Alcatraz S01E01, S01E02 Recap & Review: Series Premiere-Spoilers
Alcatraz: J.J. Abrams' New Island
Okay, J.J. Abrams fans... you ready to go to a mysterious island that's displaced in time? Again? Good. Alcatraz got its series premiere on January 16, 2012, and I was there, vodka, lime and soda in hand, to write up a recap and review. Spoilers ahead, dude.
Alcatraz S01E01: Pilot- (Jack Sylvane)
It's March 20, 1963 on Alcatraz. Two prison guards arrive on a spooooky night, only to notie that their two counterparts aren't at the dock to meet the transfer boat. There should be guards. there should also be prisoners, but there aren't. Alcatraz is totally abandoned, and there aren't even any Clint Eastwood decoy heads in any of the cells. 302 men just disappeared from Alcatraz without a trace. All of them presumably got a visit from Desmond, and then mysteriously vanished.
Cue cover-up: Alcatraz closes on March 21, 1963.
Fast- (not flash-) forward to today, when tourists are visiting Alcatraz with those guided-tour headphones. A little girl wanders away from the tour and screams bloody murder. She finds a guy in an isolation cell. he steps into the sunlight. The tour guide ignores him, not noticing that he's wearing Alcatraz prison blues.
The guy gets on the ferry back to San Francisco, thanks to a black jacket with useful stuff in its pockets. A quick look at a souvenir mugshot book gives us a name check: Jack Sylvane.
Jack Sylvane is prisoner #2024, now seen getting shaken down (in the past) by The Man, aka E.B. Tiller, the associate warden.
Vancouver SFPD detective Rebecca Madsen has to get a new partner, after her old partner was killed by a Neo-jumping perp. Hang on, though, she has a murder. It's E.B. Tiller, older than he was in '63, and also deader. Here comes Sam Neill, who looks sketchy. Hey, was the bad guy in Event Horizon, what did you expect? Emerson Hauser is taking over the investigation, and Madsen calls him a dick. Can you say "dick" on network TV? Rebecca Madsen can.
Jack Sylvane, a Post Office, and Hurley
Madsen does a fictional-Google search, and finds a wiki on Jack Sylvane. The article was written by
Hurley Dr. Diego Soto, an Alcatraz expert. Soto says that Jack Sylvane ended up in prison after robbing the wrong place (a post office), then ended up on Alcatraz after a fight at Leavenworth. Oh, and he died "over 30 years ago"... or so Hurley thinks.
In the past, Tiller really has it in for Sylvane, totally fucking with him, and establishing motive for... murder! In the here and now, Sylvane uses the key in the jacket he found to open a locker. There's a gun in there. Sylvane takes the gun and kicks the locker-room attendant's ass because... because fuck you, that's why.
Hurley and Madsen are meeting up with Madsen's uncle (great-uncle?family friend?), a former guard, and it's becoming clear that the old-school guys are keeping something close to the chest. How come a doctor who wrote book about Alcatraz never noticed this before? Well, he kinda did, but has also kept it close to the chest.
Right now, Madsen and Hurley are working on the assumption that Sylvane was laying low all these years, and then pounced. Because Jack Sylvane traveling through time would belong in that other show, right?
Madsen and Hurley hit Alcatraz and bang out some "origin story" exposition, hanging a lampshade on the fact that Madsen is way too young to be a detective. Then they find all of the inmates stuff, in boxes, just sitting in a barracks basement on Alcatraz. Just sitting there. What the hell. Before we can think too much about this, the dynamic duo are knocked out by a canister of gas. They wake up in the clutches of... Sam Neill.
They're in a "Batcave under Alcatraz" (Hurley rules!), where Hauser runs a sort of X-Files division with a hot younger agent (didn't catch her name). They have CCTV footage of Jack Sylvane following Tiller into his house (SF has as many cameras as London?), and they notice that, yeah, he didn't age. Freaky.
Now they're all on the same team because we have to get on with the pilot episode and we all know it's gonna happen anyway. Turns out Sylvane left his prison jumpsuit, #2024, at the gym. He's no Frank Morris, that's for sure. The attendant even got the plate number from the cab that Sylvane took.
Back in the Sixties, Sylvane is getting blood drawn in the infirmary, even though he's not sick. A fellow inmate says that something bad is gonna happen at Alcatraz. No shit. It's a maximum-security prison.
Sylvane shows up at a swish-looking house (supposed to be in Pacific Heights?), and caps a few cops, because
fuck you, that's why he has no stealth mode. He takes a big-ass key from a guy called Barkley Flynn, then caps him.
Team X-Files show up at Flynn's house to find the bodies. They think that Sylvane is acting on behalf of someone else. Why?
Turns out Sylvane's wife remarried... his brother. Yikes.
Meanwhile, Jack Sylvane comes face to face with his nephew, and passes himself off as his own son. It's awkward. We see Jack and his then-wife in flashback as she leaves him. She's asking for a divorce over the phone, while looking at him through the visiting-area glass. I can't help but think that Tiller's dickhead behavior torpedoed this relationship.
In the present day, Jack's brother comes in and freaks the fuck out. Which makes sense.
JACK'S BROTHER: "You look the same."
JACK: "You look old."
Jack kidnaps his brother and goes to his wife's grave. Does he want to be sure she's really dead? Madsen catches up with him, gun drawn. Jack brags about killing Tiller, but says that he killed Flynn "because they told me". Sylvane wants Madsen to shoot him, but a police sniper obliges. Jack is only Hollywood-hurt, and is led off by Hauser.
Jack Syvane gets stuck in prison with a new identity. [Not really: he's brought to a high-tech Alcatraz reboot, built underground in the woods.] As for Jack's brother? Hauser ominously intones, "He won't be a problem." Clearly Emerson Hauser knew something was going to happen with these vanished inmates.
How long, exactly? A few years? Maybe... since 1963?
On May 20, 1963, 256 prisoners and 46 guards vanished. Sure enough, Emerson Hauser was one of the two cops who discovered the mass disappearance. We also learn that Madsen's grandfather was an inmate, and not a guard, as she had been raised to believe... and the guy who killed her partner.
Wait, how the hell did she not know that her grandfather was an inmate? It's not like there aren't a million books about Alcatraz in San Francisco.
Oh, yeah. Right. J.J. Abrams show: no follow-up questions allowed.
Now Rebecca Madsen is part of Team X-Files, and she immediately recruits Hurley, since he's the only other character in the show who's had more than five lines.
Alcatraz S01E02: Ernest Cobb
1960: Ernest Cobb, the Wichita Sniper, arrives at Alcatraz, wearing only his underwear and hipster glasses. He meets the Warden, who doesn't get name-checked, so we'll just call him Uncle Fester. Cobb got himself sent to Alcatraz on purpose so he could have a single room. Was San Francisco rent as insane in the Sixties as it is now?
In the present day, Cobb sets up a retro-picnic on a hill, and takes out a rifle scope. Uh-oh.
Hurley and Madsen look at Hurley's Alcatraz book: why does Madsen's grandfather have such a short bio? Hurley's like, "I dunno." Again, why the fuck doesn't Madsen know her grandfather was an inmate, when this book has been on shelves for hell-knows-how-long?
To distract us from this gaping plot hole, Cobb takes sniper shots at a carnival ground that doesn't exist in real-life San Francisco. He kills two teens, an adult, and a couple of crows.
This looks like the job for... Team X-Files! That would be Rebecca Madsen, Hurley, Emerson Hauser, and the hot girl whose name I don't know [IMDB says she's called Lucy], for those who just tuned in and missed the first half of this article.
They find the hill that Cobb used as a vantage point, and one of his shell casings: what, he couldn't remember to pick it up?
Lucy is grilling Jack Sylvane at New Alcatraz about Cobb, the key, and.. uh... why the hell he's in 2012, and not in 1963 where he belongs.
Hurley's having a hissy fit about getting left out of the bigger picture. Madsen reminds him that they nailed Sylvane, and not Hauser, even though Hauser gets ballistic reports at speeds only seen in episodes of CSI.
Madsen and Lucy are trying to track down where Cobb got the rifle: it's an old-school Winchester Model 70. CCTV shows Cobb also had a retro motel room key.
Back in 1960, Cobb and Warden Fester meet in a dark room with an Italian-bistro tablecloth. Cobb wants to be stuck in solitary, so he can be kept away from pretty much everyone. He's not a people person. The warden says no. See, he only wants to put people in solitary when they don't want to be put in solitary.
In the present day, Hurley and Lucy are in some sketchy-looking Tenderloin hotel lobby, and Hurley is trying to get some usable info from her. She's all cryptic.
Madsen rushes Cobb's room, but he's across the street with a rifle, and he totally caps Lucy! If he went from 1963 to 2012, how did he see Fulltime Killer? O does the same thing in that film, which is awesome; you should watch it.
Madsen asks if these Alkies know that Team X-Files is chasing them. Hauser's like, "Does it matter?" So that would be a yes. Oh, and for the record, of course it freakin' matters.
Madsen is freaking out in the bathroom. She's taking Lucy's shooting badly, considering they've known each other for about 36 hours. Lucy is in a coma. Hauser is pissed off, so he goes to abuse Jack Sylvane some more. These New Alcatraz cells look kind of like where they keep Magneto.
Lucy kept a database on the Sixty-Threes (I like "Alkies" better), because duh. Cobb's MO: all of his shooting sprees involve a 16-year-old girl. (Wait, 16-year-olds look different now than they did in the 1960s; how would he get it right on his first day, on his first shot? What if he saw Courtney Stodden through his scope? Would his brain have exploded?
A girl named Eloise Monroe was writing to Cobb when he was in Alcatraz. He was her half-sister, and he never got her letters. She's dead now.
Back in the 1960, Cobb gets himself all creepy-hipster-spruced up for role call. He sits like Rorschach in Watchmen. He won't stand for role call, so the screws will kick his ass and take him to solitary. Score!
Madsen is sitting in Cobb's cell, trying to get into his head. She's using Cobb's roll-your-own magazine scope to see what he'd have seen: a tiny slice of San Francisco, where he could plan his future kills. I bet he didn't know just how future his future kills would be, huh?
Speaking of which... Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop! Two crows, three people shot at a mall parking lot.
Back in 1960, Warden Fester congratulates Ernest Cobb on playing the system to get his solitary cell... however, he's giving Cobb a full-time roommate. That chatty guy who was his former cell-block neighbor. Fester is a real asshole.
Hauser and Hurley determine Cobb's next vantage point by comparing SF then with SF now, and checking out the two tallest buildings (Actually, the building Madsen's taking is the Dominion Building in Vancouver; the other is the Woodwards Building). Why didn't Cobb go to one of these rooftops first? Right- J.J. Abrams. No follow-up questions. Sorry.
Sure enough, Hauser spots Cobb lining up a shot as he chants "47... white picket fence..." Madsen interrupts him. Cobb hates being interrupted, so he tries to shoot her. He's still chanting.
Why is Madsen putting her gun down? Cobb's standing with his back to her. To be honest, I'm not getting the connection between Cobb's shooting sprees and his mother and sister. Before I can figure if the connection has anything to do with the larger story, Hauser shoots Cobb in his trigger-hand. Add that connection in the comments if you want.
Shit Just Got Real
Hurley points out the obvious: "This isn't the comic-book world". No. Shit. Dude. Madsen talks him into not quitting.
Back at New Alcatraz, Hauser brings a bandaged Cobb to his new quarters. they pass Jack Sylvane; the two of them recognize each other.
Hauser promises to bring the pain. Those of us who saw Event Horizon know that Sam Neill is one crazy Kiwi, and he can definitely bring the pain.
In 1960, Warden Fester is introducing a straitjacketed Ernest Cobb to a certain Doctor... oh, shit, it's Lucy.
Okay, the Review
Alcatraz will have to get the A-story going a lot more quickly if it wants to hold audience attention. The show really falls down when it's in procedural-mode: Fringe (also a J.J. Abrams show) already owns the freak-of-the-week storyline format, and is doing it far better than Alcatraz.
The production values in these first two episodes are superb, considering it's obviously not filmed in San Francisco.
I found myself waiting for more Jorge Garcia. He was one of my favorite actors in Lost, and the main reason I tuned in for the Alcatraz premiere.
I wanted to like these first episodes, but found the writing to be perfunctory: unapologetic about racing past plot holes and exposition. Another way of describing it would be "lazy".
Glossing over the moments where two people on two sides of a long-past event, one aged and one preserved, meet in a secret prison in order to focus on a guy chanting on a roof? Please. There's so much space to explore here, and a show has to let us know that it's up for the task.
Complicating this is the let-down that Lost fans experienced when they found out that they had a more interesting ideas about how the series should end than the actual showrunners did.
When the writing is that slipshod, the performances simply cannot save it, which is a shame, since the performances are not bad. I didn't exactly want to switch it off, but I'm not left wanting to tune in next week. Whether or not Alcatraz will actually be a weekly procedural, I was left feeling that it would be, and that's what informs my decision whether or not to watch next week.
I give The Alcatraz series premiere two mysteriously-disappearing inmates out of a possible five.
What did you think? Did you like the Alcatraz series premiere? Will Jorge Garcia pick up where Heath Ledger left off, bringing purple velvet into fashion? Will you tune in for S01E03? If you were Rebecca Madsen, how would you talk me into sticking with the series?
Let us know in the comments.
Check out some of my other recaps and reviews: