As a devoted LOST fan, I of course have high hopes for every new sci-fi/mystery/thriller show which comes on TV, especially when it is from the cost superstars that made LOST so great. Alcatraz is the latest of the would be successors to the throne to throw its hat in the ring, (whether by its own choice or by rabid fans desperate to fill the LOST shaped hole in their heart). And I can say after watching the first two hours, Alcatraz is already really good and can potentially be great but still, its no LOST. And the reason why is simple. Based on the narrative device they have set up in the first two episodes, the crime procedural aspects to each episode take away too much screen time from the ambiguous mystery surrounding the shows core mythology.
What made LOST so great was that it was like being in a particularly well done role playing game with an incredibly large, rambling environment that could be wandered into in any given episode and explored. And you could then move on to another area the next week and explore something new or come back to a previously explored area and find something previously missed. In other words, while there was a definite structure to the show’s storytelling device, there was no formula to the make up of the episode. Shows like Person of Interest and now Alcatraz have a very linear approach in their episodes due to the need to establish a crime, a suspect, the pursuit of that suspect and the wrap up, all of which cannot be deviated from too far less the show start looking like …something else. The closest thing we have on TV right now, I think, to the non-formula LOST-esque show is Once Upon a Time; where in each episode, we have a character driven theme but it’s a pretty expansive universe in which we get to see that character’s world unfold. Person of Interest and Alcatraz share the procedural aspect while wrapped in a fantasy mythology which ultimately prevents either of those shows from being the next LOST. That being said, both shows are excellent and definitely make up some of the best TV nowadays.
Anyway, lets head back to the Rock!
In the Main Cell House of Alcatraz Prison, Prisoner 2024 gets a cell check from the Deputy Warden wherein the Deputy Warden finds a screwdriver (this is after his guards shook the cell down and found nothing which makes you think maybe the Deputy Warden planted the screwdriver?) Prisoner 2024 says its not his and I’ve seen enough movies to be weary of the Deputy Warden who looks like an asshole. Anyway, it may be visiting day for the prisoners of Alcatraz but sadly not for Prisoner 2024. Deputy Warden has him taken away. Later, in solitary, Prisoner 2024 asks Deputy Warden what he told his wife and the Deputy Warden explinas that he must have screwed up the visiting day order. By the way, the Deputy Warden advise Prisoner 2024 to eat something because its Alcatraz, things can always get worse. Sometime after getting out of solitary, Prisoner 2024 has found his way into the infirmary where a friedndly enough doctor is taking blood work and advising Prisoner 2024 to keep his mouth shut. When he leaves, a be-curtained Prisoner 2002 tells Prisoner 2024 that there is something worse going on below Alcatraz and that something bad is going to happen soon. Okkkay. Prisoner 2024 is having an angry. Sometime further on in Prisoner 2024′s stay, he finally gets his visiting day with his wife, Sonya. After some small talk, Sonya gets teary and asks Prisoner 2024 for a divorce. Prisoner 2024 handles this, not at all well and throws a chair with much yelling and nashing of teeth. Apparently that’s a no-no in maximum security prison and Prisoner 2024 heads back to solitary.
March 20, 1963, two guards, one older and one newbie, show up to Alcatraz on the prisoner transfer boat but do not see the guards who would normally be waiting for them. With weapons drawn, the two guards find a very abandoned Alcatraz. Older guard tells new guard to raise the alarm and get everyone they can over to the Rock. The younger guard’s name is Emerson Hauser. We learn, via voiceover, that on March 20, 302 men disappeared from Alcatraz never to be seen again … until now. Uh Ohs.
At Alcatraz Prison, modern day tourist attraction, a little girl wanders off the tour and finds a man lying in a cell which I would describe as “the hole” you hear about in old movies or say, solitary confinement. The guard that comes rushing simply tells the man he can’t sleep there and has him move on which, really? Not to knock the fine men and women of the US Parks Service which probably administer Alcatraz Prison, modern day tourist attraction but I think you find a hobo living in the prison, you do more than shoo him on. Anyway, Prisoner 2024 emerges from the cell looking the same age as he did in 1960. Prisoner 2024 has a pea-coat with him somehow which in its pocket contains a ticket to the Alcatraz tour and some money and a key. On the ferry boat back the mainland, Prisoner 2024 boosts someone handy dandy Inmates of Alcatraz book, written by Dr. Diego Soto and flips through pages until he find his own mug shot. Prisoner 2024 is Jack Sylvane, first admitted on April 27, 1956. Jack has a curious and flips to find a picture of an older gentleman we shall know as E. B. Tiller. The picture is of Tiller receiving the FBI’s Medal of Valor award. Jack has another angry. Glad to see the years of solitary didn’t diminish his sunny personality.
Elsewhere in San Francisco, Detective Rebecca Madsen (which I hear everyone pronounce with an extra “e” sound between the “d” and “s” but whatever I guess) is day dreaming about the day three months ago that her partner, Detective Dead Guy fell off the roof of building while the two of them pursued a perp. In the present, her CO wants her to finally pick a new partners. But, before she has a chance to do that, she is called to the murder scene of Elijah Bailey Tiller (oh Jack, what have you done naughty boy). After beginning to work the crime scene, Sam Neill shows up introducing himself as Hauser and throws her, almost literally given his mood, off the case and away from the crime scene since the dead guy was a federal agent. She boosts a broken photograph before going. Using her police computers, she lifts a print off of the picture frame which reveals the identity of a Jack Sylvane. Using a Google like product, she puts Sylvane together with Tiller as Alcatraz being the common denominator. Which next leads her to the comic book shop/ Alcatraz info store run by Hugo “Hurley” Reyes who for some reason thinks his name is Dr. Diego Soto, Ph.D. It seems Dr. Diego is the author of four books on Alcatraz and also holds two PhDs, one in civil war history and another in criminal justice. He also likes classic table top video games, which who doesn’t. AmIRIght?!?! Given his background, he is easily able to recite the backstory of Jack Sylvane and also is able to tell Madsen that he’s been dead for 30 years. TWIST!!
Using the key from his pocket to access a locker in some kind of YMCA like gym (locker #8 by the way in case you are still chasing the LOST numbers), Jack opens up the locker to reveal some clothes and also a gun in a case. The Helpful Attendant comes to give him some fresh towels and gets the shit beat out of him in return for his kindness by gun wielding Jack. Well, at least he didn’t kill him.
At the end of the work day, Madsen retires to the bar stool of her Uncle Ray’s bar (for the record, Uncle Ray Archer is not a real Uncle but he was a real guard at Alcatraz back in the day). In this scene we learn that (i) Dr. Diego has the transfer records for Jack (signed by Robert F Kennedy which yay show for accurate details!) and a copy of his death certificate; (ii) there is something fishy about Madsen’s grandfather, Tommy Madsen, who when she mentions him triggers knowing looks from Dr. Diego and Uncle Ray; and (iii) we learn that Uncle Ray can be crotchety on things involving the Rock. After Uncle Ray walks away, we also learn the Dr. Diego is awesome and a total enabler of figuirng out mysteries.
The next morning, Dr. Diego leads Madsen to a secret, not part of the tour, part of Alcatraz, which actually served as the guards barracks back in the day. As they are going through a treasure trove of records and prisoner belongings, a smoke/gas canister is dropped on them knocking then out cold. When they awaken, Hauser (from earlier) and an assistant, Lucy Banerjee, stand in front of them whispering conspiratorially. When they are full awake, Hauser with his stroke eye gives them the line from the commercial, Welcome to Alcatraz, indeed.
When we return from commercials, we learn the Hauser and Lucy are tasked with keeping track of Alcatraz inmate issues and is maybe part of a secret unit of the FBI. The truth here is hard to figure out at this point. Anyway, they are in a “batcave” below Alcatraz which has super awesome computer displays and doodads. They all discuss how no one knows why Jack hasn’t aged in 50 years but Lucy does confirm that the transfer order and death certificate were forgeries. You see, Jack disappeared from the Rock back in March 1963. As they talk, the Helpful Attendant assault gets called in. At the gym, Helpful Attendant IDs jack and also gives them the plate number of the cab he left in. He confirms he didn’t give Jack the locker key.
Just as this is going down, some cops confront Jack who is marching up on a house. He coldblooded shoots them and then enters the home of Barclay Flynn. He demands that Flynn go into his safe and hand over a key kept in a leather pouch. Once received, Jack shoot Flynn down dead. This dude is a cold killer! Later, at the Flynn crime scene, Hauser posits to Madsen that Jack is murdering on someone’s orders (which, how do you know that stroke eye?). When Dr. Diego shows up, he drops some knowledge on Madsen that Sonya, Jack’s wife you’ll remember, remarried … Jack’s brother Alan. Coincidently, at Alan’s house, Al Jr. answers the door when Jack rings. His cover story is that their fathers were old friends. When Alan Sr. enters, he drops his glass cause, duh. Alan is super confused because through dirt on Jack’s coffin … aren’t we all confused Alan Sr.? Jack would like to talk about his brother marrying his wife …
Dr. Diego and Madsen show up to find Al Jr. tied up (again, be lucky you’re not dead) and he tells them that Jack took Alan Sr. to find his wife. At the gravesite, we see Jack forgiving Sonya for boning and marrying his brother and he tells her that he will always lover her in his heart. When Madsen shows up, she tries to get some answers from Jack on where he’s been the last 50 years or so and who is working for but he only gets to admit that he killed Tiller out of hate and Flynn on the orders of “them.” We don’t know who “they” are before Jack is shot by one of the other cops behind Madsen or maybe even Hauser, its not clear. In any case, Jack had been trying to goad Madsen into a suicide by cop type scenario. Hauser seizes Jack telling Madsen that she done enough on her own for today. Properly scolded, she looks on as Jack turns around to say/yell back to her that she should have killed him.
Back at the Lair (I am into Lairs, just see the Person of interest recaps). Hauser assures Dr. Diego and Madsen that Alan Sr. “won’t be a problem.” Madsen isn’t really satisfied with that answer but is learning to pick her battles with Stroke Eye and but moves on to the Flynn/Jack connection of which she can find none. Hauser sneers that she shouldn’t be worried about Flynn but rather worry about the next one. We learn that Jack Sylvane was just the beginning at which point Madsen realizes that Hauser and Lucy have been waiting (a very, very long time as it turns out) for this to happen. Hauser takes them deeper into the Lair where we see the wall of the 63s. Of course, the wall is made up of photos of the 256 prisoners and 46 guards who disappeared back on March 20, 1963.
Hauser sums up the shows premise thusly, “the worst criminals are coming back and no will be able to find them because they don’t exist.” Madsen sees that Tommy Madsen was Prisoner 2002 (who you’ll remember is the be-curtained prisoner issuing dire warnings to Jack earlier in the episode). After seeing his picture, Madsen also learns that Tommy was the perp that killed her partner. Uh oh. She surmises that Hauser knew this all along and wanted her. To the contrary he says, she is too young and impetuous but he does have her transfer orders in hand. She’s in. And of course, Dr. Diego will be her partner. By the way, no one can know. The mission simply put is to not only find the 63s but also, find out who took them. Last scene, Hauser delivers Jack into the Ewok prison which has a security code of 6323 (who knows what numbers will be important). Inside, the Ewok prison is a pristine white jail. As he hands Jack off, Hauser lands a good head butt to Jack’s forehead, since Tiller was a good friend of his. Hauser parts ways with the final warning to Jack that he shouldn’t worry for he won’t be lonesome for long.
Keep or Delete? Alcatraz is very much a Keep!