We’re already at the last week before the finale, yet Alcatraz comes out with what is probably its most boring episode yet. Although there were some elements that at least tried to give the episode style, as trite as they might have been, and the Prisoner of the Week Webb Porter (Rami Malek, The Pacific, 24) was one of the better bad guys, overall, this episode was Alcatraz at its most procedural.
I admit to not being the biggest fan of the procedural, so it’s difficult for me to judge where Alcatraz falls in that genre, as far as quality goes. But if Webb Porter is any indication, I can’t imagine this show to be among its best examples. I think the biggest problem tonight was that there wasn’t really any meat to the story. Although Team Alcatraz didn’t know who was committing the murders for about half the episode, the audience did. We learn Webb Porter’s entire back story before Team Alcatraz knew his name, and we discover that Hauser wants him because his magic blood is the same type as Lucy’s pretty much at the start. The rest of the episode felt like the show was regurgitating the same information over and over again until the predictable ending. While in previous episodes there might have been a twist or plot wrinkle to prolong the conclusion, in this episode it’s pretty straight forward. Investigate, investigate, investigate, guns on the catwalk, ending twist.
A good deal of this week was spent with Webb Porter, and while we’ve had time alone with the criminals since the first episode, tonight it felt the most off. I assume it’s because Team Alcatraz’ storyline had them solving a mystery we already knew the answer to rather than trying to stop him from striking again. I should note that I am not condemning series that follow the cops and the criminals simultaneously. Not even considering the greatness of The Wire, something lesser like Law & Order: Criminal Intent gave the criminals some screentime while they were being chased by Private Pyle. But in a show like that, the hook was seeing how the cops would get the evidence against the criminal or make him confess. In Alcatraz, it’s pretty cut and dry. There’s a chase in the last five minutes, Hauser and Madsen pull guns, and they either shoot him or arrest him. There’s no interrogation scene or any doubt over whom the villain is or any laws for them to follow or any trials they have to plan for.
This repetitiveness extended to the flashback sequences too. The POTW, Webb Porter, is a socially awkward supergenius who murdered his mother and a few others because she tried to drown him when he was six. Lucy takes a particular interest in him and, after once again explaining her plan to eliminate the bad memory that causes criminality, gets him to express himself through the violin. It’s a successful treatment that leads to him playing for the inmates of Alcatraz and Alcatraz II at lights out. But, like the main plot, a lot of the flashbacks felt like filler. We keep cutting back to redundant scenes of him in therapy with Lucy, getting his violin, trying his violin, etc. as though the audience couldn’t follow along. While in previous episodes, there was some element of action, intrigue, or universe-building in these flashbacks, tonight it was simply to give humanity to a relentless killing machine, a tactic this show adopts regularly that I still don’t think works.
In present day, Porter kidnaps and kills women by drowning them in the bathtub and using their hair to string bows, partially because he’s angry that he didn’t get a job with an orchestra. The reason I consider him in the upper echelon of POTWs is because he’s more mentally dysfunctional than the combination of evil and bland that define many of the villains, and Malek does a decent job in the role.
Also in the present day, Soto and Madsen have been spending their nights (well Soto has) following Hauser to find out what he’s hiding from them. In the beginning of the episode, we see Soto trail Hauser as he goes to a mysterious building and sees a doctor who gives him several pills, so I assume he has some sort of rare, fatal disease that an inmate will need to cure at the last second. Regardless, the entitlement of Soto and Madsen really bugs me. Yes, Hauser is hiding things from them, but I don’t see why they think he should be open with them about everything. He’s their employer, and unless what he knows has something to directly do with Project Alcatraz, they should leave him alone. And yes, while Hauser does have additional information about The Rock, they seem to care less about job-related information and more about any information whatsoever. It’s an unappealing trait for both of them.
The stylistic elements were pretty simple. A couple of times they played a montage with violin music over it. Not the most inventive technique, and Alcatraz didn’t really provide it with the oomph necessary to make those moments unique, but the show tried, and I have to give it credit for that.
At the end, Lucy opens her eyes…right as the song ends! Also, Madsen and Soto recognize Lucy from a film from 1960s Alcatraz.
• Soto has another of those scenes where he waxes philosophical to Madsen about how being on Team Alcatraz is destroying their souls. It’s moments like these that make me wonder what type of show the writers think they’re putting on, as opposed to what actually appears on screen. Team Alcatraz doesn’t seem to force its members to constantly question or abandon their morality. They just seem like average cops.
• Didn’t mind the scene where Beauregard tries to figure out video conferencing, even if it does prove that the Alcatrazians aren’t taught how to use modern technology, which makes everything else in the series a bit more ridiculous.
• I’ve grown to like 1960s E.B. Tiller, and then I realized he was killed in an earlier episode.
• Never realized how much Rami Malek looks like Dominic Cooper until tonight.
• In the Alcatraz Stupid Policing of the Week, Hauser says, “We thought he was targeting musicians, but instead, the musician is him.” First off, you only had one victim so it’s hard to guess whom he’s targeting based on that. Secondly, even following the violin “lead,” it never occurred to you that he might be the one into the instrument?
• Would a bow strung by a woman’s hair even play? I guess if it was thick enough.
• The show tries to end on another shock moment by having Madsen say that Lucy “could be the key to everything.” From what we know, she isn’t. Again, the show is trying to build a mystery around a “solution” we already have. The main figure around which this show revolves appears to be Tommy Madsen, and, even if it’s not him, it’s also probably not Lucy. If she were the key, you’d think she’d have given that information to Hauser by now. Then again, she’s been out of commission since the first week so it’s hard to know anything about her.