California Literary Review

Alcatraz Recap: Kit Nelson (Season 1, Episode 3)

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January 24th, 2012 at 12:56 am

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Sam Neill and Sarah Jones as Emerson Hauser and Rebecca Madsen in FOX’s Alcatraz

Rain makes things atmospheric!

We enter week three, and if this represents the typical Alcatraz episode, it’s going to be hard to get excited for the show.

For starters, we make absolutely no headway on the cliffhanger from last week. In fact, I don’t think we get any answers to or additional questions towards the overall mystery of the show. An old doctor from Alcatraz is now working in Alcatraz II and he seemingly conducts questionable medical experiments, but it doesn’t really provide any oomph.

Secondly, flashbacks. I was never a huge fan of the Lost flashbacks. I didn’t mind them at first, but by the second half of the first season, they already seemed to be spinning their wheels. Alcatraz uses the flashback structure to show what it’s like for the prisoners in prison in the 1960s, but they too lack a punch, not the least reason being that each bad guy will probably only get one episode to themselves. The insights into the prisoners are mediocre-at-best since the show weighs pretty heavily on the Black/White version of morality for its criminals. No matter what they did in the past, they’re compelled to do it again in the same exact way in the present, and we get the motives behind the criminals’ actions from the present day investigation. While these flashbacks might build the 1960s universe, they’re not doing a particularly good job with it now. I simply don’t care about 1960s Alcatraz and probably won’t until we learn a) how they disappeared and b) the cover-up. This could change in time, but right now, I would be happier with them gone.

Third, and this is the most important complaint, this show really does come across like a very average procedural. We have okay-but-not-super cops tracking down an escaped convict, and that’s it. They use dime store psychology and rescue the potential next victim(s) in the nick of time. The Cause-and-Effect version of criminal mischief tonight involved Prisoner-of-the-Week Kit Nelson (Michael Eklund) kidnapping and killing 11-year-old boys because his brother died when he was 11 years old. (Turns out he killed him and the family lied about it being consumption.) It’s easy and sloppy, and the show used a similar idea in the preceding episode, where Prisoner-of-the-Week Ernest Cobb targeted his victims based on his younger sister.

Jorge Garcia as Doc Diego Soto in Alcatraz

Soto conducts his own investigation based on diners with cherry pie. That actually happened.

I guess the show tries to go “off book” by making it so Team Alcatraz cannot use police reinforcements. This raises a number of questions, including does Hauser work for the feds? He was able to call off an Amber Alert pretty quickly, and if he does, why couldn’t they use reinforcements? And if he doesn’t, he does has a guards working at Alcatraz II so why can’t his private army assist? I know the “official” reason is that it’ll call attention to Team Alcatraz, but that is a lazy excuse to make capturing the villain harder than it needs to be. Yes, the criminal is from the 1960s, but if you pass around a mug shot of a guy, I doubt people will wonder what decade he came from. Even if someone else catches him, who would believe him if he said he was actually from Alcatraz? And even so, Hauser probably has the power to get the body once it’s in custody.

This idea of being isolated from the rest of law enforcement can work. Take a look at The X-Files where even though Mulder and Scully were officially sanctioned by the FBI, you always got the sense that it was essentially them alone against the world. This show is not pulling off that sense of solitude in the slightest.

Another thing that separates this show from typical cop shows is its super computer, which I will call I.N.T.E.L.L.I.G.E.N.C.E. after the one in Team America: World Police. After the expected mid-episode “they find the POTW but he escapes with the victim,” they discover his lair by realizing that his father owned a company that made bomb shelters, and I.N.T.E.L.L.I.G.E.N.C.E. can pinpoint the exact location of one of those bomb shelters in a mess of woods, even though Shelter Corp. has been out of business since the 1960s. My question is this, if I.N.T.E.L.L.I.G.E.N.C.E. can do that, why can’t they program it to monitor crime stories and police bands from across the country and alert them when a crime matches the MO of an Alcatrazian? After all, these guys follow their old playbook to a T.

Team America’s Intelligence

I.N.T.E.L.L.I.G.E.N.C.E. from Team America: World Police, my inspiration for Alcamputer.

To give the episode its emotional hook, Soto takes the case so personally that it’s obvious that something similar happened to him when he was younger. It’s a stock storyline, not particularly poorly done, but not well done either. Nevertheless, my biggest issue came at the end. Hauser gives a speech to Soto about arrested development and how children who suffer a traumatic incident remain trapped in that age even when they enter adulthood. Seeing Soto’s reaction to the case makes Hauser tell him that he wants adult Soto and not child Soto, to which Soto replies that he will behave like a grown up from now on.

But this arrested development idea does not apply to Soto, as he does not appear stuck with a child’s mind. Yes, he likes comic books, but so do a lot of adults. What a lot of adults don’t have are two PhDs (including one in the Civil War, which will come in handy when this show becomes Andersonville) and four books to their name on Alcatraz. Soto’s not a guy who is really into The Rock in the same way that a kid can be really into dinosaurs. He’s dedicated a portion of his life to the subject and engaged it in a scholarly way. While he might enjoy comic books, he a) works at if not owns a comic book store and b) he draws comic books. This is a business for him, not a hobby. Maybe it’s just Hauser’s old school way of thinking, but geeky proclivities do not indicate arrested development.

Additional Thoughts:
• We already know that an Alcatrazian from the 1960s killed Madsen’s partner, but are they going after people who are laying low or are they just waiting for people to begin their crime spree?
• I’m still using “they were trained during the lost years” as the reason why the criminals are so comfortable in 2012 America.
• Why were Hauser and Madsen shocked that Soto has a police scanner?
• Still hate the cell door closing sound effect to indicate flashback.
• The dialogue between the POTW’s father and the POTW was terrible. As was Soto’s “Only Al Capone or Machine Gun Kelly could buy these!” Garcia’s delivery sounded awkward and forced, but it’s probably really hard to pull off one of those “See! He knows history! He mentions (read: shoehorns) historical names!” lines.
• The Evil Warden’s menace is undercut by him looking like an oily Bob Hoskins. The fourth match burned a pretty long time, didn’t it?
• Although I want Lucy back (she didn’t appear this week), I did like how she wasn’t back to work immediately following a serious shooting.
• For a comparison to flashbacks working in a situation like this, let me reference Oz. Also set in prison, Oz used flashbacks to show how the inmates ended up in jail. Sometimes surprising, sometimes tragic, they added an element of depth to the characters that is missing when all we get is “I’m an evil guy who did evil things and now I’m going to do more evil things.”

  • kathleen bohannon

    this show is stupid I do not think it will be on long sam neill good actor it is too sci-fi how can prisioners come back and look like they were in 1960

  • B L

    I don’t understand why every review of this show doesn’t suggest that the reader flash back to the 60’s where you might find much more realistic TV fodder (I Dream of Genie anyone?)…

    With episode 3 I think I’ve watched my last. Can’t believe JJ has put his name on this turd.

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