I’m now convinced Alcatraz writers have only a finite number of ideas they’re allowed to incorporate into episodes. This scheme’s masterminds could be anyone from FOX executives to the cabal who disappeared the ‘63ers. (‘63ers rolls off the tongue like a frozen, airless basketball.) I’m pretty sure these guys have a lock on what the show is about, and how the mysteries will resolve themselves, but all without the firmest grasp on anything incidental. I think the prison flashbacks work so well because they fit into an idealistic framing that younger generations may have about law and order back then. Perhaps older viewers call bullshit on the flashbacks and think the present day stuff is normal. (You kids and your cell phones and your map tables.) This week, I’m just breaking things in two parts so I can admire and admonish as I please.
As usual, the plot here is intriguing in story synopsis form. Guy Hastings (Jim Parrack) is back, and unlike previous returnees, Hastings was a guard and a family man. He trained young Ray Archer (Robbie Amell) in the ways of guarding against danger inside the most dangerous prison on the planet. (He’s fond of this bragging point.) When inmate Tommy Marsden, Rebecca’s Gramps, attacks Ray seemingly for no reason, Hastings purports his own brand of justice, allowing Archer a retaliatory attack on Tommy in the cell block. Only Tiller, joined by the Warden for only this single scene, suspects a connection between Archer and Tommy. Hastings later overhears Archer telling Tommy that they’re blood and they will stick together. That’s what Archer gets for slightly screaming secrets in a room where the walls are made of spaced-apart bars.
Present-day Hastings, like the others, is more violent than his former self. After finding a gun and family pictures in his old apartment, he attacks the cop that tries to apprehend him. He seeks out Archer, ending the blasphemous absence of Robert Forster, at his bar and uses his gun liberally as both a threat and a blunt instrument. He’s clearly gone a little lawless over the years. His goal is to find Tommy Marsden, as well as anyone who might know where he is. Archer takes him to Tommy’s old house, where he’d been holed up. This is when the Alcatraz Effective American Roundup Team Squad shows up, sans Soto, and adds him to their collection after making him feel better by telling him his daughter, Annie, is still alive.
Rebecca and Soto visited Annie earlier, where they learned further that Hastings, thought dead from a chemical spill, just wasn’t a bad guy at all. But he clearly has a problem with Tommy. Archer gave Rebecca a picture of him and Tommy as young men, and she realizes they knew each other before their prison days. What she didn’t know, but eventually finds out, is that Tommy and Archer are actually brothers! So Uncle Ray is…Uncle Ray! (Actual dialogue.) The episode ends with Tommy showing up at Archer’s bar, and Archer telling him to never come back. It’s pretty fucked up that Archer has been aware of Tommy’s whereabouts, considering he’s the reason Rebecca’s partner is dead. That death is one of Rebecca’s driving forces, if we’re to believe her Angry Face when she talks about it.
While these twist’ems and turn’ems are interesting, the most lasting moment comes from Hastings himself, as he vaguely, but less vaguely than anyone else before him, describes That Night. He was on the north tower one minute, and woke up in the infirmary the next. The guards were all told their families were dead from contamination. Then it wasn’t 1963 anymore… (“The fog took all the stars away” is probably the most poetic thing this show or Parrack will ever voice. Though “The only currency on Alcatraz that really matters is respect,” takes a close second.)
I realize we’ve already been led to believe something or someone is behind all this, but it almost has to be that way now, since none of these time travelers are ever concerned by the fact that fifty years of progressive technology and world order surrounds them. And there is absolutely no urgency is expressing any opinions they may have on this matter or any other. They must have been coached in all of this. (“See, there’s this thing called the Internet, but you can’t grab it, even though it’s real. Quit yer gasping.”)
For the record, I highly doubt Warden James is dead. A passing reference in the pilot is too weak a demise for such a powerful character. What I like most about him and Tiller is the ambiguousness of how viewers are to perceive them. They’re with the law, so they’re good guys, but they’re negative to everyone around them, so they’re bad guys. But everyone around them is a criminal, so they’re good guys. But we all know they aren’t.
With most of the story covered, I’ll now shine a floodlight on the more moronic moments this show has to offer, which I’m admittedly warming to, finding myself actively waiting for the next dumb-as-shit instance to take me completely out of the show’s drama. That’s FOX for you.
As contrived a character trait as it is, couldn’t Soto have been established to have a photographic memory, on top of formal education, business savvy, cartography skills, etc. Sure, he wrote books about Alcatraz, but covering its entire history, not just the time immediately preceding 1963. I hold my groans when he instantaneously recognizes a criminal, because a distinct M.O., even among hundreds of prisoners, is a solid identifier. It’s taken too far, however, in his instant recognition of Hastings, a non-notorious guard, by just a photograph. Would a football historian recognize a referee from Super Bowl I? Maybe, but my money is against it.
While we’re on this, why is Soto the only one the writers allow to identify anyone? Considering Hauser was a guard there in the first place, one would assume he’d have more to offer. But at least once an episode, Hauser walks into the big computer room and asks Soto and Rebecca what they’ve figured out. What exactly is Hauser doing while everybody else is figuring shit out? Talking on his red telephone? Is he in The Room with the nerdy guys? What are all those nerdy Room guys doing when they aren’t summoned? Doom 2? Why does The Room’s automatic door open outwards, thus ensuring no quick entry? Do those big walls not have room for pocket doors? And how often do these ferries run that Soto and Rebecca can just pop in any time they wish? Did she need to park her car just to walk by Archer’s bar without even walking inside, only to end up in the computer lab?
Rebecca’s detective skills are certainly a force to be reckoned with. She walks into Archer’s living room where Hastings had him tied up, and she immediately knows they were there. Was it all the evidence of recent struggles in the strewn papers, books, and pictures all over? Nope. It was the watch in Archer’s chair. She gave it to him when she was thirteen, and he never takes it off, so clearly he’s in trouble. She’s later able to accurately compare two pictures together based on a set of stairs and the bottom of a door frame.
That accurate comparison leads Soto to recruit comic shop buddy Chet to compare architectural styles in order to locate the building’s neighborhood, which Soto then finds on a map. This is all pretty wishy-washy to begin with, but it’s the second episode in a row where Soto’s knowledge of San Francisco architecture comes into play. (Fuel for my opening paragraph.) It’s also the second in a row where a phone call about the case interrupts Rebecca’s dim sum lunch, though this time it’s with Archer. Is knowledge of her obsession with dumplings necessary to understand Rebecca as a character, or is this just repetitive and lazy? Considering the picture of Archer and Tommy was in a frame with broken glass, a prop used several times in the pilot, I wouldn’t be surprised if next week’s episode is also called “Guy Hastings.”
In case you thought more than one episode was needed to cover the same ground, it isn’t so. In the opening, Hastings gets the gun and pictures from behind the apartment baseboard. There’s no rhyme or reason as to why he would have stored these items there, nor why this apartment wouldn’t have anyone presently living in it. (I can’t quite remember, but I don’t recall the gun being period-specific to the 1960s.) Skip to later, when Hastings and Archer are in Tommy’s old house, and I again asked myself: why isn’t anybody living in this house? The real question might be: why hasn’t anyone torn them down yet?
It’s been 49 years since Annie was eight years old, so why is she twenty years younger than she’s supposed to be? When Rebecca and Soto ask her about her father, she tears up and gets all emotional. Again, it’s been fifty years since a man she had only an eight-year-old’s understanding of died. My dad died ten years ago, and while it’s still a depressing concept, time has distanced me from getting choked up at every single mention. Maybe I’m just callous or something, but I doubt it. The most mind-boggling part about this is she still has his post-death box of effects readily available. I’m starting to think the last fifty years didn’t happen, and present-day only began when people started showing back up.
The Sum Up
Such a strange balance of mystery and buffoonery, albeit increasingly enjoyable buffoonery. Now we know that Hauser is fully invested in the Madsen family for one reason or another. Which means he’d probably try and save her if something “bad” happened to her, so that’s probably coming next week. He’d even tried recruiting Archer for this mission sixteen years earlier. Hauser is worried about seismic activity in reference to the ‘63ers. Is the Island going to fall into the ocean later? Maybe. Are aliens behind it all, as one commenter elaborately and convincingly theorized? I’m willing to believe anything but Soto’s gut instincts at this point.