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ALCATRAZ Doesn’t Quite Break Out

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Season 1, episode 4: “Cal Sweeny”

In this week’s “only one 63 comes back at a time” episode, Whitney Fordman … er, Flash Gordon… uhm, Cal Sweeny comes back to rob banks.

The opening scene is a decent double fake-out. As soon as he walks in the bank, I figure he’s a 63 and he’s up to no good. But then he takes the girl to the back and I figure, OK, it’s not what I thought. And then it is what I thought – a bank robbery. Whoop.

So, I think the approach to these recaps has to split everything between 19-sumpitty-sumpin and now. So, first in 1960:

Sweeny runs the inmate smuggling ring, getting stuff to the prisoners in exchange for … what, exactly? Power? Influence? Money? Not clear in the setup, but he’s taken this kid Harlan under his wing. Warns the kid never to let anyone know your weakness. Of course, this is foreshadowing, right? Because when Sweeny’s cell gets tossed by Tiller, it becomes clear that there’s one thing he needs to keep hold of: a little burned up tin box, his only possession.

Tiller, of course, isn’t having any. Doesn’t know what Sweeny’s talking about. So when Harlan suggests that Sweeny get put on the detail serving at the warden’s birthday party for Tiller, Sweeny figures it’s a good place to confront the guy and get his box back. (Too bad it doesn’t work out that way…)

Lucy is in attendance at the birthday dinner, and her little tete-a-tete with Dr. Beauregard reveals that she’s working on a way to replace memories that cause the inmates to be criminals. Sounds like a lot of loosey-goosey hoodoo to Beauregard. But could it have a connection with the weekly blood-letting behind the screen in the prison infirmary?

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Meanwhile, in present day San Francisco, Sweeny’s stealing stuff out of safe deposit boxes, because they’re not FDIC-insured and won’t involve federal agents (why are the 63s so hot to avoid the feds?). And his M.O. changes when he starts killing people – seemingly at random, but really there may be a rhyme and reason to it, only we don’t really get a clear sense of what.

After an odd breakfast in Chinatown, Madsen and Soto – an unlikely pair, and I hope the writers don’t futz it up by making them a couple – get on the case, with Soto figuring out the deposit box connection and Madsen actually doing some police work this week, figuring out the connection between the bank tellers that Sweeny plays to get inside.

When they figure out the third bank (Sweeny always hit them in sets of three), the situation gets a little loosey-goosey when it becomes a hostage situation. Only now Madsen – knowing he’s a 63 and having to make sure no one else figures it out – has to break him out of the bank while it’s surrounded by cops. So, in a bit ripped off from Inside Man, Madsen gets him out by dressing him up as a cop while the cops smoke everyone out.

And a little bit of a chase, which isn’t really a chase, and Madsen wrecking the stolen police car… and Sweeny gets caught (of course).

 

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So, Hauser has Sweeny, who stole – among other things – another one of those keys. Jack had one in the pilot. Now here’s a second one. Behind door number one in the Batcave Under Alcatraz: a think tank with laser scanners that determine the keys were cut with a laser, technology beyond anything available in 1963. So where did they come from?

And we flash to 1960, where the warden brings Harlan down into the very deep depths of the prison, opens a very big door with those two laser-cut keys. Telling Harlan “Your future is about to get a whole lot brighter”, the warden throws Harlan into the light.

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OK. A few things.

  • What’s behind that big door?
  • Will we see Tiller’s flirty sister more?
  • Why was Sweeny interested in Mrs. Bailey’s necklace?
  • Why are the 63s avoiding federal officials?
  • Why are they only showing up one at a time?
  • How did the warden get the keys, and what’s his role in this?

And somebody check me on this. Is the warden dead in present day? I think he is, but I’d have to go back and check.

So far, it feels like the story wants to be something epic, but it’s just falling into a half-hearted set of almosts. I’m having a hard time accepting that the 63s are coming back one at a time, and only in San Francisco. Is there a reason beyond production budgets?

[Official Show Site on FOX]   [Previous recap: “Kit Nelson”]

Jason P. Hunt

Jason P. Hunt (founder/EIC) is the author of the sci-fi novella "The Hero At the End Of His Rope". His short film "Species Felis Dominarus" was a finalist in the Sci Fi Channel's 2007 Exposure competition.

One thought on “ALCATRAZ Doesn’t Quite Break Out

  • I watched a few episodes of this show yesterday. It’s so…..samey. We’ll see what happens, but I was really, really unimpressed. It reminds me of a dozen other series with the same basic formula. My favorite of which was the old Friday the 13th series from the 80’s. After three episodes I was pretty much able to guess that a prisoner would come back, Blondie and Hugo would look all over for him, find him, and Dr. Astrov won’t tell them what’s going on when it’s over. I’m going to hang in there, and hope for a serious left turn, and for something fun to happen.

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