Television & Film

ALCATRAZ May Capture You


Season 1, episodes 1: “Pilot” and episode 2: “Ernest Cobb”

And so it begins. The newest Bad Robot project has hit the airwaves, and on first blush, it looks pretty good. Lots of production value on this one, aided by the star location: The Rock.

The opening sets up the over-arcing mystery: the disappearance of the residents of the Alcatraz Prison island on March 20, 1963. Two guards arrive on the boat for their shift change, only to find the island deserted. What happened? Where is everyone?

Present day Alcatraz Island: a mysterious stranger wakes up in a cell, only to be told he can’t sleep there, move on. He’s figuring out (just as we are) that things aren’t right. Cut to a foot chase that leads to the death of a detective, which gives our lead character, Detective Rebecca Madsen (ably played by Sarah Jones), enough emotional baggage to have some depth, but not too much that she’s a cliche yet. Still mourning the death of her partner and being told by her boss she needs to move on, she gets called onto a grisly murder.

At the murder scene, Madsen lifts a fingerprint just as the federal suits get there. Led by Hauser (Sam Neill), they tell Madsen to scram. Only she takes the print with her, and finds a new mystery when the print comes back belonging to a dead prisoner from forty years ago. Huh?

This is the setup.


What follows is a pretty straightforward police procedural, and though I have minor quibbles about some of the cop shop elements, I think it holds up as a good mid-season series that will find its legs early.

The pilot episode, of course, has the inherent challenge of introducing all of these characters and setting the stage for the subsequent stories and telling a story in and of itself. And it does that for the most part, leaving some questions open for us to revisit later in the show’s run, I’m sure.

Jack Sylvane is the first of the “63s” to return. A war veteran, he fell on desperate times and robbed a grocery store – which happened to sell stamps, thus becoming a post office and therefore federal property – and eventually wound his way through the system to Alcatraz. This is an interesting choice for our first prisoner to show up, because he didn’t start out as a sociopath. He wasn’t a killer going into prison, and it’s interesting to see just how easily it comes to him – maybe because of his time in the service?

But also, Sylvane is the subject of medical shenanigans back then. The doctors took a lot of blood from him, and in the course of this he makes contact with prisoner #2002, who seems to know more than he’s telling. What’s his story? What does he know?

In the course of searching for Sylvane, Detective Madsen gets sucked down the rabbit hole into “the Batcave under Alcatraz” (Dr. Soto is going to have the best lines). As she gets deeper involved with Hauser’s federal task force, she learns a few things about her own past – namely, that her grandfather wasn’t all she thought he was.

What does Uncle Ray know about all this? And just how is Hauser mixed up in everything? What does he know?

The second episode is about Ernest Cobb, a serial sniper who killed many a random victim before finally being caught. He makes it to present day and picks up right where he left off – three shootings in three days, which means there’s a ticking clock (isn’t there almost always a ticking clock in a cop show?). Madsen and Soto have to figure out where this guy’s going to pop next, and Soto has some serious questions about whether he can hack it.

What I like about the Cobb character is the fact that I keep asking questions about him. Why is he obsessed with being left alone? What’s that little “There are forty-seven slats in the picket fence” line all about? And where does he fit into the whole time-travel part of this mystery? How does he know Jack Sylvane, aside from just being in prison at the same time back in 1963?

Again, a fairly straightforward cop procedural, with just a touch of the spooky conspiracy undercurrent. But this one had a couple of shocks involving Hauser’s right hand girl, Lucy. Expect more questions surrounding her character as we dive into this season.

I’m debating at this point whether to go light with the spoilers and just do a quick once-over, or go full-bore into the whole show and do a complete recap. Your thoughts?

[Official Show Site on FOX]

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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