I’m just going to assume you saw last night’s episode of Alcatraz, because if you didn’t, why have you clicked through to this? I ask you.
1. All right, we’re five episodes in, and this show is treading some serious water. Didn’t they tease a monster of some kind in the bowels of the prison last week? A shadowy bit of foreshadowing that strongly hinted at a big part of the conspiracy? Where was that? No mention. Ray’s Madsen’s blood uncle, although that doesn’t really impact the story very much. So the father figure the Inspector has warm feelings for… is still the father figure she has warm feelings for, after the revelation they’re really related.
2. “What if he’s… lost?” Uh huh; that’s hilarious. If you’re going to be cheeky and hit the nail on the head that hard, you better have reason to. This show calling out LOST is like Elisabetta Canalis proudly introducing Steve-O to her parents. Intended or not, comparisons will be made; perhaps even measurements taken. LOST, for example, by episode five, had introduced all the archetypes/main characters, so if you couldn’t remember their names, exactly, you could get by with The Doctor, Wolverine, The Intense Bald guy, the cute girl, the other cute girl, etc. They’d fleshed out Kate’s backstory, shown Locke in his wheelchair, and Jack delivered the theme of the show: “live together, or die alone.” Even without really knowing the destination, they cemented the show in the first month it was on. What do we have here? A prisoner of the week police procedural with an interesting pool of folks to draw from. We know the three main characters, but only a sketch of their personalities: Hauser is a man driven by… what, exactly? He was a young guard the night the prisoners disappeared, and apparently knows or has surmised what’s happened and has spent the intervening 48 years waiting for them to show up again. And I know this is TV and all, but if Hauser is the same age as Nigel John Dermot Neill, that makes him a 16 year old guard which seems unlikely. And say he’s 21 (which seems more appropriate for guarding hardened criminals and whatnot), that makes Hauser a pretty spry 70.
Doc Soto seems a good-natured cipher there for exposition and comedy relief. If it were anyone besides the magnificent Jorge Garcia, I wouldn’t even be paying attention to his cartoonishly-written character. I can’t believe they have an actor of Garcia’s caliber on there and they’re so slow to take advantage of his range.
After last night, it seems pretty clear that the breakthrough of the time-travel process hinges on some particular uniqueness of the Madsen clan, with Tommy giving up all that blood for the experiments, his shadowy knowledge in the pilot, the reveal that Hauser recruited Ray “sixteen years ago,” for the team, and Rebecca being manipulated into it in the present. Obviously, there’s much more to it than “I’d still like a Vulcan there, if possible.”
3. Five episodes in, and there’s still no flash of the mechanism. I understand the proper unfolding of the mystery, and all, but it seems a little precious for these guys to show up in white T-shirts and pea coats, pockets full of ID and money, and with a pre-programmed slate of tasks to accomplish seemingly beyond their own self-interest or control. Why would an otherwise good family man return from the past and when braced by a fellow Alcatraz guard from his future whack the guy into unconsciousness? This was the bit I was dreading, actually; the return of an ostensibly good guy. Hauser can’t throw him in the gleaming white NeoGeo in the woods, because what has the guy done except be swept up in… whatever happened. Hauser himself calls him a casualty of the event. Which, when related by Hastings, sounds kind of odd. They had enough time to craft a story to get the eight guards into… you know, whatever. The Time Room, around a conference table, whatever, and tell them a disorienting lie that there’d been an accident and all their families had been killed. It seems kind of a coincidence that all of their families would all be at the site of some kind of chemical spill, but, OK, you’re trying to put them off their games so you can time swap them or whatever… but then Hastings says, “… and then… well, it wasn’t 1963 anymore.”
So, OK, some kind of stasis or hibernation, allowing time for Matrix-style programming (in 1963!). There’s laser-cut keys for the downstairs smoke monster room, so “time” is a malleable concept in this show. I’m fine with that. I’ve just gotta see some Journeyman style flash of light or energy pop or specific sound effect or something peeking around a corner and then seeing somebody take TWO SECONDS of a stumble or a look around or something, because if the doctors and scientists and administration is gathering everybody up and telling ’em lies and then all of a sudden it’s not 1963 any more… well, that’s not a nutritious bit of entertainment like LOST was. This is filling, but it’s junk food.
4. Hauser’s two teams are giving me a belly-ache, too. He runs Madsen and Soto like a terrorist cell, only giving them the barest bits of information, while there’s a Batphone with access to a secret room full of Gen X computer nerds who are apparently fully-briefed on what’s going on physically in the next room. Right there. There’s what? Ten or twelve folks in that room behind laptops? What’s filling in two more citizens on what-we-know-so-far going to harm? If it is going to harm anything, which is two lines of dialogue. “I know this may sound trite, but keeping you two in the dark for the time being really is a matter of national security.” Or, “I’ve learned my lesson. I tried bringing a civilian up to speed fifteen years ago, and he ended up at the bottom of the Bay. I’m not making the same mistake again.”
5. Obviously, Tommy hammered Ray in the Gas Chamber to try to scare him off the Rock and away from the experiments. He had to know that Madsen blood is valuable to “them.” Damn, I wish they’d give us something to call them, although it took four years to find out the Observer’s name was “September,” so I guess you have to leave something for later. I mean, of course Tommy really didn’t kill his wife and was framed for it, or did but she was on Team Bad Guy and deserved it somehow. Just like Rebecca’s partner will be revealed to be a dirty cop, in on the conspiracy and partnered with her so “they” can keep an eye on her in case they need more Madsen juice later, and Tommy killed him to save his skin and protect Ray and Rebecca.
6. The reason I was dreading the ostensible good guy showing up from the 63s is because you have the ol’ now-what with these guys. On the way to wherever, Hauser drops by Hastings’ daughter’s house so he can see a loving family tableau, but… “I’m never going to see them again, am I?” he says. Hauser icily responds, “No.” So, let’s just forget for a second that this guy is shot in the leg and bleeding all over the car and he’s a pretty composed cat. What is stopping him from getting out and running down the street? Because Hauser’s going to put you in jail or kill you, you know. He friggin told you you were a casualty of the experiment. A good man, wasn’t supposed to happen that way, etc. Seems whatever the endgame for you is, Guy Hastings, it’s going to be final. You know too much. And too little.