And so we reach the end of the first season of Fox’s Alcatraz, an occasion which—given the ratings over these past several weeks—may well turn out to be the end of the series altogether. Should this end up being the case, it would prove disappointing to at least a few people, almost all of whom undoubtedly groaned when we got a typical finale for a series produced by J.J. Abrams, i.e. lots of cliffhangers and little resolution.
Although it was hard to tell exactly how awake Lucy truly was when she opened her eyes at the end of last week's episode, it turns out that she's very awake indeed and has no hesitation about trying to jump right back into her regular routine, even if both Hauser and kindly ol’ Doc Beauregard are less than enthusiastic about the idea. The tension between Lucy and Hauser is to be expected, given that she’d really only just started to deal with the adjustment to the 21st century when she was shot and sent into a coma, but it’s nice to see her sparring with Beauregard in the present for a change.
Meanwhile, Madsen and Soto are in deep discussion about Lucy’s return, with Soto showing some concerns about Lucy's first-hand experience as a member of the '63s. Lucy's attempt to apologize to the duo is met with Hauser's hasty departure, apparently unwilling to participate. Madsen is notably silent, but Soto is fascinated by his lack of knowledge about Lucy's position at the prison. As we later see, Madsen is fascinated, too, mostly because it occurs to her that Lucy can possibly offer some insight into her grandfather. Call me a sucker for schmaltz, but I enjoyed Lucy’s description on the effects of the time shift, noting how it’s easy enough to adapt to the latest version of a record player, but it’s much harder to get used to the absence of the people you used to listen to music with.
Oh, right, let’s talk about the inmate of the week, Garrett Stillman. He’s a kinder, gentler Alcatraz alumnus, one who doesn’t seem to have nearly as much murderous rage as the rest of his brethren. Maybe we’re just supposed to presume that convicts who grew up in England are much more polite, since I don’t recall it ever being touched on during the episode, but I kept waiting for someone—Soto, Madsen, Hauser, anyone—to say, “Everyone else who’s come back has been killing people left and right, but Stillman seems content to just tie them up. Why?” But it never came, and in the end, Stillman himself got killed off by Tommy Madsen. How embarrassing. Up until that point, however, Stillman’s gifts as a chess player had served him well throughout the episode, enabling him to follow the warden’s instructions and successfully help get one of his fellow inmates, Harlan Simmons, paroled despite Deputy Warden Tiller’s efforts.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the best moments in the first part of the season finale came during Lucy’s conversations with…well, just about everyone really. As noted, her conversation with Beauregard was a lot of fun, and the same goes for her chats with Hauser and with Madsen. It was amusing to see Hauser’s dismissiveness when Lucy suggests to him that he used to be quite a lot like Madsen is now, but it was downright hilarious to watch Madsen try to take in the information that Hauser used to be really into music, philosophy, and staying up all night talking. If there’s a best exchange, however, it’s got to be the one between Lucy and Hauser.
Lucy: Try not to shoot anyone if you can possibly help it.
Hauser: I don't know what you're talking about…
Fascinating storylines suddenly begin to pop up left and right. What’s the deal with Simmons? Why has he become so reclusive since his departure from Alcatraz, and what’s this mysterious property that he’s constantly moving around? What’s located in the cavity that Hauser’s head nerd has discovered in the vicinity of the lighthouse? Why does Lucy want so desperately to talk to Cobb alone? And where the hell does Tommy fit into everything? Surely all answers will be revealed in the second part of the season finale, right? Right…?
Actually, when the second hour kicks off, Madsen’s been shot and is lying on the asphalt, which is understandably troublesome. Fortunately, we’re able to wind down slightly when we jump 36 hours into the past, where she learns that her late ex-partner had been under investigation by Internal Affairs for having accepted large sums from Simmons’ company. Curiouser and curiouser…
Lucy’s getting a bit testy about Hauser continually treating her with kid gloves (“Why don’t you just put me in one of those cells?”), but you can’t really blame him, given Cobb’s revelation that she’s destined to be a target for the long haul. Still, it does seem a little overprotective for him to try and have her shipped off to a safer location without even giving her much in the way of advance notice. On a related note, it may have been short, but Hauser’s scene where he was trying to pull favors to get face to face with Simmons was great, particularly with the teasing of something in Hauser’s back story involving a “complicated” situation in Paraguay.
The flashbacks grow all the more intriguing in the second hour, with the introduction of an uber-creepy Matt Craven as the warden’s new right-hand (mad)man in the laboratory, and it was interesting to finally see the moment when the end result of all the blood transfusions finally came to fruition. In the present, however, things seemed a little unnecessarily convoluted with Tommy having to go through Georgia Bradley to get into the psychiatric hospital to find the elusive Ghost. And, really, after going through all that trouble, are you telling me that a well-seasoned convict like Tommy Madsen wouldn’t have thought to look in Ghost’s pants cuff for the key?
But fair enough. In the end, this proved to be a rare episode where the present-day events were as intriguing and entertaining as the flashbacks, from the Bullitt-inspired car chase to Hauser’s obsessive quest for the key to the warden’s room to Tommy stabbing his granddaughter apparently to death, if the final moments of the episode are to be believed. Hauser and Lucy finally get into the mysterious room, finding a confused Matt Craven who cackles crazily when he’s told what year it is and discovering that there are Alcatraz inmates returning not just in San Francisco but all over the U.S.
If Alcatraz is truly over, then it’s going to be a real pisser, given how much more possibilities are available for the series with the new information that’s been offered up in these last episodes and, of course, how many questions still remain unanswered. It’s hard to complain too much, though, since it’s virtually inarguable that the series started slow and with seeming uncertainty about the direction in which it was headed, at least insofar as the amount of mythology it was going to incorporate into the proceedings. If only the producers had been able to figure out the formula they hit upon in the seventh episode a little bit sooner, maybe we wouldn’t be so prone to view this as a series finale.
- When Madsen's searching through Stillman's things and pulls out a magazine featuring the Beatles, I did an immediate double-take. But as my wife noted, the magazine has a 5p price on it, so I guess we're supposed to presume that it's a British paper, since the Beatles had already started to break in the UK by '63. Good eye, dear. And good rationalization, too.
- I appreciate everyone putting up with me on these Alcatraz reviews, which, if nothing else, have confirmed to me that I do not have the temperament or skill to tackle an hour-long, mythology-heavy series without being able to screen the episodes in advance of air. I used to review Breaking Bad and Mad Men for the website Bullz-Eye.com, but I got those screeners a few days in advance and could absorb what I was watching a bit more. I hope you enjoyed reading these at least somewhat, but if you didn't think I always had a feel for what I was watching, I can't say as I blame you.