Count on JJ Abrams to produce a show that takes a landmark and spin it into a science fiction. In Alcatraz, the rumor around the world was that in 1963 the prison shut down due to unsafe conditions, but what really happened was all the inmates and guards vanished inexplicably. Why and how did they vanish? You shouldn’t be concerned about that because it’s a sci-fi show, but what Alcatraz wants you to concentrate on is what happens next.
For a reason unknown, these prisoners and guards begin to pop up in our present day world. FBI agent Emerson Hauser is aware of this happening and recruits Detective Rebecca Madsen along with Dr. Diego Soto. Together and a few other people in Hauser’s crew, they attempt to locate these Alcatraz prisoners and recapture them to throw in a replica Alcatraz prison that Hauser has set up. You follow?
The show takes on a formulaic structure that is split into two story-lines: one of the episode-titled character wreaking havoc, usually in San Francisco and two, flashbacks of life on Alcatraz in the 1960’s before everyone disappeared. Taking a structure that many viewers of Lost got used to, there is a lot of time-jumping from the ’60s to the present day. This causes one major problem with the story-telling, and that is when one story-line is a lot more intriguing than the other. The frustrating part is that neither one remains consistent throughout the season.
Our heroine is Homicide Detective Rebecca Madsen, who accepts this special assignment of tracking down Alcatraz inmates to find Tommy Madsen, the person responsible for killing her partner. And yes, Rebecca does find out early on in the season that not only is she related to Tommy, but he’s her grandfather.
There are a few things to note about the set-up of the show. The prisoners and guards from Alcatraz have not aged since they disappeared in 1963 and while they seem as confused as how they jumped decades into the future, they all appear to have very specific instructions that they intend to carry out. Also, during the first half of the season, it’s revealed that Hauser and Dr. Lucy Banerjee, along with Rebecca’s uncle Ray and Dr. Milton Beauregard were also from Alcatraz in 1963. Why they’re seeking out to restore the prison with all of its inmates is a question Rebecca and Dr. Soto constantly ask.
Alcatraz has plenty of strengths that makes it a show worth watching and following all the way through. At the surface, it’s a police series with a team of detectives and experts of a specific topic: Alcatraz. There are plenty of suspenseful moments, chase scenes, and unexpected deaths. Also, the performance given by Sarah Jones is a powerful one, as she portrays the tough and likable chick we’re pulling for.
But the main strength of the series relies on each individual prisoner and guard of Alcatraz during their episode. Everyone has their story to tell and their story rarely disappoints. From Ernest Cobb, a serial killer who uses a sniper rifle on his murder sprees to Johnny McKee who poisons people, particularly men to reminds him of bullies from his school years, Alcatraz intertwines their past to the present and we effortlessly go on the ride to find out their motivation.
The problem with the show is the confusing direction the writers are clearly struggling with. They’re faced with a daunting task of creating a show for syndication while keeping up with the series-long mythology of the mysterious Alcatraz. While I was hooked from the beginning of the season, the formulaic episodes quickly became stale and I wasn’t interested enough with who the Warden was, nor did I care about Hauser’s secrets. That’s a pretty big problem, and the show’s ratings dropped by more than half from the season premiere to the finale. Not good.
While Alcatraz ended the season on a anti-climactic note, there is certainly a lot more mysteries to uncover and solve. Unfortunately, the future of Alcatraz seems dim and we might never know what the big deal was. But in all honesty, who even cares anymore?