“On March 21, 1963 Alcatraz was officially closed due to rising costs and decrepit facilities. All the prisoners were transferred off the island. Only that's not what happened.”
Fox brings us a new series from producer J. J. Abrams, which is trying to be the new “Lost.” It uses flashbacks prominently, and when transitioning from flashback to present day, they are using a clanging cell sound, much like “Lost” used a whooshing jet sound when it did the same thing.
They also want to keep information from us that one character apparently already knows. That writing tactic annoyed me on “Lost” and it doesn’t endear me to this series either. This premise has plenty of story in it, there is no need to add unnecessary mystery.
There is a lot to explore in this series. It appears we will explore the life of one "63," as they are called, in each episode. We have the mystery of what happened to them in 1963, how are they still young, and who is using them.
It’s obvious they are returning with a purpose. Inmate Jack Sylvane (Jeffery Pierce) was brought back to kill a man and retrieve a key. Serial killer Ernest Cobb was returned to kill Lucy Banerjee (Parminder Nagra). They were allowed to go about their own business as long as they performed their assignment. And knowing that Lucy would be in the wrong place at the wrong time shows to me that the ones behind the disappearance have knowledge of the future.
The series is centered around San Francisco police detective Rebecca Madsen (Sarah Jones), whose partner was kicked off a roof three months earlier. She is called to a new homicide, where the victim is former Alcatraz deputy warden E.B. Tiller. After he left Alcatraz he joined the FBI. And as a Fed, his death is to be investigated by the FBI, specifically by Emerson Hauser (Sam Neill).
Madsen removes evidence from the crime scene that contains a fingerprint for Jack Sylvane, a man who died 30 years earlier. To unwravel the mystery, Madsen contacts Dr. Diego Soto (Jorge Garcia), a comic book writer and noted expert on Alcatraz and its inmates. Soto reveals to Madsen a file room on Alcatraz that he found when doing research, but was unable to access. They agree to check it out.
Once on the Rock, they find the room and gain access. However they are caught and taken into custody by Hauser. He reveals to them a small piece of the puzzle, that Sylvane is back and hasn’t age a day since 1963. Using Madsen’s experience and Soto’s knowledge, the two capture Sylvane.
While not impressed with Madsen, Hauser does think she is useful, and has her transferred to his operation. They are given a little more insight into what has happened, and are shown a gallery with pictures of all the 63s. Including a picture of the man who killed her partner – her grandfather, Tommy Madsen (David Hoflin).
Hauser takes out Sylvane into the woods. He is walked to a mound in the forest, that is activated by Hauser. When they enter, they are in a prison constructed under ground, where Sylvane is to be imprisoned.
The second episode of the night follows the pattern of the first. We see the inmate in flashback on Alcatraz, and then in the present day. Madsen and Soto put themselves in his life on Alcatraz to gain some insight into his mind. It pays off and they are able to capture him.
But not before he shoots Lucy. After capture, he too is led off to the forest and imprisoned in the super secret facility. When walked by the cell occupied by Sylvane, he and Cobb both share a moment of recognition.
The last flashback of the episode has Cobb in restraints in the prision, being introduced to a new doctor who can help him with his problems. The doctor turns out to be Lucy Banerjee.
It makes sense that someone on the inside of the government knew these people would be returning because a 63 told them. The reveal at the end of “Ernest Cobb” that Lucy was a 63 makes all the sense in the world, and I like it.
What does Kelvin have to do with things? In the pilot, the guards arrive on the island aboard a boat named “Warden Kelvin.” In the second episode we see the name Kelvin prominently displayed on a wall. Is the name Kelvin this series version of the “Lost” numbers?
WHAT DIDN’T WORK
The coincidence that Madsen’s partner was killed by her returning grandfather is a bit much for me. I can accept he was killed by a 63, but why her grandfather?
Emerson Hauser was on Alcatraz March 20, 1963 when the disappearance of the inmates and guards was discovered. He was portrayed as a young man, in his early 20s. Let’s say 20 at the youngest. Forty-nine years later, he should be 69, and not moving around like the bad-ass Sam Neill seems to be. Bad writing? Or is there more there?
One thing I always hate are characters who know more than they are saying, just to be mysterious. Hauser is one of those. When constantly questioned by Det. Madsen for more information, she gets either silence or a need to know speech. The mystery becomes implausible when someone is holding out ‘just because.’
GIVING CREDIT WHERE CREDIT IS DUE
“Alcatraz” stars Sarah Jones, Jorge Garcia, Jonny Coyne, Jason Butler Harner, Robert Forster, Santiago Cabrera, Parminder Nagra and Sam Neill.
“Pilot” was written by Steven Lilien, Bryan Wynbrandt and Elizabeth Sarnoff, and was directed by Danny Cannon. It guest starred David Hoflin, Jeffrey Pierce and Leon Rippy.
“Ernest Cobb” was written by Alison Balian, directed by Jack Bender and guest starred Joe Egender, Jeffrey Pierce and Ben Cotton.
“Alcatraz” airs Mondays at 9 p.m. ET on Fox.
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