In the preview at the end of last week’s episode, we were teased with the impending return of one of the major Alcatraz ingredients that helped sell me on the show in the first place: Robert Forster, who – as you may or may not recall, since we haven't seen him since the pilot – plays Ray Archer, Madsen's surrogate uncle. Now he owns a bar, but back in the day, he was a guard on Alcatraz, a profession that dovetailed neatly into the other storyline indicated in the preview, which was that this week's returnee would be the first guard to emerge from, uh, wherever the hell everyone is.
That guard, as you may have guessed from the title of the episode, is Guy Hastings, and when we first see him, he's in the present, on the Rock, cautiously examining the room that once served as part of the guards' quarters. Cracking open the bottom of one of the wall beams, Hastings finds aged photos of himself with his wife and daughter and loses himself in thought, only to have his reverie disturbed by an Alcatraz guard. Taking the guard down with his bare hands in a quick and blood fashion, Hastings reaches into the cubbyhole to grab a gun that's been stored there, pauses to reflect on the markings where his daughter's height had been measured as she grew up, then slips into a flashback about his days as a trainer officer on the Rock.
This week marks the first time we've actually had a consistent degree of sympathy for one of the returnees, as Hastings seems to be a perfectly nice guy who – at least as of when we see him in the early '60s – is happily married, loves his little girl, and seems to enjoy his job as a training officer. And why wouldn't he? Dude's only paying $28 a month for rent! Unfortunately, as soon as one of the new additions to his team introduces himself as Ray Archer, we know things are going to start going south soon enough.
I always suspect that anyone who plays against Robert Forster as an older relative probably isn't doing nearly as much acting as you'd think, because, really, who wouldn't want to be related to Robert Forster? He'd only be, like, the coolest uncle ever. As it was in the pilot, the conversation between Ray and Madsen revolves predominantly around her grandfather, Tommy, an Alcatraz inmate whose return resulted in the death of Madsen's partner. Madsen wonders aloud if Tommy actually killed her grandmother, but Ray's somewhat elusive answer is basically to say that at first he didn't think so, then he did think so, then finally he just stopped thinking about it altogether. Fair enough. The mere fact that Ray's part of the plot makes it only inevitable that we'll be seeing him cross paths with Hastings sooner than later, and so we do, although Hastings opts to make a more violent scenario than it really needs to be, sneaking up on him an alleyway and then clocking him in the skull with the butt of his gun. Ouch.
It's a shame what an asshole Hastings is being in the present, because he seems to have been a pretty swell guy in the '60s, doing his best to teach young Ray all there is to know about being the best guard possible. In the process of educating Ray on how to handle meal time amongst the convicts, there's a close encounter between Ray and Tommy, the latter having been utterly unaware that the former had gotten a job at Alcatraz. Violence ensues, along with Tommy hissing, “You shouldn’t have come here,” and the next thing you know, Tommy's spending time in the hole and Ray's put under tremendous scrutiny by Asst. Warden Tiller. The only way for Ray to prove that he neither knows Tommy nor is in cahoots with him to break him out of prison is to beat the living shit out of him in a public forum, which he promptly does. By the time we wrap the flashback, though, Ray has underlined to Tommy that he’s still there for him and made a cryptic comment about how Tommy feels like he deserves to be in there, and the two grasp each other’s hand to re-secure their bond.
For once, it’s an even split between the past and the present when it comes to which is the most intriguing. The scene where Madsen and Soto go to visit Hastings’ daughter is sweet and touching, and, indeed, most of the occasions where Hastings is discussing his lost life prove to be effectively emotional, particularly when it becomes evident that he’d been told that his family was dead. Obviously, any scene with Forster is a strong one, no matter whom he’s playing up against, but other facts emerged about his character this week, most notably that A) he really is Madsen’s uncle, and B) he’s been in contact with Tommy since his arrival in the present, but now he just wants him to stay the hell away for Madsen’s sake. It’s Hastings, however, who offers up the most intriguing info, revealing a bit more about what happened that fateful evening in 1963 when Ray asks him, “Where have you been?”
“I haven’t been anywhere. I took my little one down to the dock and kissed her goodbye. That night, I was on the north tower, and the fog took all the stars away. In the morning, I was in the infirmary. They told us there’d been an accident. Our families were dead. Most of us guards were in there, and they told us we were sick, contaminated, and that we couldn’t leave. And then it wasn’t 1963 anymore.”
Call me crazy, but I feel like it can’t be too much longer before we start to find out more specifics about what happened, why the prisoners had all their blood taken out but the guards apparently didn’t go through the same process, and so on down the line. Not all the answers, of course – this is a J.J. Abrams series, after all – but certainly some of them must be arriving sooner than later. Right?
- This has bugged me all night, so maybe someone else can work it out: Why would an Alcatraz guard have photos and a gun stored in a hollow area at the bottom of a wall beam? It's not like he's lived there since he was a kid and kept a secret hidey-hole for his swag. He's a fully grown adult, and one who's licensed to carry a gun any damned time he pleases. I can accept that his mysterious hosts may have put the gun there for him – hey, it's no harder to accept than Jack Sylvane appearing out of thin air with a return ferry ticket in his pocket – but not the photos, surely.
- Dumplings are definitely a staple of Madsen's existence. Does anyone know if where they're eating is a real place? If so, I clearly need to put it on my must-visit list.
- “Oh, right, those guys.”
- “I wrote about it in one of my books… which I guess makes me a fraud. Awesome.”
- Nice to see Doc Beauregard again. Sadly, neither warden nor deputy warden get a whole lot to work with this week, although at least Warden James gets to momentarily mock Deputy Warden Tiller for his (wholly accurate) suspicion that Ray and Tommy know each other.
- This recurring thing with Soto reconstructing the architecture via computer to figure out where various pictures were taken is already starting to get old, so let’s hope they phase it out sooner than later.
- “What’s the deal with the Batphone?”
- Similarly, what’s the deal with Hauser’s question about the increase in seismic activity? Clearly, he’s onto something.
- By the way, given that we’ve once again seen Hauser step into The Room and dealing with his Nerd Herd, it can’t be long before they ease their way into the series on a more regular basis.
- “On the count of three, I’m going to shoot you in the head. One…two…”
- “You need me more than I need you.” Boy, Hauser didn’t exactly look thrilled that she’d deduced that fact, did he?