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ALCATRAZ Goes for the Gold

Episode 1/8 “The Ames Brothers”

[photos: Liane Hentscher and Michael Courtney/FOX]

OK. Got behind. Life and all that.

So this post will look at two episodes in my effort to catch up. We’ll start with an episode that actually felt like the production team has finally figured out just how to work within their creative limits and give us a pretty good show.

Because of NASCAR, there were two episodes back to back, with “The Ames Brothers” being up first. The brothers come back to the island itself in the midst of a storm that knocks out power, leaving our Intrepid Team Task Force in the Batcave with minimal life support ability to secure the facility. So when Herman and Pinky Ames show up inside the prison looking for a legendary pile of gold, it’s a pretty tense game of cat-and-mouse, with the old guard Donovan tossed in as a wild card.

This ep has all the stuff the other episodes don’t have: good pacing, tense moments, high stakes, and a self-contained plot that’s not self-aware or too cutesy-clever. It’s the first bottle show, and that’s why it works. The prison lends itself to the “going through the maze” style, and the writers establish Pinky’s brutality from the very beginning, as he kills a red shirt science type extra with heavy wire cutters.

So when the Ames brothers capture Soto, there’s a very real chance he might not make it out. And even though the episode is full of well-worn tropes, it mixes them in a way that doesn’t feel stale. We get a shootout, a hostage standoff, and some pretty brutal deaths.

Meanwhile, back in the past, we get glimpses of Ray Archer as he worms his way into the warden’s confidence. The warden, meantime, has the best line with “Most men draw plans of relative pencil-sketch simplicity, but you two. You dipped your pens into the inkwell of daring and creativity.” He gets some of the best, most contrived lines of the whole show.

No geek love this week, but you can bet your sweet bippy that sparks will fly between Diego and Nikki the Coroner soon enough.

One fun little bit in this episode was the red herring connected with the spiffy keys. The entire episode takes us down one path of expectation, only to twist the knife a bit and take it away when the door to the gold is secured with regular padlocks. Thus, the mystery of the keys is secure for another week or two. And the warden gets to paint the Ames brothers with a brush dipped in irony.

The payoff to the whole “legend” of the gold (which we got told repeatedly was just a legend) was that there actuallyis a pile of it under the Rock, and the warden isn’t as squeaky clean and upright as he makes himself out to be.

Of course, we already knew that, but it’s interesting to see him grinning like the Joker whilst holding a bar of gold (which should be heavier than it is in his hand…).


Episode 1/9 “Sonny Burnett”

In this episode, we get out a lot. Sonny Burnett was a kidnapper, and now he’s a kidnapper turned killer. His M.O. is to capture someone rich and get a ransom. To him, it’s a business transaction. But when the fruits of his labor go missing while he’s in stir, it gets him in hot water with the local bully brigade. So, we get the obligatory Rocky montage (only thing missing was Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger”) while Sonny builds himself up to take care of himself.

All the while, Warden James and Deputy Warden Tiller do a verbal dance about survival of the fittest and nature vs. nurture and such like, telegraphing to everyone that there’s some tension between them. Is Tiller trying to prove something?

In the present, our Intrepid Team figure out that the wife of Sonny’s current rich victim, was also a kidnap victim of Sonny’s back in the day. When she was fourteen, she was taken, and to stay alive she pretended to be Sonny’s accomplice/lover?/confidant – and she’s the one who took his money when he went to prison. So Sonny’s out for revenge.

We get a slightly predictable throwback to Se7en in one scene, but it’s set up pretty well, so it’s organic and not contrived. Some more flirty-blushy between Nikki the Coroner and Diego. And a pretty good procedural. Even though there are a couple of places where the writers forget how to tell time…

Couple of decent lines in this one. Nikki tells Madsen, “Rebecca, whoever this guy is, catch him or shoot him.” And after Hauser makes it a point to tell everyone he wants the 63s alive “from now on”, Diego gets off a shot: “He does realize he’s the only one that shoots them, right?”

And Tiller has quite a profound one: “A man’s dying words usually carry love or loss. Usually both.”

Between these two episodes, it really feels like the show is starting to hit its stride and figure out just what kind of show it wants to be. But it may be too little, too late.

The only extra bit added to the overall mystery of the 63s is that Sonny doesn’t have a certain something in his blood. This certain something seems to be the magic elixir that will awaken Lucy from her bullet-to-the-chest-and-she-should-be-dead coma.

And Madsen is having nightmares that her grandfather is stalking her. Which he is.


Random bits while I was watching this episode:

The spot for 21 Jump Street ran during a commercial break, and it looks like a stupid movie. Stupid stupid stupid.

But the TV spot for John Carter actually discusses the movie’s pedigree: Before Star Wars, before Avatar, there was John Carter, the one who inspired it all. ABOUT BLOODY TIME!

[Official Show Site on FOX]   [Previous recap: “Johnny McKee”]

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.

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