Alcatraz Watch: Episode 4 - Cal Sweeney
Before tonight, I could count on two hands and one foot the number of minutes I was unequivocally invested in the…well I was going to say “mysteries of the Island,” but I think J.J. Abrams trademarked that phrase years ago. I can throw the other foot in now, as a few cryptic scenes concerning said mysteries, namely big keys and anti-aging at this point, weave in and out of “Cal Sweeney.” Before the season is over, I assume I’ll understand why the show’s creators didn’t compare the quality prison flashbacks with the hokey present-day and scrap the cop angle altogether. I also assume world peace is possible, so I’m not to be trusted.
Let’s pretend we’re detectives, which is more realistic than the breezy half-second between Rebecca saying “safety deposit boxes” and Soto’s “Cal Sweeney” identification. Because Sweeney (Eric Johnson) is on this show, we already know a few things about him. He came from 1963. Something in his past haunts him. He wasn’t on good terms with either Warden Jones or E.B. Tiller. He has no interest in being mind-blown by appearing in present time after being God-knows-where for forty years.
Not so predictable or comprehensible is Sweeney’s motivation. In the prison laundry, he mentors young Harlan (Steven Grayhm), explaining the contraband exchange program he’s running. You have to have tough skin for this; you can’t show weakness. Guess what, folks? Sweeney’s got a weakness. Tiller orders a sweep of his cell, and Sweeney accuses him of stealing a tin box. Tiller denies it and demands inclusion on the laundry scamming. For a more private discussion, Sweeney joins Harlan in serving for a small party in Tiller’s honor. His attempts to muscle Tiller prove fruitless, and his violent efforts get him a thirty day stretch in solitary. Quite surprising is Harlan’s admission to setting all this up to take over the laundry operation. He’s the one who took Sweeney’s tin box, proving no one is without a weakness.
All in all, this was pretty solid stuff. The dinner party, especially, as Dr. Beauregard and Lucy meet and butt heads over views on psychology. Lucy is interested in the role of traumatic memories reinforcing themselves in criminal behavior. If criminal minds could be tampered with to remove these memories, would the criminal impulses cease to exist? This is an interesting plot point introduction, as I’d previously thought that highlighting prisoner childhoods was just repetitive writing. Lucy could be the catalyst for the upcoming events. I like it.
Does it make Sweeney’s empty tin box, the sole relic surviving a house fire that killed 10-year-old Sweeney’s family, an interesting talisman? Not really. Perhaps if his current bank robbing were more focused. He courts bank tellers, using them for make-out sessions in safety deposit box rooms. (Because French kissing supersedes proper job risk assessment, and making out in storage closets is grody.) He uses a captive bolt pistol on the boxes and people who get in his way. I guess he watched No Country for Old Men and hit up the Captive Bolt Pistol Corner Store before heading out that first day back. He finds a sapphire necklace and pretends to be a bank insurance agent in order to get into his house and demands the man tell him how he and his wife got together, before putting a bolt in his head. Later, he gets the real prize: another big key.
Really, I have no idea what he was looking for. Deposit box robbery isn’t a federal crime, which explains his selective tendencies. But where he would have been thieving for profit in the past, his motives are uncertain here. If he was looking for the key all along, why did he only break into a small number of boxes before leaving the previous banks? Seems coincidental. Speaking of…
For my tastes, I could go without ever referring to Rebecca, Soto, and Hauser again. The writers know enough to sprinkle some back story onto Soto (he only became an academic to please his parents), but have done little with Rebecca beyond identify her relatives. It’s fine, because I don’t care about her, but those saps that do have to be disappointed.
With no successful leads, Rebecca watches bank security footage, and her eagle eye catches that both of Sweeney’s wooed tellers have the same vase and flowers on their desks. Onto May’s Flowers, where they find the recipient of Sweeney’s next flower delivery. (I loved that the Asian flower clerk promoted the shop’s 15% discount for SFPD officers.) When Rebecca and Co. arrive at the bank, a hostage situation ensues. Hauser runs Jurisdiction Rank Distraction on the local cops so Rebecca can sneak inside the bank and sneak Sweeney out, the only way he can get his proper serving of secret justice.
During the lamest car-tailing scene in memory, Sweeney holds Rebecca at gun point until she crashes her car, noticing he wasn’t wearing a seat belt. Tsk tsk. There’s a bit where Sweeney loses touch with normalcy for a few seconds when Rebecca asks him why he wanted the little bag with the key in it, which leads me to believe he’d been through some brainwashing. But other than that moment, this whole present day plot caters to generic cop show fans, just like the others have.
How did Rebecca get into the bank? It turns out Soto lived in some old apartments, similar to the surrounding buildings, which were all connected through the same central air conditioning system. And then seconds later, Rebecca drops into one of the bank offices. I guess it’s possible someone would know certain logistics about apartment building central A/C systems, but I seriously doubt Rebecca would be able to get into the adjoining building and navigate the air ducts into the bank in such a limited amount of time. Fuck you, Alcatraz, for spitting realism directly in the eye here. I would have been happier and less baffled had Soto happened to know there was an unlocked window in the back of the bank.
Alas, my groans and throbbing temple rubbing were subdued by the episode’s final minutes, as tends to be the case. Hauser takes the two keys to his team of Lone Gunmen wannabes, whose analysis tells us that the keys were cut by lasers, which weren’t around when the prison was open. In the last scene, Warden James guides Harlan down into the dark depths, up to a door, which he opens with the two keys, and also a third, before pushing the frightened Harlan inside.
Is it a creature in the room? Is San Francisco anywhere near Loch Ness? Is it Lucy and her crack team of medical students? Is it Gwyneth Paltrow’s head? We probably won’t find out next week, if ever, so I’m shelving all my predictions in order to hear yours. What do you guys think it is? What is the secret to all this Alcatraz business? Will it be worth it?
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