Kreizler, likely hoping to impress her, to the point of letting them through. Miss Howard promptly shook hands with the alienist, claiming to have read his work, finding it fascinating. Well, most of it. Miss Howard was listening to Moore explain how Kreizler, Roosevelt and he were friends since Harvard when Kreizler took advantage of the moment of distraction to enter the office. Miss Howard tried to justify herself with the Commissioner, but the man was too focused on discussing with the alienist to pay attention to the secretary. Miss Howard remained quietly at the door, listening to the discussion until Moore tactfully suggested Roosevelt sending her out of the room, given the gruesome turn the conversation had taken.

Once out of the office, Miss Howard eavesdropped the rest of the conversation through the door, moving away just in time to avoid being discovered when Moore and Kreizler and left the room.

Afterward, Miss Howard resumed her duties, under the scornful gaze of her male colleagues. Knocking on the door of the Captain Connor's office, she found him in the act of urinating in the trash bin, laughing with his comrades. Miss Howard immediately looked away, informing him that he was requested by the Commissioner. When Captain Connor made some sexual references likening his penis to a sizable rat crawling under her petticoat, she promptly replied she only saw a little pink mouse, causing a burst of guffaws in the room. As she left, she overheard the Captain saying he loved her even more now.

After her work shift, Miss Howard was approached by John Moore outside the police station, where the young illustrator asked her if he could now address her as 'Sara.' She accepted, provided that he only does it exclusively off her official duties. The two continued to walk through the crowded street, moving away from the police station, and Moore asked her to borrow the documents on the Zweig murder case mentioned by Kreizler during the conversation with Commissioner Roosevelt. Miss Howard was appalled by such a request, stating that she would never, ever betray Commissioner Roosevelt's trust, nor her position as an employee of the Police Department for Dr. Kreizler or anyone else. However, she was shocked at the sight of Moore's drawing of Giorgio Santorelli, the mutilated child found on the under-construction Williamsburg Bridge that the man had left in her hands before leaving, asking her to help them one last time.

Sitting at her dining table, Sara was served her supper by a maid before being left alone in the large, richly furnished room. Later, she was helped by the maid to undress, expressing her doubt whether men abhor their shape or crave another as the maid removed the corset, which left marks on Sara's body. The maid answered men believed them to be delicate creatures, to which Sara replied: "To the Hell with them."

The young woman then spent the rest of the evening smoking a cigarette lying on a chaise lounge as she observed John Moore's drawing leaning gently on the folder containing the files on the Zweig murder case.

The woman decided to handle the files to her family friend, tracking him at a seedy brothel after going to his house, asking for information to Moore's grandmother but with no avail until asked to his sporting companions. Moore was stunned expressing, however, concern about Miss Howard's safety in such an unsavory neighborhood. Miss Howard scoffed at him, stating that his concern was rather trivial as "every panderer, mawk, lush, and billy noodle in the city pass through the doors of the police department, not to mention the mutton shunters that she works with." She withdrew into her carriage, leaving the man to his conclusions.[8]

Sara Howard was gluing some newspaper clippings into a journal, including one called "Wolff cleared in Santorelli murder" when Captain Connor and Sergeant Doyle returned to the police station. As Sara started ordering some documents in the office of Commissioner Roosevelt, Connor addressed her in his usual manner entering the office, causing a frown on the young secretary. The captain asked about Roosevelt's whereabouts and Sarah informed him that the commissioner was attending disciplinary hearings that afternoon. The captain added that he had just been to Santorelli's, who had nothing more to add to the way their poor boy was killed, thus making any further inquiry useless. Sara was unmoved, even when the captain reached her face to remove an eyelash, telling her to blow it to bring luck onto herself. She held her breath until the captain and sergeant left the room, reminding her to tell the commissioner what he said about the Santorelli.

That same afternoon, Sara went to John Moore's house, waiting for the illustrator to return from one of his commitments. On the steps leading to Moore's door, Sara briefed him about Connor's visit to Santorelli adding that she wanted to talk to them. When John pointed out that she was just a typewriter working at the Police Department, she corrected him, as she preferred the term "secretary". He insisted that the neighborhood where the Italian immigrants lived was not suitable for Sara, but the woman was not hindered by such bogeys. She, then, teased his pride asking if he was afraid to accompany her.

Accompanied in a carriage by Cyrus Montrose, Dr. Laszlo Kreizler's valet, the two arrived at Little Italy, named as such due to the high number of Italian immigrants, where Sara told Moore that she sometimes found "better ask forgiveness rather than permission" when it came to dealing with the commissioner. The state of the buildings was in total degradation so that both Sara and John had to cover their faces with a handkerchief to try to mitigate the stench and be able to breathe. Screams and cries, as well as the squeaking of rats, seemed to come from everywhere as they walked the rickety, dark and dirty stairs of the building where the Santorelli lived. Despite John's warning not to do it, the young NYPD secretary picked up an infant from the dirty floor, only to find herself face to face with the child's mother who opened her flat's door to take back her child, while her alleged husband was swearing in Italian. Then, Sara knocked at Santorelli's door, where a teenage boy opened up. The little apartment was surrounded by a dim light and was crowded with people who slept, ate or were sprawled wherever there was a small space. Mrs. Santorelli assumed that John Moore was the doctor she had sent to call from one of the picciriddu (children), and Sara tried to translate from Italian, helped by Enzo, the boy who had invited them in – that they discovered to be one of Giorgio's brothers. While John pretended to treat Mr. Santorelli, Giorgio's father, who had been savagely beaten, Sara asked the boy for an explanation. The boy said that "two were cops while the other was some Holy Joe," claiming that Giorgio died in sin and that it was better for them to keep their mouths shut. Mrs. Santorelli burst into tears, making it even more difficult for Sara to grasp what she was saying so the boy had to translate for them, saying that his father used to beat Georgio, calling him "girl" and that was precisely this to push his little brother to ran away. Mrs. Santorelli also added that her son was intelligent, even though the cops had said that he was like the other murdered kids. This made Sara's heart leap; there were other victims they were not aware of.

Back at the police station, Sara pretended that the commissioner requested some files and asked Detective Graves to tell her where the files about unresolved homicide cases were held. The man took a ladder, opening a few drawers while explaining to Sara that the unsolved cases were like old dogs, barking at you from the files. The Detective stepped aside as Sara searched through the files; first "Homicide Adults: Male 0527; Female 0528", then "Homicide, Juveniles: Male 0525; Female 0526", finding the drawer almost empty. She took advantage of Captain Connor's absence to enter his office and browse around, finding the missing files in a locked drawer of the desk. Giving a quick glance at the documents, she noticed that they were the two children mentioned by Mrs. Santorelli; an unidentified African-American boy registered in the report simply as "Negro boy", and Aaron Morton. Both presented the same mutilations of Giorgio Santorelli. She left, fleetingly glimpsed by Connor.

In the afternoon, Miss Howard and John Moore visited Dr. Laszlo Kreizler at home, briefing him about their recent discoveries. The doctor was particularly interested in performing an autopsy on the corpses of the other two boys, but Sara stated that this was impossible, as the Negro Morgue on Bleecker had burned the spoil since no one had claimed the body. Moore said that having failed to track down Morton's family, it was very likely that he had been buried in the mass grave of Potter's Field. Sara continued her explanation, claiming she had found the files by chances, suggesting a cover-up by the police officers. The alienist replied that her help had been invaluable, and invited her to dinner that same evening. The conversation was abruptly interrupted by the noise of shattered porcelains; Mary Palmer, the housekeeper, had inadvertently broken a teacup. Sara promptly offered to help her clean up.

At home, Sarah was sitting at the table of her boudoir dressing table, where Tessie, her handmaid, was showing her some dresses. Sara stated she wouldn't wear an evening dress as she had no need to flatter herself, but Tessie managed to convince her to wear a beautiful dark green dress with black trim, as even the colleagues were gentlemen.

At Delmonico's, Sara arrived before all the other guests and was drinking champagne in the private room booked by Dr. Kreizler for that evening. It was soon joined by Detectives Sergeants Marcus and Lucius Isaacson. While the first one flirted a bit with her, the latter asked if she was there to take notes. Sara replied she did not know why she was there, exactly. Once Dr. Kreizler and Moore arrived, the diners took their seats, starting the dinner with a toast to a fruitful partnership together with the first course, terrapin soup au clair, one of the specialties of the house. The Isaacson began to describe their recent discoveries about the autopsy and the murder weapon, causing discomfort in John Moore, who expressed his disdain for the macabre turn of the conversation, since there was a lady present. Sara snapped, stating that she was "perfectly capable of hearing whatever it is that needs to be said." Lucius then extracted a sample of Arkansas Toothpick, a dagger they thought was the type used to rage on the victims. The diners passed the weapon from hand to hand, briefly studying it. It was then the turn of a sample of digital imprints, and Sara immediately proved to be fascinated by them, revealing that she had read about Dactyloscopy – the science of a finger, palm, or foot leaving a chance impression – for personal interest. The Isaacson brothers then showed a timepiece found in Benjamin Zweig's burial suit, bearing a bloody finger-mark likely left by the murderer.

At the end of dinner, Sare and the Isaacsons made their way to the exit, chatting about their common interests in the forensic sciences and modern investigative techniques, leaving Kreizler and Moore behind to argue. When Moore refused the carriage ride, Sara expressed concern about his safeguard, scolding Kreizler for not being more convincing. After all, John was not as strong as he wanted the alienist to believe, he said. This made Kreizler smile because, unbeknownst to Sara, John had said exactly the same words about her only minutes before. Nonetheless, Kreizler sent Stevie to look after Moore, while Cyrus Montrose escorted them home.

On the way home abroad the carriage, Sara apologized for her candidness, asking if Kreizler had the evening entirely planned, using all of them as pawns in his plan. Kreizler answered that he was impressed by her desire to advance her place in society. After all, aside from the job of scrubbing floors, Sara was the first woman employed by the New York City Police Department. He then revealed her he asked the commissioner for her to be the liaison between them, explaining that her task will be to keep him informed of developments within the department and keep Roosevelt abreast of their ensemble's actions outside. Sara listened silently and when Kreizler presumed to have teased her interest, Sara quickly replied that "it wouldn't be fair to assume anything about" her. She then left the carriage, walking towards the entrance of her house while Cyrus off again towards Kreizler's house. [5]

Kreizler Institute. Miss Howard was in the company of Dr. Laszlo Kreizler and Detective Sergeants Marcus and Lucius Isaacson while they set up the necessary equipment in their new headquarters. She was mildly condescending with John Moore when he woke up on the living room couch, handing his trousers and quietly participating in the conversation between her friend and Dr. Kreizler about his whereabouts of the previous night at the Paresis Hall. When Moore said that Gloria (Giorgio Santorelli) was well-liked among the wealthier clients, Sarah suggested that this could be the reason for the police to pressure the Santorelli family to keep them quiet.

Some time later, Sara participated in the investiture of new sergeants to the police department by Theodore Roosevelt and spent some time with Roosevelt's daughter, Alice, since she was denied permission to join the conversations of the other police officers. The girl was fascinated by some guns on a table and said to Sara that her father loves to shoot, but she and her siblings are never allowed to touch a gun unless when they are with him. Sara told her that her own father had taught her to shoot when she was about the same age as Alice and when the girl asked where Sara's mother was, Sara replied she died when she was younger. Alice insinuated that the friendship between Mr. Howard and Roosevelt was the reason Sara had obtained the job at the police department, to which Sara replied: "I'd like to think not."

Later that afternoon, Sara visited Dr. Kreizler to tell him that Giorgio Santorelli's body had disappeared. The woman expressed her concernment about corruption within the department, revealing that she had managed to convince Roosevelt to trust Kreizler more than his subordinates. Laszlo replied that the unwillingness to pursue the killer on the part of the police only highlighted Mr. Roosevelt's isolation within the police department, stating that the new approaches of investigation or research were always initially received with diffidence by the majority. Miss Howard replied that, in her opinion, solitude suited Kreizler very well and the alienist changed the subject after a smile, clearly uncomfortable. Commenting on Miss Howard's clothes which suggested social engagement, Kreizler tried to psychoanalyze her desire to pursue the killer, wondering whether she required answers or she just wanted to keep the world at bay. The two then took their leave.

In the evening, Sara attended a reunion with former collegemates of Vassar College where guests staged a murder for fun. While Sara was sitting comfortably on an armchair wearing an elegant dress, Laura Boone, a blond young woman, explained the rules of the game; Someone was the murderer, and if you've been winked at, it means you've been killed and you're out of the game. The object is to catch the murderer before he winks at you. Bored by the superficiality of her peers, Sara asked her friend by her side, Jane Gooding, if they were the only old maid in the entire class. The woman contradicted her by introducing her to Milton, her fiance. When Jane told Milton that Sara was working at the police department, the young man claimed that her uncle is a policeman in Poughkeepsie and that he says it's challenging work. With a bitter smile, Sara replied: "Yes, I suppose it can be." Jane confessed that she had wanted to tell Sara she was engaged for a long time, but she was worried that Sara would not approve but that she only wanted what any girl wants, also revealing that she already had a sexual relationship with Milton. Meanwhile, some of the guests collapsed on the ground because they were "killed", causing general laughter. Jane asked Sara if she had a beau, and Sara revealed that she had started a relationship with a doctor. Across the room, a man winked at her, thus "killing her."

At night, Sara rushed with John Moore at Castle Garden, the old immigrant station soon to be re-opened as an aquarium. There had been another murder. On reaching the crime scene on the roof, Sara was seized by a sense of disorientation at the sight of the mutilated corpse immersed in a pool of blood. Moving away for some fresh air, she was approached by Moore, who was worried about her. While on the parapet, Sara had a revelation that she immediately shared with the rest of the ensemble. In her opinion, the murderer was obsessed with heights and with water, as these two elements were a common denominator of all the murders he had perpetrated. Kreizler was enthusiastic about her quick and interesting point of view but the group had to dismantle itself due to the arrival of Captain Connor and his police officers, and they fled unseen thanks to the help of Cyrus and Stevie while Roosevelt tried to take time with journalists and policemen.

Back at the headquarters, Sara and Moore saw an altercation between Kreizler and his housekeeper, Mary, who had prepared breakfast without being allowed to go to the headquarters. There, both Moore and Sara were tested by Kreizler who asked invasive questions about them and their past trauma. Put before the fact that Kreizler was aware of her father's suicide, Sara held back her tears, looking Kreizler straight in the eye before leaving the room, followed by John Moore.

On the carriage, John complained about Kreizler's insensitivity, but Sara said she agreed with the alienist as they had to face their inner demons to be able to chase a real one, the killer. She then asked John about Mary and much to her surprise, she discovered that the housekeeper had burned her father alive when she was a teenager. Before leaving, John kissed her on the cheek after Sara said to him that he can quite amusing when he wants to be At home, Sara was rearranging some books in her bookcase when she saw in a mirror not her own reflection, but a much younger Sara staring back at her. [7]

At the Police Department, Sara was approached by Captain Connor asking for a meeting with Commissioner Roosevelt. The captain revealed that he had found John Moore's drawing kit at the crime scene of the recent victim at Castle Gardens, Ali ibn-Ghazi. Instructed to return the kit to Dr. Laszlo Kreizler, Sara went to her house but Cyrus Montrose informed her that the doctor was in the middle of one of her trances, so Sara reached him at the park.

The two had a conversation about the role society plays in forming – and suppressing – women. By pointing to a woman across the park. Kreizler revealed that she had drowned both her children in a tub. Sara said she felt no empathy for the woman, especially because she had killed children for no apparent reason. Before leaving, Kreizler told her that in his opinion everyone has what drives him to commit heinous crimes. It is only the right or wrong combination of events that trigger a person to perpetrate them.

Later, Sara returned to the police station to inform Roosevelt that she had completed her task and found the Commissioner in the backyard, examining some guns. When Roosevelt said he was sorry for the lecture that John Moore was about to receive from Kreizler, Sara agreed, stating that the doctor was most determined to prove his point even if it's at the expense of others. Once in the office, Sara asked Roosevelt what had happened between them, thus discovering that Dr. Kreizler had a disabled arm but that, despite everything, he was willing to prove his worth as when, during a fight when they were at college, he hadn't pulled back even when the other classmates had taken pity on his condition. [10]

Appearance and Personality Edit

Miss Howard is a young woman in her twenties, with a candid complexion, blue eyes, and blonde hair. Her porcelain doll appearance conceals, without too much effort, a rebellious nature and willing disposition to affirm her place in a world dominated by men. At the workplace, Miss Howard is often wearing chaste and sober dresses with puffed sleeves while in social engagements she wears elegant and refined dresses that highlight the strengths of her appearance, accentuating her beauty. Miss Sara Howard is determined and headstrong and does not hesitate to put at the disposal of rightful causes her acute intelligence, attention to detail and her formidable skills in the use of firearms. Her strong temperament is also essential to overcome the constant obstacles and prejudices that she constantly faces in the workplace.

Memorable Quotes Edit

Sara Howard (clarifying her role to John Moore): "I am Miss Howard, an employee of the New York Police Department. You will please accord me the respect that my position demands."
Dr. Kreizler: "Perhaps Miss Howard can help arrange an impromptu meeting with the commissioner? "
Sara Howard: "And how should I help do that? With my "especially rosy mouth" or my "sparkling blue eyes"?"
Sara Howard (replying to sexual harassment): "Funny, Captain Connor. I see only a little pink mouse."
John Moore: "This is an unsavory neighborhood for a young lady."
Sara Howard: "I'm not here on savory business, and every panderer, mawk, lush, and billy noodle in the city pass through the doors of the police department, not to mention the mutton shunters that I work with. So please don't concern yourself with my blushes."
The Boy on the Bridge

Sara Howard (to John Moore): "When it comes to the commissioner, I find it sometimes better to ask forgiveness rather than permission."
Sara Howard (to Tessie, her maid): "I'll not wear an evening dress as I have no need to flatter myself."
John Moore: "Gentlemen! There is a lady present!"
Sara Howard: "Oh, enough, John! I am perfectly capable of hearing whatever it is that needs to be said."
Dr. Laszlo Kreizler: "May I assume you have an interest?"
Sara Howard: "It wouldn't be fair to assume anything about me, Doctor."
A Fruitful Partnership

Sara Howard (to Dr. Kreizler): "The truth is, I prefer whiskey."
Hildebrandt’s Starling

Sara Howard (to John Moore): "Given certain circumstances, we're all capable of violence."
Many Sainted Men

Gallery Edit

Photo by Kata Vermes and Jesse Giddings. [Courtesy of TNT Pressroom]



Episode ScenesEdit


Notes Edit

  • Sara Howard, the secretary played by Ms. Fanning, has been broadened into a fuller portrait of a young woman trying to be tough enough to thrive in a man's world without losing her femininity and sexuality, Ms. Fanning said: “As women, I think that's something we all deal with and especially right now, it's being talked about a lot,” she added, alluding to the ongoing national reckoning with toxic male behavior. [11]
  • The original, and slightly different draft for Sara Howard's description read as follow:
    "The primly dressed but beautiful Sara Howard is the first woman hired by the New York Police Department and she is determined to become the first female police detective in New York City. Self-possessed and intelligent, Sarah grew up as an only child who was doted on by her father. She not only "shakes hands like a man," but considers herself just as competent – if not more so – than any of the men on the force. Well-bred and well-spoken, Sara has a keen interest in crime-solving and is immediately intrigued by the case being investigated by Kreizler and Moore." [12]

Episode Appearance Edit

References Edit

  1. 1.0 1.1 Despite Sara's father is not named in the TV series, his name is provided in Caleb Carr's novel.
  2. Introducing Sara Howard on ‘The Alienist’ — Official Instagram Account
  3. Official Overview for Dakota Fanning's Sara Howard — TNT Pressroom
  4. E. Max Frye (writer) & James Hawes (director); (February 19, 2018); "Hildebrandt’s Starling". Episode 5.The Alienist. TNT
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Hossein Amini & E. Max Frye (writers) & Jakob Verbruggen (director); (January 29, 2018); "A Fruitful Partnership". Episode 2.The Alienist. TNT
  6. Cary Fukunaga, John Sayles & Chase Palmer (writer) & Jamie Payne (director); (March 26, 2018); "Castle in the Sky". Episode 10.The Alienist. TNT
  7. 7.0 7.1 Gina Gionfriddo (writer) & Jakob Verbruggen (director); (February 5, 2018); "Silver Smile". Episode 3.The Alienist. TNT
  8. 8.0 8.1 Hossein Amini (writer) & Jakob Verbruggen (director); (January 22, 2018); "The Boy on the Bridge". Episode 1. The Alienist. TNT
  9. Sara is introduced the day after Giorgio Santorelli's murder – revealed to have happened on March 3rd, 1896 in Hildebrandt’s Starling – when Moore and Kreizler visited Roosevelt's office.
  10. Gina Gionfriddo & Cary Fukunaga (writers) & James Hawes (director); (February 12, 2018); "These Bloody Thoughts". Episode 4.The Alienist. TNT
  11. How ‘The Alienist’ Finally Found a Screen
  12. Alternate Character Overview for Dakota Fanning's Sara Howard — TNT Pressroom