OpinionReviewsTelevision & Film

This ALCATRAZ Isn’t Child’s Play


Season 1, episode 3: “Kit Nelson”

This week’s episode is all about childhood traumas, and serves to give us a little more back-story for Dr. Soto. Pretty much a straight-forward procedural with Soto playing the profiler with super-memory powers.


We open with a guy carrying a chrysanthemum as he walks up to a house, unlocks the door, and makes his way to the upstairs. In the kids’ room, he tucks in the littlest one and then takes the older boy by threatening to kill the little brother. OK. Simple setup that creates a whole list of questions:

  • Where did he get the key?
  • Why did he shed a tear as he grabbed the kid?
  • Where are the parents that they can’t hear any of this?
  • What’s the significance of the chrysanthemum?

First flashback to Alcatraz puts us in 1960, just after Nelson’s arrival. In the yard, the “child killer” doesn’t get any respect, as the guards look away while the other inmates show Nelson what they think of him. Deputy Warden Tiller orders them to stop the beat-down just shy of too late.

Present day: Soto is drawing his adventures as a comic book, putting his Alcatraz experiences on paper as they happen. In a bit of irony, he’s drawing the not-so-cool part – Lucy getting shot – while Chet is going on about how cool this new gig must be for Diego. All the while, the police scanner is going on in the background. When the police mention the kidnapping and the chrysanthemum on the bed, Soto flips. He knows exactly who’s come back, and he’s the first to catch onto it.

Hauser hovers over Lucy at the hospital, giving us plenty of opportunity to wonder just what he’s got going with her. Madsen – who doesn’t really have very much to do this week – comes in and they discuss Lucy’s prognosis (not very good) when Diego comes in and tells them he’s figured out Kit Nelson is back and they only have until Sunday night before he kills the kid.

So, now we have a typical ticking clock police procedural, which is not a bad thing by itself, but this episode doesn’t give us much else in the way of the overall mystery of the 63s disappearing and reappearing in the modern day San Francisco.

[Love that Madsen drives Steve McQueen’s car (well… a replica, at least). Note that Bullit – which has one of the greatest car chases ever – is set in San Francisco.]

Nelson was posing as a guy from the hardware store, coming by to work on the house. What hardware store makes house calls? Sometimes there are some elements in this show that seem very contrived, but you miss those because you’re taken in by the ticking clock aspect of things. It’s got to move quickly to keep anyone from analyzing it too deeply. At least that answers the question of where Nelson got his key.

Nelson, meantime, takes the kid fishing.

Our next Alcatraz flashback takes us to the infirmary, where a not-very-sympathetic Dr. Beauregard doesn’t do very much for Nelson, who looks like warmed-over roadkill. Our only mystery-related bit comes here, as Madsen-the-inmate talks about the blood that gets drawn and they talk about the pecking order inside the prison. It’s not much, and it’s a callback to the pilot, where we saw Jack Sylvane getting vampired, too.

The rest of the episode is all Diego’s. He figures out Nelson’s M.O. – taking the kid out to do things from his own childhood: fishing, movies, cherry pie – and this is where Diego picks up Nelson’s trail. It’s interesting to see the civilian doing the detective work this time. He’s driven, and we find out at the end of the episode just what fuels that drive.

Madsen is the weak link this time out. She’s there mainly to stand up for Soto when he complicates the mission. Confronting Nelson at the diner just makes things worse, and he’s now worried that his actions have endangered the kid even further. You can see it on his face, that “oh, crap” moment when he figures out he’s not cut out for this.

Hauser is Hauser, and it’s interesting that he’s staying close to the hospital for most of this episode. Why?


Other flashbacks only give us more details on Nelson’s life – a scene with his father, who essentially disowns him and knows that Kit killed his brother. A couple of discussions with the warden. And why is the warden so interested in whether or not Kit actually killed his brother, and it wasn’t scarlet fever? What drives the warden’s need to know?

So, Diego figures out that Nelson worked for a cement company for a while, and that cement company helped build bomb shelters. Again, civilian figuring things out instead of the detective. You’d think this stuff would be where Madsen gets center stage, since it’s… well.. her job. But this is Diego’s episode.

Of course, the kid turns out to be clever at finally getting away from Nelson. And of course, Madsen and Soto get there just in time to have a second face-off. And of course Hauser shows up out of nowhere to (SPOILER: shoot Nelson in the head). What? Just where did he come from? It stretches credulity that he’d get to that same location as Madsen and Soto, without being directly involved in the investigation.

Back on the Island at Alcatraz, Hauser discusses “arrested development” and hints at Soto’s own trauma in childhood. Says he needs the adult expert on Alcatraz, not the 11-year-old. OK, so it’s all Diego’s episode because – as he admits to the kid – Diego was kidnapped when he was eleven years old.

Sorry, writers. That’s too pat. It’s too much of a contrivance that all of these elements would line up so precisely. Madsen’s the detective. She needs to be the detective. Soto is an expert in a particular field of study – Alcatraz. He gets the geek-centric one-liners that show he’s a human being, and he occasionally gets to be the hero. But don’t give us an episode that works only because of a random string of coincidences.

If this is what’s on the menu every week, the show’s going to lose audience faster than Heroes did.

[Official Show Site on FOX]   [Previous recap: “Pilot/Ernest Cobb”]

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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