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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Alcatraz Recap: Strange Story Hitting Its Stride

Posted By on Tue, Jan 24, 2012 at 8:30 AM

Jorge Garcia as Doc Soto. - FOX
  • Fox
  • Jorge Garcia as Doc Soto.
When I reread last week's recap of the first two episodes of Alcatraz, I realized that shit sounded wack. But, you guys, we're dealing with a show that, as far as I can tell, is about maybe ghost/zombie/cryogenically frozen/time-traveling inmates who have returned from 1963, when Alcatraz closed and they mysteriously vanished, to fuck up your day. They're gonna rob your weirdly overstocked vintage gun store in the heart of San Francisco! (What?) They're gonna shoot you while you're on the ferris wheel! They're gonna be rude to you at the gym!

So instead of trying to make sense of a show that, at least at this point, seems hell-bent on leaving loose ends flying, I have decided to let this week's recap just straight-up ride the crazy train. In fact, sometimes I'll even let it blow the whistle. So on that note, let's join Detectives Madsen and Hauser and Alcatraz nerd/comic book artist Doc Soto, who has finally stopped blanching at the sight of dead people, as they try to wrangle another old-timey inmate back to The Rock.

What's new
-- Doc is getting over the horror of it all and is more effectively utilizing his expertise (approximately 20,000 hours studying Alcatraz, you guys) to track down the bad guys. But he still looks like a pansy compared to... dammit, Sam Neill's hardened detective with your mom's pretentious private school classmate's name... oh, yeah, Emerson Hauser. While searching for this week's child-murdering, cherry pie-loving (that's not a euphemism) old-timey inmate (OTI; my acronym, not theirs), who has kidnapped a little boy, we began to worry Doc was going to eat himself into a diabetic coma by taste-testing the pie at every diner in the county (he's a big guy). We also discovered he escaped from a kidnapper when he was 11 years old, giving him a slight case of arrested development.

-- Hauser is so worried about publicly giving away the secret return of the OTIs (understandable) that he cancels the Amber Alert on the missing boy (oof, not so understandable), making him look like a massive tool and revealing his primary motive: Wrangle the OTIs at all costs to modern men, women, and children.

What works
-- Now that I've started to accept the wacked-out premise -- which feels a bit like the moment during an animated movie when you realize you're emotionally invested in a talking fish, or whatever -- the show feels a lot more like a traditional crime drama, which isn't a bad thing. We are, after all, hunting OTIs, who were formerly believed to be dead and are in their 80s but look 30, and "they're back" is the only explanation anyone has offered thus far regarding their presence. This inexplicable chase needs real world grounding and familiarity in order to be at all plausible.

-- The opening scene depicting a prison-yard ass kicking was intense and graphic enough to make me a little nauseous, especially considering I'd spent the whole day staring at this picture of mechanically separated chicken (allegedly) that's making the rounds on the Facebook yet again.

-- In the next equally terrifying scene, we learned the motivation behind the ass kicking: Motherfucker was a child killer. According to Doc, his MO involved kidnapping little boys, murdering them, and returning them home 48 hours later. And in modern-day S.F., the OTI has selected a new victim: "Don't scream or I'll kill your brother," he says, clamping his filthy paw over a boy's mouth and snatching him from his bed. Clearly the kid's mother should have told him never to let an OTI take him to the second location.

-- The warden is a sociopath. Most of the men in his prison deserve to be there, and yet his control-freakiness gives me the jibblies in the best possible way (at least on television, sociopaths are fun; what, shut up). This week he locked the OTI in a dark cell the size of a refrigerator box, and as he shut the door he might as well have grinned and rubbed his hands together Grinch-who-stole-Christmas style.

What doesn't
-- Sam Neill is weirdly orange (to be fair, my television sucks, but he still looks more orange than any of the other actors), and he's almost always brooding or angry. And so far his character doesn't have enough personality to make me want to remember his name.

-- The clues are too easy to find. It seems Doc and Madsen always stumble upon the exact file or piece of information they need within moments of seeking it. This makes things a bit too predictable, and even though this week's journey was fun -- ultimately the team saves the little boy and captures the OTI in a shootout scene happily devoid of that annoying "So shoot me! Come on, do it already! You don't have it in you!" type of taunting -- there was no doubt when they set out on their mission that they were going to succeed. Since there are roughly a fuckton of OTIs left to snag, it will be interesting to see how the writers keep the story engaging when each week we're arriving with an expected outcome.

-- Terrible as they are, the OTIs are still people, but for some reason their humanistic traits are only portrayed during the 1960s Alcatraz flashback scenes. Do they know why they're "back?" Also, what's at stake for them?

At this point, maybe this is more of an unanswered question, and I'm probably expecting too much too soon. In any case, I'm starting to get into this shit, and I'm finding the gentle giant character of Doc to be something of an awkward sweetheart. Next week I'll probably even put my smartphone on silent.

One-sentence review: Like the dorky chick in high school movies who takes off her glasses and is suddenly hot, this strange story is starting to hit its stride.

Previously: Alcatraz Episodes One & Two: Inmates Return from Dead, Start Shit in S.F.

Follow Angela Lutz on Twitter at SF Weekly's Exhibitionist blog at @ExhibitionistSF and like us on Facebook.

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