Gosh, has it already been a week since Alcatraz premiered? And here I am still trying to figure out which headline I preferred best: “Alcatraz Locks Up a Rock-Solid Debut” or “Alcatraz Breaks Out Strong.”
Well, either way, the fact remains that J.J. Abrams’ latest production endeavor pulled 10 million viewers and a 3.3 rating/8 share in the adults 18-49 demographic, which is a 38 percent jump from the network's mid-season premiere of Chicago Code a year ago, making it the highest-rated drama debut for Fox since Lie to Me in January 2009. Or, at least, that’s what Tim Kenneally said over at The Wrap, anyway. And he has no reason to lie to me, so I’m taking his facts and figures at their word.
So here we are at Episode 1.3 (you’ll recall that we got both the pilot and Episode 1.2 last week), an hour of television which I had been awaiting with great excitement, giddily theorizing that we’d see Alcatraz begin the process of breaking out of the semi-standard procedural mold offered up in last week’s opening salvo, exploring a bit more of the mysteries of the prison and the residents and employees who disappeared from it back in ’63.
Pft. I needn’t have bothered. Barring the last five minutes of the proceedings, this was just more of the same stuff we got last week.
Meet your Inmate of the Week: Kit Nelson, a convicted child-killer who’s arrived in the present with every intention of continuing the same awful deeds that he did before being incarcerated on the Rock. Fortunately for the crack team of Det. Madsen, Dr. Soto, and Agent Hauser, Nelson’s got a standard M.O. which involves kidnapping a child on a Friday night, leaving a white chrysanthemum on their pillow, and returning the child’s dead body to his home on Sunday. I say “fortunately” because Soto’s gone and gotten himself a police scanner, so he conveniently catches a report over his police scanner about a local boy’s kidnapping which details both the age of the child and the type of flower left behind.
The flashbacks to Nelson’s days on Alcatraz are, as in the first two installments of the series, far more interesting than 90% of what’s going on in the present. For all the lowlifes and malcontents in the prison, there are certain members of the population that simply cannot be tolerated, and child killers definitely qualify as part of that particular crowd. Not only do the guards look away and let Nelson’s fellow inmates beat the living shit out of him, but they do so more or less with the consent of both Warden James and Associate Warden Tiller…which, come to think of it, really isn’t that big of a surprise, given how despicable they’ve already come across in the series. The best moment of the flashback scenes comes when Warden James forces Nelson to see his father on Visitors Day, resulting in an incredibly tense scene between father and son, whether the latter finally washes his hands of his only surviving son, telling him that he's glad to know that he's behind bars. Ouch.
The case itself wasn't terribly interesting, however. Despite the harsh nature of last week's inmate, a sniper who was shooting people more or less on a whim, I never really believed that Nelson was going to kill Dylan, a.k.a. his kidnap victim. We were supposed to, I dare say, but once it began apparent that Soto had something in his past that mirrored Dylan's kidnapping, telling the lad, “Don't give up,” I was convinced from then on that Soto would have a hand in saving the boy's life. Similarly, after Madsen offered the heavy-handed (but supposedly offhanded) observation that Nelson's brother had died at age 11, just like the other victims, I knew there was a tie-in to be had, so I wasn't exactly blown away to learn that Nelson had actually killed his brother. (I do, however, concede that Nelson's confession to the warden was well-acted, even if it wasn't entirely shocking at that point.)
The relationship between Madsen, Soto, and Hauser veered between predictable and saccharine this week. Okay, we get it, Hauser doesn't really want Madsen and Soto on his team, and he's only putting up with them because they offer him something important, be it a relative among the returned inmates or a hell of a lot of information about Alcatraz. But Hauser turning up at just the right moment to take down Nelson may go down as the least surprising reveal on TV this week.
As for Soto, he actually had a nice bit of the spotlight this week, going out on his own and trying to catch the bad guy while also having a slice of pie. Although things go horribly wrong with that particular effort, he does end up coming through in the end, more or less. We also discover that, as many have been hoping, he does apparently have some sort of hidden past which involves him having been kidnapped at some point. Will this as-yet-unrevealed story tie into everything else? I'm thinking “yes.” Either way, it was kind of a nice moment between him and Dylan at the end of the episode.
Ah, but what of Lucy? She's still in the hospital, still in a coma, and her state is really starting to piss Hauser off. Now that we know from last week that she, too, was around back in Alcatraz's heyday, it's apparent that there's a history between her and Hauser, and it's further underlined by the way he walks around her workstation, gently touching her sweater and glasses in a decidedly familiar manner. His explosive reaction at the end of that scene may have been a little over the top, but it does successfully convey his frustration about the situation.
The end of the episode is, inevitably, the part which holds the most curiosity, as it continues to build on the longstanding J.J. Abrams tradition of piling new questions on top of old questions without ever taking the time to answer any of them right away. First and foremost, we learn that Dr. Beauregard is alive and well in the present, which leads us to believe that either he was one of the disappeared or there’s another explanation to why he looks as good now as he did back in the day. And the latter may well be possible, since Hauser’s comments to Beauregard when he drops off Nelson’s body - “I, uh, may need your help with something, depending on how things turn; it's for a friend of mine” - certainly lead one to believe that Beauregard may have a scientific specialty which extends past accepted medical science to stretch beyond the pale. Translation: even if Lucy dies, it seems like Hauser's asking Beauregard to bring her back.
Or maybe that's just me reading something that isn't there. I've been known to do that.
Whatever the case, we made a bit of headway in the final few minutes of the episode, but it was hardly enough to make up for the generally unexciting material that made up the bulk of the proceedings. Still, I find myself saying more or less what I said last week: there's enough going on for me to maintain hope that ths show will ease away from the procedural aspects somewhat as it progresses.
Dear God, I certainly hope it does, anyway.
Random quotes and observations:
- I can only presume that Soto is drawing those comic panels for his own personal amusement, because if Agent Hauser’s morality is sufficiently flexible as to allow a child to be killed in order to catch Nelson, then I find it hard to believe that he’d stand for details of his top-secret operation to be published in one of them there funny books.
- You have a police scanner?” “Not the point!”
- I'll be curious to find out exactly what's the deal with Madsen being behind the curtain every time we see him.
- Where the hell is Robert Forster? Half the reason I was excited about this show was the fact that he was going to be part of the cast, but we haven't seen him since the pilot!
- “They didn't beat you because of what you did. They beat you because of what you are.”
- Forgive me for not as well-versed in my giant insect movies of the '50 and '60s as I probably ought to be, but...was that Them! they were watching in the theater?
- “It’s complicated.” “It’s not complicated. It’s simple. I know this because I’m a human being.”
- You may find this very hard to believe, but I don't think Jorge Garcia was acting when he ate that pie: my one public encounter with the guy was at Pasadena's famed Pie 'n' Burger restaurant, and he seemed to quite enjoy a certain one of their signatures dishes. (Hint: it wasn't the burger.)
- “Bonus match!"