Johnny McKee, a Mad Poisoner, poisons people. He tries to poison a subway train. Hauser and Madsen rescue everyone in the nick of time. After Madsen shows her horrible fight technique, she accidentally electrocutes McKee on the third rail, but he still lives somehow. End Of Episode Twist!- the Alcatrazians don’t dream, but their EEGs show an active dream life.
I know it sounds like I’m starting off with a super brief recap or that I’m being flippant, but that’s really all Alcatraz had to offer tonight. Unlike the past couple of episodes where the flashbacks tried to build the universe of Alcatraz-1960 or give insight into people like Lucy or Hauser, tonight’s provided none of those things. That entire subplot had to do with McKee poisoning the Un prophète of Alcatraz. While it might have connected to his weak “I don’t like bullies” philosophy, because a) the POTWs are not sympathetic (at least in the present day) and b) it’s doubtful we’ll get more substantial insight into him, it felt like filler. In fact, everything tonight, both past and present, felt like filler.
Unfortunately, because of this, as the show spun its oft-worn procedural wheels, I was forced to contemplate the series as a whole.
I’ve complained a bit about Detective Madsen throughout my reviews, but tonight she really came across as useless. It’s not as if she’s a great character by any stretch, but there is very little she does in this episode that couldn’t have been done by Soto or Hauser. She has a significant amount of Captain Obvious moments- Soto comments on McKee’s Jules Verne collection, Madsen responds “he must have been a fan”; Madsen looks at a picture of a girl from McKee’s box with the word ‘Ginny’ written on the back, to which she deduces “Ginny- sister or girlfriend?”; and, when trying to figure out why McKee murdered his entire high school class, she notices a periodic table of the elements and theorizes “McKee was a chemistry geek, maybe they were picking on him.” Sure, all of those examples were from one scene, but it’s hard to recall anything she did of value tonight other than fighting the guy at the end, and she was even bad at that. Even thinking back through previous episodes, Hauser and Soto do most of the heavy lifting when it comes to “solving” the crime, and Madsen’s just there as the muscle … or to act pissy. At least have her be the one speaking Chinese to the herbalist since we’ve already established her favorite place in the city is some Chinese restaurant. It would give the Supposed Lead Of The Series some value other than being the liaison between Team Alcatraz and better cops. I know, she’s the granddaughter of one of the Alcatrazians, but with the exception of things directly connected to him, this fact seems irrelevant to most cases.
I also have to ponder how Hauser’s entire operation functions. How secretive is it supposed to be? I know Alcatraz II is top secret, and its staff seemingly just consists of himself, the increasingly reliable Beauregard, and an army of private (?) cops (?). But what about Team Alcatraz? The IT Department we saw a couple of episodes back seemed like average guys, not closed off, hunched-over social deviants. Team Alcatraz regularly interacts with other members of law enforcement, and none of these groups seems bothered by, or play the territorial game with, them. Even tonight, they’re on the phone with someone from San Francisco mass transit who gives them permission to use a maintenance cart to get to a stopped train. Did Mass Transit Guy realize that there might be danger considering their obvious urgency? Well, no one else came to help them. Even using the county/city coroner to analyze the bodies of the victims seems like it could defeat the purpose of trying to keep everything under wraps. At least have the coroner on your payroll, as I assume Hauser has several other people “undercover” for him, because eventually she’s going to realize that every week San Francisco is contending with another very public mass murderer with an increasingly goofy MO. If she likes Soto, she might be interested in reading his book, and then she could easily put two and two together. Actually, why hasn’t anyone done that yet? I’m sure the city has a bunch of obsessive local historians.
I will say that it’s nice the Alcomputer began monitoring Internet rumblings to identify possible criminals based on MOs instead of our crew needing to rely on Soto listening to a police scrambler. But tonight it kind of stretched the bounds of credibility, even for a ridiculously powerful supercomputer on a show about time travel. Two and a half minutes after a video of people dying was uploaded to YouTube, it facial identifies a person in the video as McKee, the Mad Poisoner of Alcatraz. Fair enough, but if Hauser is with the feds as he purports to be (even if I don’t entirely believe him), is this computer standard for major government installations? Did he get the best computer the government has to offer or are other branches using similar software? When he wipes out every trace of the video from the entire Internet with a few key strokes, is this common procedure? And why did he do it anyway? What are the odds of someone recognizing a guy in a dark club being from 1960s Alcatraz? It’s not like four people getting sick at a club will immediately trigger some sort of “I remember something like this back from the 1950/60s.” Does he just not like violent videos? Did the club hire him to get rid of this adverse publicity?
And the criminal. As with the past couple of weeks, we learn that most of the Alcatrazians arrive back on Earth only around two days before being targeted by Team Alcatraz, meaning they start killing pretty much as soon as they wake up. We still don’t find out why they are compelled to continue their crime spree, and no one bothers to ask. Even when Madsen is re-interrogating Jack Sylvane from the Pilot episode, she doesn’t ask, “if you’re clearly confused about where you are or how you got here, why did you start committing crimes? Are you familiar with cell phones?” Related, someone shows McKee the YouTube video of the people dying at the club, and he’s puzzled that they’re showing it “on TV.” The show-er tells him that it’s the Internet, which seems like an odd thing to say in 2012 even as a response to McKee’s comment. Anyway, does this mean that the Alcatrazians don’t know about the Internet, but they’re comfortable with a TV featuring better reception than they’ve seen in their entire life that can fit in the palm of one’s hand? And keep in mind, McKee’s a guy really into Jules Verne and science fiction, so he’d be the type most likely to accept newer technology without being told/taught about it. Without education, how could someone like Sylvane, who thought that man landing on the moon was “crazy talk” back in 1960, function in 2012?
Like I said, this was a filler episode. And as a filler episode, it forced me to spend this midseason point looking at some of the issues affecting the entire series. The procedural style of the show is still very weak, and it does neither the show nor the mysteries surrounding the show nor the overall weak characters any favors. Moreover, it’s one thing to wonder the ‘why’ behind plot developments and another thing to ponder, “why aren’t the characters behaving like humans.” One builds suspense, the other shows laziness, and I don’t think the show is rich enough or beloved enough for us to accept much more laziness.
• Since my “article” was a collection of complaints, I don’t have a lot to write about here. I will add that the beginning bugged me for two key reasons:
• • 1) The Alcomputer doesn’t send a text alert to Team Alcatraz when it picks something up? Luckily, Soto was playing video games on the machine over night and got the notice, otherwise- what? They wouldn’t learn that an Alcatrazian returned until they clocked in the next day?
• • 2) Why did they wait until morning to visit the club where the people were murdered? When Soto calls Madsen, she says “Doc, what are you doing up so late?” meaning that it’s still nighttime. Yet in the next scene, they first arrive at the club and it is daylight out. She even asks if Soto had slept. What were they doing for those several hours?
• Anyone else think it was ridiculous that McKee got that bartending gig?
• The show just kind of glossed over that pool poisoning, didn’t it? I know it served its purpose, but I think the lack of sympathy they (both Team Alcatraz and the show itself) seems to have towards the victims is something worth exploring. It also makes me wonder, are the people funding Team Alcatraz more interested in the time travel or in stopping criminals? Keeping the focus, as the show seems to, on the criminals severely downplays the more interesting element of the series.
• Why doesn’t Madsen wonder where Sylvane is being kept? Doesn’t she find it weird that only Hauser can provide her access to him?
• I wonder if the show will paint Lucy’s scheme of wanting to eliminate the criminal’s criminal-causing memory in a deservedly negative light, or if it’ll treat it as something mostly good.