It feels somewhat inappropriate to grow increasingly frustrated with a show for slowly but surely getting better, but as each passing episode of Alcatraz brings us closer to what will almost certainly prove to be a two-hour series finale, it's hard not to be a little annoyed with the realization that the show's going to get its walking papers right around the time it hits its stride.
Not that those of you who've been reading these reviews since the series made its debut don't already know how annoying it's been to endure Alcatraz's ongoing efforts to infuse a mainstream crime procedural with just enough of a weird concept to get fans of a deep mythology interested in tuning in, but with the show's seventh episode, "Johnny McKee," it looked like the writers had finally found the closest thing to a perfect blend that they were likely to get. Unfortunately, the next few episodes weren't quite as impressive, leading to the suspicion that "Johnny" being so good was little more than a fluke. This week, however, the magic was back, to the point where the proceedings started off in almost exactly the same way as "Johnny McKee" did, setting aside the flashbacks in favor of checking in on Hauser in the present.
First things first: Not that things didn't more or less work out, but if you're going to send someone out to trail an FBI agent, it's probably not the best of all possible plans to pick a person with limited experience and, let's face it, a surplus of girth. Still, our man Soto did his duty, following Hauser to his friendly neighborhood massage therapist. Nothing terribly controversial there: Given the amount of stress he's been under from having to deal with Lucy's declining state of health, it's a wonder he's not getting massages on a daily basis. Oh, hey, here comes the flashback!
Webb Porter, as we quickly learn, had a somewhat unique history as a killer, in that it's arguable that he might not have killed anyone at all if his first victim—his mother—hadn't tried to kill him first. That's not to say that it was a case of "fair's fair," but at the very least, you can kind of guess where his head was at when he took down Mommie Dearest. (Not, you understand, that this in any way excuses Porter's modern-day murders.) As a result of his mother having almost succeeded in drowning him, Porter has been suffering from terrible tinnitus, causing him to lose his mind from the perpetual ringing in his ears. Screaming at the top of his lungs hasn't exactly endeared him to the population of Alcatraz, who have taken to calling him "The Screamer," but when Lucy comes onto the case, everything changes. This clearly surprises the warden, who, despite a strong belief in her abilities, is sufficiently familiar with Porter's past behavior so that he isn't exactly holding his breath that she'd succeed, either. But damned if she didn't blow right in, diagnose his condition, teach him to substitute the ringing sound with the music going 'round his head, and, after talking him through his mother's despicable actions, instruct him on how to take the music in his head and express it through an instrument.
It's interesting the way things went down with Porter's case in the past, if only because everything is picture-perfect. I mean, that never happens on this show. But, indeed, Lucy's diagnosis is right on the money, and not only does she help bring Porter back from the abyss, but when he returns to the general population, he delivers a musical performance from his cell that truly soothes the savage beasts of the prison. Although Deputy Warden Tiller grumbles something about how teaching an old dog new tricks doesn't change the fact that he's still an old dog, Doc Beauregard found it in his heart to offer some semblance of praise for Lucy's efforts, though he still couldn't resist couching it in a comment about how she's now the warden's "new toy." It was painfully clear early on that Lucy's efforts to "fix" Porter in the past would ultimately lead him to do whatever he could to help save her in the present, but it still played out nicely, particularly coming on the heels of Porter's lovely but lonely performance in front of an empty auditorium.
Speaking of past and present Porter, there was a surprising amount of visual flair to tonight's proceedings, both in the way Porter's near drowning was shown and in the quick cuts back and forth between Porter's violin performance and his attempts to move his first female victim into the bathroom to drown her. (I don't know if I'm the only one that thought so, but since I'm pretty notorious for not noticing that sort of thing, I have to think that I'm not alone in appreciating it.) As for the sudden upping of the violence level of his crimes in the present, here's hoping we get a bit more closure on that next week, because otherwise we probably never will.
In the present, the star of the show was inevitably Hauser, whose feelings for Lucy, which were also explored a bit in the past, are clearly just as strong as they ever were, thereby affecting his performance as an agent to a certain degree. His intimate knowledge of the case, however, made for a nice change of pace, particularly because it gave us the rare opportunity to see Soto at a complete loss when trying to determine which inmate was responsible for the murders. Seeing Lucy's eyes pop open at the end of the episode was good and creepy, but it's still good to know that, at the very least, she'll be conscious for a little bit next week. Also notable, of course, was the last-minute discovery by Madsen and Soto that Lucy is one of the '63s. Can't wait to see how that plays out, either.
"Webb Porter" offered an almost perfect combo of present-day goings-on and flashbacks, blending up criminology, psychology, and mythology. This is the Alcatraz I wanted in the beginning. So, naturally, it'll all come to an end next week.
- Another week, another attempt to bring the hot coroner into the action. I appreciate the efforts, but it's all going to be futile if they don't let her in on their big secret. Otherwise, it'll just devolve into farce, with Soto and Madsen trying to keep the crazy ol' coroner from figuring out what they've got going on, and I don't think anyone wants that.
- "Am I supposed to talk into the television? Does this transmit sound frequencies?" Doc Beauregard might have medical know-how, but he's clearly still learning about computers.
- "So much for the Privacy Act." Nice one, Soto.
- Soto also had a great, quickly delivered line when someone commented on how the picture of Porter looked old and he responded with shrug, "Budget cuts." Hey, as an excuse, it holds up.
- If by some small miracle Alcatraz pulls a second season, I will be sorely disappointed if we don't see Hauser regularly popping by to visit his jazzy buddy Elmore tickle the ivories. Elmore's best line: "Do you know the difference between a pizza and a violinist? The pizza can feed a family of five." Ouch…