*or "Alcatraz: Time Traveling Criminals Are Surprisingly Like Batman"
|Never saw that logo design coming...|
We kick right off with some nice CG of Alcatraz on a dark and stormy night and Sam Neill’s voiceover explaining that the official story of Alcatraz closing in 1963 is “Not what happened. Not at all.” Cut to March 20, 1963 when two guards, a seasoned professional and a jittery rookie arrive on the island by boat and immediately figure out that something is amiss. Inside, they find row after row of empty cells, and Jittery Rookie looks like he’s going to need to change his trousers. Sam Neill chimes in again to inform us that 302 men disappeared that night.
|Jack doesn't photo well.|
Opening title, and the word hangs above the rock looking very much like the Bat Signal. (Na na na na na na Batman!)
Now we’re back in San Francisco where a blonde and a handsome bearded guy (probably cops) are chasing a clean-cut guy across rooftops in what is a dramatic, heart-pounding, and entirely improbable police chase. The clean-cut guy pushes the bearded man, who falls to his tragic death, something that three months later seems to still be haunting the blonde, Detective Rebecca Madsen. Her Lieutenant wants her to find a new partner, but before she has to agree to anyone, she gets pulled out to work a homicide.
|"Tea, scone, newest Walking Dead?"|
Alcatraz leads her to a resident expert in the person of Dr. Diego Soto, book author, double doctorate holder, and comic book store owner, played by a very dapper Jorge Garcia (yay!). They bond over video games, he proposes marriage, and she enlists him for help with her case. Dr. Soto paints a rosy picture of Sylvane as a poor WW2 vet who ended up in jail just for trying to steal food to feed his family. Aww, maybe the time traveling con’s not such a bad guy?
Back in the 60s, we get a few more scenes of E.B. Tiller being a dick to Jack Sylvane. In present San Francisco, Jack goes into a… what is this, a youth hostel? A YMCA? A really crummy gym? I’m genuinely not sure… and pays for access to a locker room, where he whips out a locker key and finds a gun and a prison uniform. The kid from the check in helpfully comes into the locker room to give Jack his change and a clean towel, and Jack repays the young man for his above-the-call kindness by brutally smashing his head into a locker. Remember what I said about him maybe not being so bad? I think I take that back.
Madsen goes to a bar to ask for advice from her “uncle” Ray. Soto follows her, and she mentions that her grandfather Thomas Madsen was a guard on Alcatraz, which makes both Soto and Ray mutter awkwardly. Soto whips out Sylvane’s death certificate, and Uncle Ray strongly encourages Madsen to back off. No one ever listens to good advice on TV, so instead Madsen and Soto arrange to go over to Alcatraz the next day. They go looking for a room Soto once stumbled across which is separated from the main tourist drag by a rope and a single locked door. It’s chock full of the prisoners’ personal belongings. Before they get to really investigate, someone throws a gas grenade at them and they both pass out
|Still Dreamy After All these Years|
Back in the 60s, Jack is cuffed to an infirmary bed and complaining that a doctor is taking too much blood. The doctor mocks him and walks off, but I gotta say, I’m with Jack on this one. There’s a tray of like four liter-sized glass bottles full of blood there! Is this Alcatraz’s dark secret? It was secretly populated with vampires who feasted on the inmates? Maybe Jack hasn’t aged because he joined the ranks of the undead! Another prisoner, visible only as a shadow on a screen, introduces himself as prisoner #2002. He’s a cocky bastard and he seems to know something’s up. He mentions something “below the hole” (snicker). Jack basically tells him to shut up.
Everyone but Lucy has followed Jack to the locker room where he beat up that poor kid, and the kid hands them the license plate of the cab that Jack took off in. Apparently, the SFPD moves very quickly because just as Jack gets to his destination, two cops pull up and Jack shoots them both. Okay, clearly not the heart of gold I was hoping for. Inside the house, an Anderson Cooper-type in a sweater sees the cops and panics. “Are you Barclay Flynn?” Jack asks. “I’m here for you.” Barclay freaks out, but he helpfully gives Jack what he wants—a soft black bag containing a key. Jack coldly shoots him anyway. I’m increasingly disappointed in you, Jack Sylvane. Hauser, Madsen, and Soto turn up, but Jack escapes. Soto, who is apparently working on this on his iPhone offscreen, comes in and informs us that Jack’s wife later married Jack’s brother. Given that Jack hasn’t shut up about his wife in any of the flashback scenes, they know it’s a good lead, so Soto and Marsden chase off after Jack.
|"Did someone say Pudding?"|
Marsden breaks in a short while later and finds Alan Jr tied to a chair. He tells her that his father was kidnapped, and they rush to the graveyard where the wife was buried. Jack makes a self-righteous speech to his wife’s tombstone about how he forgives his wife (who really did nothing wrong and behaved in a very reasonable way under the circumstances), and Marsden disarms and arrests him. Marsden helpfully confesses to Tiller’s murder and tells her he was told to do Flynn’s murder. Tensions escalate and he ends up shot by a sniper, but not wounded so badly he can’t walk away.
Back in the Batcave under Alcatraz, Marsden asks Hauser and Lucy for answers, but the two of them are both chronically cryptic. Hauser tells her to focus on the “next victim,” and Marsden realizes that they knew this was coming. Hauser takes Soto and Marsden into a vault full of pictures and dossiers on all 256 prisoners and 46 guards that vanished in 1963. He calls them “the 63s.” He also reveals, in case you hadn’t guessed yet (and really, you should have), that he was the Jittery Rookie from the opening scene. Remember that? He explains that all the 63s are coming back.
|"You're telling me the killer only targets Texaco gas station attendants? That's pure evil!" |
Submitted by Matt Popola via our Facebook Page.
Hauser hires Marsden, who insists on Soto for her partner. He is delighted. Hauser tells them that their job is to find the 63s and who took them. Then he drives Sylvane through the woods, to what can only be described as Bizarro-Alcatraz, a gleamingly modern Alcatraz duplicate buried in a bunker underground. Then he bashes him in the head for good measure and sends him off to his cell, because Hauser would like to emphasize for you that he’s kind of a dick.
The second episode begins with a new inmate, one Ernest Cobb, being marched through Alcatraz back in the 60s. He’s an interesting looking guy, like what you’d end up with if Rivers Cuomo and Giovanni Ribisi had a lovechild. (Who then became a sniper.) The warden compliments Mr. Cobb on his impressive body count, and asks him why he shot a guard in the leg to get transferred to Alcatraz. Cobb says he wants a private cell.
In the present, Cobb is now dressed and carrying a darling little picnic basket. He has a sweet little picnic of sandwiches and lemonade, then whips out a scope and starts chanting about “47 slats in the picket fence” while he peers targets at a carnival across the way. Meanwhile, Dr. Soto is busy training his replacement at his comic book store, when Marsden comes in and asks for more information on her grandfather. But Cobb is busy assembling his sniper rifle at his happy picnic site, and then he shoots a man and two teenagers.
Marsden and Soto arrive and discover that the police are searching a 750 yard radius for the sniper. Marsden identifies Soto as “a famous comic book writer,” which is fun, but he’s too busy freaking out about possible dead bodies to notice. Marsden is sympathetic but not particularly helpful. Hauser points out some dead crows, and Soto identifies the shooter as Ernest Cobb; apparently he learned to shoot by killing crows for farmers after he left the orphanage. Soto warns that Cobb will do three shootings in three days, then go underground. Eventually, they figure out Cobb favors a Winchester model 70, a weapon with a 500 yard range, so the SFPD is looking too far back. Marsden spots the little hill where Cobb had his picnic. A brief investigation turns up a single shell. Marsden and Soto are both careful to manhandle the bullet with their bare hands as much as possible, thus ruining any possibility of pulling prints off the shell and confirming their hypothesis that Cobb is the perp.
|"It's so creepy a serial killer wouldn't live here, but I like it. Rents cheap."|
We get a quick scene of a neat and meticulous Ernest Cobb being annoyed that his talkative neighbor wants to ramble on and on. They watch Jack throw his temper tantrum with his wife, which seems to give Cobb some ideas about solitary.
Back in Bizarro-Alcatraz, Lucy is having an emotionless interrogation with Jack Sylvane. Sylvane claims he doesn’t know anything, and apparently the glowing table they’re seated at is some kind of lie detector, because a guy in glasses with lots of fancy computer graphics tells Hauser that Sylvane’s telling the truth. Marsden and Soto go through Cobb’s stuff and congratulate themselves on what a good job they’re doing; Soto tells us that Cobb spent more time in solitary than any other inmate. Marsden and Lucy go looking for the rifle, and Emerson tells Lucy, “You wanted children—go babysit.” Ha.
In the gun shop, Soto is busy getting a “Second Amendment contact high,” while Marsden chats up an old associate, who remembers the gun. There’s no traceable information, so they view the security footage and spot that Cobb has an old-school hotel key. “Ah,” my husband said at this point, “it’s probably old and boutique.” Then we see Cobb sitting in his room. Old yes; boutique, no, unless it’s a boutique that specializes in a certain kind of rat-infested shabbiness. Cobb is busy playing with his gun. (That’s what she said.)
Back in the 60s, we see Cobb brought before the warden while he’s dining all by himself. The warden has apparently received a polite and well written letter from Cobb requesting a transfer to the solitary block so he can take meals in private, but the warden denies his request saying that it’s a prison and not a hotel. Then he rubs salt in the wound by telling Cobb to go away so he can eat in private. That’s cold, warden.
So our intrepid heroes have apparently accessed the police hotel room key photo database, because they’ve located the hotel in record time. The manager recognizes Cobb and sends them up to the room. This is seriously a crappy hotel. I bet they rent rooms in 15 minute increments. Marsden goes in, and we can immediately tell that while this is a crappy hotel room, it’s not the same crappy hotel room that Cobb is sitting in. (For one, his appears to have all four walls intact, unlike the dive Marsden just broke into.) She starts searching the room, and we see Cobb lean out his window and start chanting about the 47 slats on the picket fence again. Lucy opens the drapes, and we see that Cobb has written “I CAN SEE YOU” and drawn a target on the glass. He shoots, and the bullet passes through his target and hits Lucy in the chest.
Hauser turns up to find Lucy being rushed to County General—wait, no, sorry, St. Mary’s—and an extremely bloody Marsden complaining that Cobb played them like he knew they were coming. Marsden asks some practical questions, and Hauser is characteristically rude, abrupt, and cryptic.
This guy needs some Prozac. Or maybe a kitten.
So Lucy is in the hospital in a coma from which she may or may not wake up. All the characters are very distressed about this, but given that we haven’t seen Lucy display any kind of actual personality yet, I’m having a hard time mustering up an emotional reaction. Even my raging girl-crush on Parminder Nagra isn’t enough to pull me out of this fog of “meh.” But Hauser and Soto are distressed and the music has taken on a sad, minor key. Hauser hurries off to Bizarro-Alcatraz where he demands to know if Lucy was a target. Jack doesn’t know. (He doesn’t know much, that one.) Hauser makes some comment about Dr. Beauregard jogging Jack’s memory, but Dr. Beauregard is not going to be mentioned again for the rest of the episode, so just file that away in case it’s ever mentioned again.
Back at the Batcave, Marsden and Soto are looking for patterns in Cobb’s supposedly random killings, and all they can find is that a teenage girl was killed in each shooting. Marsden asks if Cobb had any teenage girls in his life; Soto explains that Cobb grew up in an orphanage and at 20 hunted down his birth mother, only to have the door slammed in his face. Marsden decides the obvious solution is to spend the night in Cobb’s cell with all his stuff to try to get in his head. Meanwhile, Soto finds a letter for Cobb that was never delivered. It turns out his birth mother also had a daughter a few years younger who had later tried to track him down because she wanted a big brother. So that explains the teenage girl issue—he’s bitter about the sister who his mom loved more than him.
Back in the 60s, Cobb violates roll call by sitting on his bed and refusing to stand by the door, a minor infraction but enough to get him the solitary cell he wanted.
Marsden spends the whole night in Cobb’s cell and eventually figures out that he made himself a telescope out of a rolled up magazine, his glasses, and a magnifying glass. He could use it to watch the goings on in San Francisco. While they figure this out, Cobb is outside a grocery store, chanting “47… 47.” He shoots down some crows, then begins shooting bystanders. He hits a teenage girl and her mother starts screaming and tries to drag her behind a car.
In the 60s, the Warden congratulates Cobb on getting what he wanted in such an elegant way. Then the warden gets his revenge by putting Cobb’s verbal diarrhea-inflicted neighbor in his cell with him. The neighbor is pleased and begins chatting nonstop about absolutely nothing, and Cobb goes berserk.
|"Probably should have saved more money for bullets..."|
Marsden and Soto have a heartwarming moment, and it’s all warm fuzzies.
Hauser, meanwhile, first checks on Lucy, then drives Cobb out to Bizarro-Alcatraz, where Sylvane and Cobb look awfully surprised to see each other. Cobb has one last flashback to the past, where he’s in a straight jacket in the infirmary. The Warden tells him that he’s found a doctor who can actually help figure out what’s wrong with the guy’s head. And here she comes. The warden introduces her, and the camera pans around, and it’s…. LUCY?! Yep, Lucy, in a smart blue 1960s business suit and some of the best eyeliner I’ve ever seen. So, was Lucy one of the 63s? If so, since she’s been working with Hauser, she must have been one of the first ones back, so why would she help to catch the others? Or is she in with the people who took them in the first place? Or what? Oh the mystery. But that’s the end of the episode, and all we’re going to get for now.
|Why are they looking at you. What did you do?|
Whew! Overall, I’d say it’s a promising start to a series. There’s an interesting blend of mystery and the chase; we’ve got the possibilities for the best parts of a crime story, mixed with the most mind-bending elements of a show like Lost. Marsden and Soto seem to have good chemistry. My biggest complaint so far is that they didn’t bother to give Lucy any kind of personality before they dropped the big bombshell there, which seems like a wasted opportunity. My second biggest complaint is that Sam Neill’s overacting is going to get very old very fast… Take it down a notch Sam. So what did you think? Tell us in the comments, and come back next week for another exciting installment!
[Episodes available at hulu.com/alcatraz]