I feel safe in saying that tonight’s episode of Alcatraz was the best episode yet, and it also featured the return of Robert Forster as Madsen’s uncle, Ray. Unfortunately, it seemed to come too early in the schedule. While it’s nice that they gave us an episode that actually gave the impression that the show might be worth sticking with, the emotional high points of the episode fell flat because we hadn’t built up enough of a relationship with these characters.
The main plot revolves around guard Guy Hastings (Jim Parrack) returning to Earth. Angry for reasons left murky, he goes after Madsen’s surrogate uncle Ray Archer, who was also a former guard at Alcatraz, due to his connection with former prisoner Tommy Madsen. Madsen, who escaped from wherever at least three months ago, was Rebecca’s grandfather and, as it turns out, Ray’s actual brother. (Ray accepted the guard position at Alcatraz to watch over his sibling, though, to the best of our knowledge, Guy doesn’t learn that in the past, and I don’t think he figures it out in the present either.)
Guy goes after Ray, tries to discover what happened to Tommy, and eventually Hauser and Rebecca Madsen stop him. (Remember, it’s how the show works.) Afterward, Madsen realizes that Ray knew about Team Alcatraz even before she did (actually 16 years before) due to his lack of freaking out over Guy returning looking the same 50 years later. She also discovers that for some still unknown reason, Tommy holds the key to the entire project. Or at least the key to the first gate of the project. (This seems like the type of show that would adopt an annoying, Burn Notice-esque main villain behind the main villain behind the main villain strategy.)
However, because this was the first time we’ve seen Ray since the pilot, a lot of these reveals didn’t hit. That he lied about his lineage and his history as a guard at Alcatraz meant suffered a lack of impact since the show hadn’t established his character and his relationship with Madsen decently enough for the “real uncle” reveal to carry any weight. His being in on Team Alcatraz might have played better if he acted suspicious around Madsen thus misleading us into thinking that he had something to do with the disappearance.
Nevertheless, hopefully with this reveal, plus the end-of-episode-twist that Ray has known that Tommy is alive and that his brother has talked to him on several occasions, we’ll see more Robert Forster on this show. And also hopefully, we’ll see scenes with Robert Forster and Sam Neill since their characters’ apparent past together definitely warrants the show’s two strongest performers to interact. Though Sam Neill does occasionally drift a bit too far into “I know more than you know and I’m sending you on a quest!” mode when talking to Madsen and/or Soto.
The Prisoner-of-The-Week (or should I call it Alcatrazian-of-the-Week now?) subplot worked better tonight than it has in the past. Although the majority of it was the standard chase stuff we’re all too used to, Guy and Ray gave it a emotional core that the others POTWs have lacked. And we do learn that at least the guards don’t remember where they’ve been for the past 50 years. I still presume that they were taught about modern culture, but I still want someone on the show to say something about it.
There were a lot of stupid from Team Alcatraz tonight. Soto asking what they should be looking for in Hastings’ box. Madsen pondering why the people who took the 63ers would be after her grandfather. Soto captain obviousing by saying aloud that Hauser is tracking them. It’s a good thing the flashbacks are getting entertaining because the lazy TV police work is almost getting condescending.
• Hauser asked Ray to join him 16 years ago? Did it take Hauser that long to get funding for his project or did something happen that made him realize the Alcatrazians were returning? It’s a silly question that doesn’t have an answer yet, but I guess it’s good that the show’s mysteries are getting me more involved than its plot holes.
• Similarly, did Tommy often go to Ray’s bar for a drink and now they’re turning against one another? Ray seemed particularly angry to see him this time, but they also appeared to have something of an on-going relationship. Did Ray know that Tommy killed Madsen’s partner? Did Ray know that Madsen was part of Team Alcatraz for that matter? (I’m going with no, yes.)
• This show has a penchant for just dropping the reveal from the previous week’s episode. I don’t know how I feel about that.
• The Madsens’ nice-looking house in a nice-looking neighborhood has just been abandoned for many years as though it’s a cabin in the woods?
• That was a nice blood squirt when they shot Hastings in the foot.
• Sarah Jones actually showed a spark in her scene at the end with Hauser.
• Still no Parminder Nagra tonight, either in flashbacks or present day; I don’t even think she was mentioned. It’s not that I thought her character was that great, but it seems weird to still have her as part of the main cast.
• Which show has more inches of rain per episode: Alcatraz or The Killing?