Alcatraz Watch: Episodes 8 & 9 - The Ames Bros. And Sonny Burnett

“Spirituality is for those seeking understanding. Religion is for those seeking reward.” And Alcatraz is for those seeking masochism through fiction. After last week’s pre-emptive NASCAR race, proving FOX is soft on intelligent Monday night programming, the mystery/exercise in futility is back for a two-hour block of schlock. Okay, okay! This is fairly forced badmouthing, as this two-episode combo was probably the best since the first night’s airing. No regrets on the shit talk though. This is “Grade B-“ television through and through.

In order to barely save on wordspace, I’ll briefly cannibalize a recap of the episodes before breaking things down by overall plot arcs and mysteries. It appears Alcatraz will offer absolutely no answers to anything until the finale, or whenever the show officially ceases to exist. This is risky behavior, as the extended built-up anticipation, assuming it still exists, will have nowhere to go but down. In the hole.

”The Ames Brothers” and “Sonny Burnett”

On a dark and stormy night, federal bank robbers Herman (Travis Aaron Wade) and Pinky Ames (Graham Sheilds) conspire with Guard Donovan (Frank Whaley) to duplicate the Warden’s keys and in order to steal the Civil War gold from a room in the prison tunnels. Ray Archer sort of figures things out and the brothers are caught. In the present, the Ames’ and Donovan are back with the same intentions and similar failure, only this time Soto is a hostage and Rebecca ends up killing both brothers. Hauser is also shot. Donovan finds the gold room is empty and is taken away. Good episode with minimal “This is bullshit” moments.

Kidnapper/non-murderer Sonny Burnett (Theo Rossi) takes revenge on Ellen, a former lover/reluctant partner who stole $100,000 in ransom earnings after Burnett was arrested in 1960, ensuring a prison yard stabbing from Boyd Hicks, his hired protection. Prodded by Tiller to become a predator instead of prey, he gains strength and confidence, gouging out his attackers eyes. In the present he kidnaps and murders the woman’s husband and temporarily buries her daughter alive before the police eventually find her and capture Burnett. Another good episode with non-minimal bullshit moments. Theo Rossi is one of my favorite bit players on TV.

What up with you and those keys, Warden?

The Ames brothers copy those Big Keys we’ve seen all season, but they’ve got the wrong door, which was obvious, as the door placement was different from the Big Key Room in an earlier episode. James states the brothers were trying to escape, provoking disbelief from Archer, who assumes they only intended on getting what was inside. The episode ends with James inside the room, uncovering a shitload of gold bars and hammily saying, “Hello ladies.” So what is so special about this room? How would it have led to an escape? Does the time travel happen in there? There were other war items, such as a cannon, whose origin is established, so I don’t think they’re trying to tell us these items jumped forward in time. Were we just supposed to be astonished that the gold of legend was real? I hate when a potentially impactful ending happens and I feel no impact.

As bullheaded as James is, it seems like Tiller would be on his side, but there’s major tension and opposing motivations there. We don’t necessarily need to take James’ threats too seriously, as we know Tiller lived until all this shit started when Jack Sylvane murdered his aged ass. There was that one passing remark about James already having died, but tonight, Hauser asks the shackled Guard Donovan if James is still alive. (He asks him lots of questions that should have been prefaced by, “The audience and I want to know…”) I’m not sure if it’s established that anyone is absolutely certain who else came back, though someone would have to know.

I really don’t think anything on this show is absolutely certain, as the prisoners have come back with and without murderous plans, and both in civilian clothes and prison uniforms, such as tonight’s Burnett, whose I.D. number conveniently leads the Three Bullshiteers to his identity. So is James behind everything? I’m still mostly convinced Dr. Lucy is a major player, with all her dream theories and repressed memories and connection with Hauser. But I’m not sure of anyone’s intentions. If I am sure of anything, it’s that while James is smiling on the outside, he isn’t smiling on the inside.

Tommy Madsen’s Blood and Ray Archer’s… Whatever Ray Archer Has

We finally have some breakthrough, albeit alternative medicine garbage, for the obsession with Madsen’s blood. Dr. Beauregard discovered some ‘63ers have colloidal silver in their blood streams, ridding them of past ailments while helping healing processes in the present, such as all the gunshots wounds Hauser distributes. Hauser hopes the blood will reverse Lucy’s coma, but no one with her blood type has yet been found to contain the silver. It’s worth noting here that the healing aspects of colloidal silver are mythical, though silver itself is a known bacteria killer. Despite this, Alcatraz is trying to tell us something here, and that’s more than we’ve gotten thusfar. Now that Archer is on James’ good side, invited to dinner and all that, Archer may be able to shed his own light on what’s happening. James has a great line reading, commending Archer for his actions, “unless he has any more questions.” The implications were thicker than James’ forehead skin.

Presently, Hauser has Archer under surveillance, correctly assuming he and Madsen have been in touch. Perhaps he should be keeping an eye on the window outside Rebecca’s room, where Madsen creepily watches her sleep. Archer wants Hauser to cease Rebecca’s involvement, but considering she’s related to the one guy not stupid enough to get caught by this ragtag squad, Archer is naïve in thinking her separation is possible. (Seriously, how is Madsen not getting into as much trouble as everyone else?) Did he intentionally get Rebecca’s partner killed, or was that all coincidence? What is so special about Madsen in present time that Hauser avoids researching any other prisoner that may or may not come back? Obviously, his agenda is more personal than for the common good. If he’s willing to blatantly infringe upon Archer’s privacy, that agenda better be important.

It would be a key moment in 2012 Television for Sam Neill and Robert Forster to get into a Dynasty-like argument-turned-cat fight. I’ve got all my fingers crossed for this one. I hope their next meeting is near a pool or park fountain.

The Importance of the ‘63ers and Soto

That’s an awkwardly worded sub-title for these awkwardly presented plot points. The fact that the prisoners are coming back is definitely something Hauser would want to investigate, though again, his motives seem to be on a smaller scale. Considering he works outside usual government boundaries, I’d assume the network that gave us rule-breakers like Dr. House and jack Bauer would give us an Emerson Hauser that would torture and truth serum the shit out of these guys. Instead, he keeps them all locked up in Neo-Alcatraz.

Since Hauser is dead set on keeping the prisoners alive (pun intended), particularly tonight after Burnett’s violent power saw beheading of Ellen’s husband caused others to wish for his immediate demise, I thought they were all kept alive and together in order to somehow reverse whatever brought them there in the first place. (Though Burnett’s survival may have had more to do with Hauser’s hope for his blood curing Lucy.) But Rebecca kills both Ames brothers, one by bullet to the neck and one by a falling metal bedframe, and absolutely nothing was said about it. So they don’t need to be alive. Then why not save some taxpayer money and kill all the shitheads?

Soto gets his ass kicked all over the first episode. He’s hit, held in a cell, hit again when he frees himself, beaten up more, held hostage, and then beaten up one last time. Mostly, it’s because he knows things about the prison that the Ames brothers don’t, so they aren’t intent on killing him initially, though Pinky wants to cut him up with a bolt cutter after Herman dies.

All of that would force anyone as smart as the supposed genius Soto to get the fuck up out of the unpaid bounty hunter lifestyle. I mean, if he shoots someone and kills them, who has to deal with that? Is he just a private citizen? Would Rebecca and Hauser turn up their tails and skulk away? There’s no reason for Soto to ever leave the computer lab anyway. So long as Rebecca has the IPad of Prisoner Files and they can talk by cell phone, his job should be centrally located. What kind of cell reception does “under Alcatraz” get, anyway? I thought Soto’s childhood kidnapping experience would come back to play a role somewhere, but it hasn’t so far. The “he wrote books about Alcatraz” card has been played. I need deeper ties.

So What’s Now?

I think the large number of missing prisoners and guards is still too ambitious. At this rate, even if they figure out the mystery, unless they can actually reverse it, there will still be people popping up all the time. And it’s getting to be like a fight in an action movie when only one bad guy at a time attacks the good guy. How are there not multiple crimes happening all over? Especially when it’s been established that some of them have been back for weeks. Though the episode titles are still given as single people, I would love to see some kind of ensemble gang plot happen. Also, was anyone else confused by the promo for “Clarence Montgomery” repeated from a couple of weeks ago? Alcatraz is trying to keep the black man down.

Highlights and Lowlifes

Soto’s not very clever nicknames for Hauser’s room of nerds: Dandruff Guy (who is now dead), Glasses, The Whistler, and my favorite, Two Shirts.

Soto was able to check on Dandruff Guy’s activities because Hauser wasn’t there. Then Hauser shows up not too long after Rebecca investigates things. How in God’s name did he get there in the middle of a gigantic storm? Points for Rebecca’s phone message to Soto, in which she admits to having nothing else to do with her time. The writers are telling us what we already knew.

“Doc? What am I whispering for? DOC!?!”

It occurred to me that one of the brothers, or Donovan, might have had intentions beyond the gold. But there were several mentions of greed and money and riches, so I don’t think so anymore.

Though we didn’t see much beyond blood splatter from Pinky making that guy saw his pinky off, it was pretty excellent to get a peek at the gory head in a saddlebag. And Burnett gouging Hicks’ eyes, particularly the blood-red chasms it created, was just the right amount of shocking violence that this show does so well.

Herman’s joke during the Warden’s homily was amusing. If Paul was in Alcatraz, there would be no letters to the Galatians, unless they were family. Nyuk nyuk.

Of course Chet can find out how to open an Alcatraz cell from the inside. And I’m pretty sure Chet is getting laid. Why are we so focused on Soto again?

“The brothers are more slippery than two snakes in a butter churn.” My notes say slipperier. Is this what he actually said? Why didn’t anyone refer to the fact that Donovan has super strength, seeing as how a dynamite explosion that propelled him off his feet down the hall had no immediate aftermath? Perhaps we can attribute it to the silver we found out about in the next episode.

“You got confirmation Hauser is human? I’ve known a lot of humans and I gotta say, I don’t see it.”

The whole Burnett/Ellen relationship was plagued with problems, both story-based and morally. She says he kidnapped her after “Does the word ransom mean anything to you?” escaped Rebecca’s mouth. But in fact, she, as a 14-year-old, just helped him out for a few months as he got more kidnappy. They fell in love, but she still reported him to the cops. One might assume that this was because she was a 14-year-old who understood that older guys shouldn’t fall in love with and put all their trust into 14-year-olds. But it was probably just the kidnapping thing. Ellen would be 67 years old with a daughter in her twenties, and there is no fucking way that actress even attempted to appear that old. This is happening pretty often on this show. Why don’t they hire older people?

Beyond all that, the super-duper biggest problem here is when Burnett himself shows up to vaguely threaten Ellen at her home, as the cops are finding her husband’s head. At first, her reaction is disbelieving and believable. But the episode continues without her having a nervous breakdown, or calling outside authorities, or even tabloids, about the fact that a man she knew fifty years previous is almost exactly the same age he was before she was told that he was dead. I have to assume she’s a religious woman for blindly accepting something so impossible. Even a shitty scene where she calls what she thinks is someone in the government, but it’s just Soto disguising his voice, would have made me feel better about Ellen’s place on this Earth.

Of course muscle car tire treads were what led the gang to Burnett’s hideout in the first place, but I actually found it clever when they found Burnett and the daughter using Sat Nav on the limo he was using. This, in turn, made me think Burnett was a moron for using a commercial limo in the first place.

“A chicken can do as many pushups as he wants. The fox is still going to eat it.” Tiller’s best line yet.

Burnett’s declaration, “You’ll never find her,” in reference to the girl he’d just buried alive, was immediately followed by the cops finding her. Something about this was unnecessary. He should have buried her elsewhere and driven to a different location, which is what I thought was going to happen, until he said, “You’ll never find her.” And then I knew. Then I knew.

My apologies for anything I missed or overstated. We can groupthink the next one.

Nick Venable
Assistant Managing Editor

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.