“Is anyone else’s head exploding right now?”
Once again, Jorge Garcia, as Alcatraz expert Dr. Diego Soto, asks the question on every viewer’s mind. No, this isn’t Lost and there aren’t any smoke monsters (yet), but some of the similarities are rather uncanny. Before you write this off as a preemptive disappointment, though, read on through to see some recap, commentary, and predictions. As thrilling as these two back-to-back episodes were last night, I can only imagine that JJ Abrams, Jack Bender and the rest of the team have so much more in store for us.
The show is based around the mystery that in 1963, all of the inmates in Alcatraz were transferred out; however, the canon is that when the transfer guards showed up, the entire prison was empty of inmates and staff. In the present day, Det. Rebecca Madsen (Sarah Jones) finds herself pulled into the mystery by FBI agent Emerson Hauser (Sam Neill) and his assistant Lucy Banerjee (Parminder Nagra), bringing with her Alcatraz expert Dr. Diego Soto (Jorge Garcia). As we learn near the end of the pilot, Hauser was one of the two original guards who found the empty island, and he’s built a New Alcatraz with which to contain all of the original inmates upon capture.
Alcatraz has followed suit on one of Lost‘s most famous fall-backs: the flashback. Both episodes flip back and forth between 1960, to introduce us to the characters as they enter and live on the Rock, and present day, where they resurface and our heroes have to track them down before they repeat their crimes. In such capable hands, the flashback is once again an incredibly effective tool, especially since it connects the inmates’ pasts and presents with startling clarity. While they haven’t aged, they do appear to have changed in a few ways, but we’ll find out more about that later.
Recap: 1×01 Pilot
“This is Alcatraz. No one forgets.” We start with the first flashback to 1963, where the two guards are curious about where the transfer guards are, and after walking inside the prison, all 302 prisoners and all prison staff have inexplicably disappeared.
Years later in present day, hundreds of tourists wander the main yard of the prison. A seemingly homeless man is kicked out of one of the solitary cells, and he’s revealed to be a still-young and confused Jack Sylvane, one of the 302 original prisoners. We flash back to his life several times, where it’s revealed that he was put in solitary for being framed for owning a weapon, and then kept there after becoming violent when his wife asks for a divorce. Now, however, he’s able to sail away on the ferry with the rest of the tourists.
Later, Madsen is displaced from a murder scene after meeting Hauser (FBI taking over), though she snags a fingerprinted picture with which she identifies Sylvane. She Googles both Sylvane and the victim, E.B. Tiller, and finds they were an inmate and the deputy warden, respectively. The mystery deepens – if Sylvane has been dead for thirty years (according to records), how is he showing up to murder the former deputy warden? She also finds the work of Dr. Diego Soto, an Alcatraz expert, and decides to pick his brain on the possibilities here.
Madsen meets with Soto again (at her Uncle Ray Archer’s (Robert Forster) bar, where he is conveniently some sort of Alcatraz expert) and discusses her findings. Archer tells her to leave it alone (“for once in your life”), and she and Soto promptly head to the island to dig around in a room of artifacts they aren’t supposed to be in. After being gassed, they awake in what’s essentially Hauser’s underground lair, where he and Lucy explain the real situation with Alcatraz, with the inmates turning up unaged in 2011, and asks them to join his team. Naturally, they agree.
In 1960, Sylvane is handcuffed to a bed, having several pints of blood drawn against his will. The curtained-off cellmate next door, self-identified only as #2002, says Sylvane’s better off without seeing his loved ones, and 2002 tells him what’s going to happen here is better than what happens “downstairs,” whatever that means. This seemed like a minor plot point in the episode, but I think it’ll have significance later on, so I mentioned it in the recap.
Back in the present, Sylvane has gone on a shooting spree and killed several policemen, former deputy warden Tiller, and has kidnapped his old man brother, who married his wife after Jack’s alleged death. Finally, Madsen, Soto and Hauser catch up to Sylvane, where he holds his brother captive at his wife’s headstone. They capture him, but before he’s taken away, he tells Madsen that he only did what “they” told him to, leaving her puzzled. Hauser takes Madsen into Alcatraz and recounts the events of 1960, where he says that all of the prisoners were transferred off the island – only that’s not what happened, “not at all.” In the final moments, we find out that Hauser was the younger guard who found the empty prison. Madsen flashes back to her partner’s fall and death, and realizes that the man they were chasing at the time was formerly an Alcatraz prisoner.
The first episode closes with Hauser driving Sylvane into the middle of the woods and taking him to a cabin. He enters the keycode and they then exit an elevator into a virtual version of Alcatraz, and says “Welcome home, Jack.” He says that Tiller was his friend, and has the guards take Sylvane to his cell. “Not to worry, Jack, you won’t be lonesome long.” The elevator door closes. Black screen.
I don’t know about you, but I was so glad this wasn’t the only episode last night. It was too good to quit there.
Recap: 1×01 Ernest Cobb
We open in 1960 with a new inmate, Ernest Cobb (Joe Egender), entering Alcatraz naked behind his entry papers. He meets the warden, practicing his marksmanship on the roof, and we learn that Cobb requested a transfer to Alcatraz so he could have a private cell. However, due to his noisy neighbor, he soon realizes the only way to have privacy is to be put in solitary confinement, which he swiftly procures for himself.
In the present, the bespectacled and calm-looking Cobb goes to the park for a seemingly peaceful picnic. He spies on those below at a fair, finding who we assume are his victims. Instead of lunch, though, Cobb pulls a dissembled sniper rifle out of his picnic basket, and proceeds to shoot three people at the carnival before packing up and heading out. Before Madsen and Soto are called to the scene, she wonders why there isn’t more information on her grandfather, former inmate Tommy Madsen. They meet Hauser, and after finding dead crows, Soto says it was definitely Cobb – three victims in three days before going on a dry run. They find his shooting location, and she finds a casing, to Soto’s surprise.
Cut to Hauser’s assistant Lucy interrogating Sylvane, asking where he’s been and if he’s coordinating with Cobb. Sylvane says one minute he was in his cell, and then he wasn’t. He doesn’t know how his things got in his pocket, and a polygraph shows he’s telling the truth. Madsen, Soto and Lucy goes to look for the source of Cobb’s sniper rifle. They find the shop and deduce his location from the hotel key he carries on the surveillance tape. While they look, they discuss the situation at hand – Soto has “some theories involving wormholes,” but Lucy is surprisingly cool on the subject, saying that her feelings about the situation don’t deny that it’s happening. Once in the room, she opens the curtain, only to be shot by Cobb from across the street, the bullet going through a drawn-on target on the window that has the words “I can see you” written on the glass around it. She heads to the hospital in a potentially permanent coma. Madsen wants to know what Hauser knows, but he refuses, for vague reasons.
The next day, Cobb kills six people, repeating the phrase “There’s forty-seven slats in the picket fence.” In a quick flashback, we learn that he slowly lost his mind by being forced to share a cell with his chatterbox former neighbor, and that his only solace was in watching the world across the water through a makeshift scope. Back in the present, the officers are fighting against time, knowing they have one last chance to find him before he disappears. As Cobb hones in on a target, they find him and engage in a small shootout while he attempts to fulfill the demands of his mental instability by shooting his target. Madsen reveals that he always shoots a young woman because of his jealousy of his half-sister Eloise, whose address had a picket fence out front. Finally, she and Hauser are able to rattle him to the point where she can tackle him, and Hauser shoots him in his rifle hand.
Hauser brings Cobb into the New Alcatraz and deposits him in his cell next to Jack Sylvane – they appear to recognize each other and communicate wordlessly, though I have no idea what they could be communicating. Hauser says, “I could have killed you today, but now that you’re here, you’re going to wish I had.”
We end in a flashback to 1960. Cobb is in a straight-jacket on a bed and the warden wants to know why he keeps going back to solitary, and says he’s going to bring in a psych. He brings in a lady doctor to help, Dr. Sengupta. Dr. Lucille Sengupta, who just happens to be the one and only Lucy Banerjee, presently in a coma. Black screen.
First of all, I loved this show. I’ll definitely tune in, and it’s now made Monday night a must-watch. Read an interview with EP Jack Bender and the stars at TVLine for a few answers to some of your burning questions.
However, it wouldn’t be a J.J. Abrams show without some serious puzzlers, and it looks like the rest of the Bad Robot team (especially all of those who came from Lost) are on board. Here are a few vague questions that have been burning a hole in my brain for the past 24 hours:
- How did Hauser know to create the New Alcatraz – why is he expecting these prisoners? Why now? He clearly knows much more than he’s letting on, and I suspect that everything Emerson Hauser knows about the disappearances and reappearances is more than the rest of the characters could ever find out on their own.
- Why is New Alcatraz identical to the original?
- Does Hauser know about Lucy’s past? He must, right?
- What do the inmates know that they aren’t letting on? Were they all deposited at once, or are they being dispersed into the present with any sort of rhyme or reason?
- How did Jack Sylvane happen to have everything in his jacket pocket that he’d need? Someone is coordinating this entire operation, and I’m desperate to know who and why.
- Although the basic premise is prisoner-of-the-week, I can already tell there’s going to be some weird stuff going on. I’m considering making my own casebook of sorts to keep track of everyone.
I suspect this is the show to fill the void left by Lost, if there could be such a thing. It won’t be Lost, and I don’t want anyone to think that I expect any real similarity there with regards to plot, but I think it’s okay to expect great things from this show intellectually and visually. These two episodes were stunning and mentally provocative, and I’m dying to see next week’s episode already. This is a show I can see myself having in-depth discussions with my friends about, and insisting no one talk during an episode. Alcatraz opened to 10 million viewers, the highest-rated Fox drama premier in history, so I think it’s safe to say it’ll be around for a while.
What did you think? What are your major questions?