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Alcatraz Watch: Episode 7 - Johnny McKee

“A new terror born in death, a new superstition entering the unassailable fortress of forever.” I am negative.

Seven weeks, and it’s still impossible for me to enjoy Alcatraz. The central storylines are all the same, more or less. The plot twists are more predictable than the outrageously illogical manner in which we arrive at said twists. The main actors are wasted, and the dialogue is waste. The “mysteries” are shaping up to be disappointing, producing less ponder-heavy conversation than the ridiculous plot conveniences the writers can’t elevate themselves from. It may look expensive and contain flashes of genuine drama, but this is generally a shitty show. As a movie, it could be forgiven and forgotten, but television is a much harsher consumer of viewers’ and writers’ time. I’m too blah to even come up with a better pun than Alcatrash. So there it is.

Convict Johnny McKee (Adam Rothenberg) is a bully’s wet dream turned nightmare. Harassed by everyone around him, McKee uses a background in chemistry to concoct a range of deadly poisons. At his fifteen year high school reunion, he posed as a janitor and killed most of his class with cyanide, only arrested because he stuck around to watch them die. His prison effects contained a picture of McKee’s presumed sweetheart, scar-faced Jenny Winters.

After Soto’s unfounded conjecture that McKee was the cause, we eventually learn that yes, he probably was. In a Carrie gender switch, McKee and Jenny, the prettiest girl in school, went on a memorable malt shop date that ended in a surprise firework-hazing by the football team. A cherry bomb accident left McKee sans testicles, but boy did he have the balls to avenge himself. (Fifteen years later, because hate has no expiration date.) It’s an interesting story that is unfortunately repeatedly teased at that this had to be the inevitable outcome.

The same goes for the flashbacks. Alcatraz hardass Mikey Cullen tasks McKee to kill the prison librarian for cutting into Cullen’s trade of selling handmade shivs, or “pig stickers.” Getting a position in the library, McKee trades a nudie magazine for a sharpened plastic knife, and invites the librarian to Movie Night. The guy is hesitant, but is swayed by Mamie Van Doren, who has boobs, and men like boobs. For the movie, Cullen sits next to McKee, who sits behind the librarian. (Everyone knows plausible deniability works best when you’re the closest fucking person to the crime being committed.) When the movie is finished, both McKee and the librarian walk away, while Cullen is left dead, foaming at the mouth. Because he bullied McKee, see? A successful story, but still overly predictable.

Flash forward to 2012, where good sense goes to die. McKee quickly gets a bartending job at a Chinatown club, based solely on his ability to mix a simple drink. A douche bag patron pisses him off, and BAM, douche bag and his friends are all poisoned, immediately keeling over after a single sip. For whatever reason, a phrase that could start any descriptive sentence about Alcatraz, someone records a phone video at the same time and catches the whole thing.

The video goes viral despite being uploaded in the middle of the night and depicting actual deaths, flaggable content certainly. Luckily, Soto is stereotypically playing a video game in the computer room when a YouTube-ish webpage pops up with the video. We don’t even get the “Soto inexplicably recognizes the guy” moment, because a facial recognition program opens itself, finds McKee in the crowd, and immediately matches him to the database. I could scream bullshit until my eyes bleed. Are we to assume that the computer program is constantly monitoring all online videos, matching every single face in each video against the database of convict mug shots? Fine. Fuck it, I’m game.

Soto calls Rebecca, and they meet at the club soon after. Only…it’s daytime now, and the bodies still haven’t been removed from the scene. What took them so long, and what the fuck kind of cops work here? Surely they and the EMTs weren’t all waiting for Rebecca, a detective who was called to the scene not by actual officers, but by Soto. They go to the address given on McKee’s application, but it’s a dead end.

Wait! Soto notices the address number correlates to McKee’s cell-block number, and that Jack Sylvane was his cell neighbor. Certainly Sylvane must know something, right? Nope. He just knows McKee was obsessed with Jules Verne and his ability to predict underwater travel and moon missions. Sylvane reiterates Tommy Madsen’s time spent in the infirmary, and that he talked about a “hole underneath the hole, in the strip cells.” It’s probably right next the taint, given that description. Then Hauser whisks him away, saying they’ve run out of time. Is Rebecca suspicious of Hauser for this? Not a bit.

McKee is soon hired at a spa/bathhouse type thing, only stating his prison jobs as his input into the interview. (This is why background checks should be required most places. No license, ID, or SSN? No problem!) An indignant man throws a towel at McKee’s face, and soon there are poisoned bodies floating in the water. McKee ups the ante, creating a more powerful airborne poison in his old abandoned high school chemistry lab.

Using the Verne obsession and the quote, “The Future is Now,” Rebecca and Soto are able to connect vastly spaced-apart dots to identify the subway (“A killing jar, for humans.”) as the next target. McKee knocks the conductor out, stopping the train in the middle of a tunnel and unleashing gaseous death upon the travelers. Before you can pull your hair out and say, “There’s no fucking way anyone can get there in time to save these passengers, if McKee’s previous quick-acting poisons are anything to judge this by,” Rebecca, Hauser and Soto arrive just in time to break a window and save everyone. There’s the weekly moment where Rebecca gets held as a hostage, only this time she fights her own way out and knocks McKee into the dreaded third rail, shocking him into unconsciousness.

In the terminally slow-moving “Lucy in a coma” story, Dr. Beauregard has no luck reviving her, using such amazing medical breakthroughs as electro-shock and acupuncture. Maybe he should be using fish oil supplements or wishing on a star, or something equally efficient. I think the key moment here is when they talk about how active her dreams are, using the Dream-o-Meter. When she interviews McKee in the past, she inquires about his dreams, and it’s only after he admits to nightly dreams of Jenny that Lucy says she can help him. Later, Sylvane refutes Hauser’s claim that nothing has changed for him in fifty years by saying that he doesn’t dream anymore. So…dreams, huh? Not just repressed memories anymore, but dreams. Sigh.

I’m praying we get an episode-length flashback soon. There is absolutely nothing about the present-day that I like. They’re not giving us enough history from Hauser’s connection in all this, and he just looks like an aggro-tool most of the time. Rebecca has less personality than a snake has legs. And the “Encyclopedia Brown snorting Sherlock Holmes’ bones” intuitive skills of Soto’s are beyond ridiculous. High-concept shows tend to only be as successful as the realism they depict outside of the concept. If that’s accurate, then this is FOX’s Edsel.

And Now For Nothing Completely Different

It doesn’t bother me that Hauser is fluent in Chinese. It almost bothers me that he’s able to translate “nightshade” so easily.

Finally, there is a reference made to the prisoners’ time travel culture shock. McKee thinks a man’s cell phone, showing the club poison video, is a television. The man tells him it’s the Internet. And McKee doesn’t say, “What?” And now I’m disappointed again.

Rebecca’s dumbass line of the week: “You just did that, didn’t you?” It doesn’t matter what she was referring to

Dumbass line runner-up: In reference to McKee watching his victims die, she says, “Like in the viral video.” While this is correct, most people would refer to the actual event, as in, “Like in the club,” rather than the recorded version of it. She is a cop, after all.

Sylvane balks at McKee’s talk of man going to the moon. I wonder if his mind would be blown if he found out about all the space travel that’s happened since then. Someone should show him Armageddon and tell him it’s a documentary.

How are these criminals getting from place to place? How do they get money for the bus? McKee obviously didn’t get a pay check from his two jobs. And speaking of, if that Chinese prick hadn’t pissed him off, would McKee have just waited for the next jerk to come along? This doesn’t say much of the writers’ views of human empathy.

Why, oh why, does Nikki decide to take her scrubs off before she puts the body back into the freezer? I mean, I know it’s just so Soto can see she has another tight fictional character T-shirt on, but seriously. Someone needs to show the slightest bit of professionalism.

I’m only vaguely familiar with Ovid’s Metamorphosis, so I have no idea if there is relevance to Dr. Beauregard wanting Hauser to read it to Lucy. Anyone have any thoughts on that? The fact that he turned to the middle of the book, much like a cartoon character

Nick Venable
Nick Venable

Nick is a Cajun Country native, and is often asked why he doesn't sound like that's the case. His love for his wife and daughters is almost equaled by his love of gasp-for-breath laughter and gasp-for-breath horror. A lifetime spent in the vicinity of a television screen led to his current dream job, as well as his knowledge of too many TV themes and ad jingles.