Please be aware of spoilers!
Opening: (Narrated by Emmerson Hauser (Sam Neill) in every episode)
"On March 21, 1963, Alcatraz officially closed. All the prisoners were transferred off the island. Only, that's not what happened. Not at all."
From the very first episode I was intrigued by this TV show, prisoners who disappear from the Alcatraz prison in 1963 suddenly return in 2012, present day. For me it always had this “Lost” vibe to it, mysterious, secretive, time-travel and a very impressive cast. Of course Jorge Garcia, who plays Dr. Diego Soto also was there on “Lost”, so perhaps this enhances that feeling a bit. Soto is a comic book geek and also has written 3 books about Alcatraz and therefore cop Rebecca Madsen asks his help with this case. Rebecca Madsen, a feisty cop, who does not takes it slow in trying to solve her cases. She has been raised by her uncle Ray Archer, who was a prison guard on Alcatraz and her grandfather, Tommy Madsen also was on Alcatraz but Rebecca always presumed he was a prison guard also instead of an inmate.
Emmerson Hauser, played by Sam Neill, is an FBI agent who at first does not want to work together with Rebecca and Soto but he does see value in her and also in Soto because of his Alcatraz knowledge. I have to say, personally, I really was a fan of Sam Neill’s Hauser, he portrayed that character as an hard-ass, rigid and grumpy agent with very little patience and keeping most of what he knows about this situation about Alcatraz a secret for Rebecca and Soto. Hauser was also there in 1963 as a junior cop who mainly brought people to and from the island. There he meets Dr. Lucy Banerjee who is brought in to help the prisoners by isolating the traumatic memories that prompted their antisocial behavior and then remove these behaviors. When the series start we as a viewer are not aware that Lucy is also a “63”, we learn this as the show progresses.
Who I also find very intriguing is warden Edwin James (Jonny Coyne), he is a bit of a strange man, but highly intelligent and as you watch the show, he appears more social than his right arm E.B. Tiller (Jason Butler Harner) who is a bit more sadistic and if getting a chance, he would take over warden James’ position. Dr. Beauregard (Leon Rippy) is also a “63”, he is the doctor on Alcatraz and also in this new build prison in the present. This character was a quirky one, made me smile with every line he spoke, intentionally and unintentionally funny.
Although there definitely is an interesting story-arc progressing in the first season, the first season is also mainly episodic. Every week they have to find a another “63” prisoner in the present time and the story-arc is touched upon here and there, in some episodes more heavily than in other episodes. I would imagine, had the show continued into a second season, it would evolve into less episodic and more story-arc driven episodes. Unfortunately we did not get a chance and even worse, the show ends on a HUGE cliff-hanger. The story-arc is the time-travel, how could these prisoners and all Alcatraz personal, disappear, why did this happen and why do they suddenly appear in the present and who is responsible for this.
In the pilot we see Rebecca and her partner chasing someone, this someone is her grandfather Tommy Madsen, which, at that moment she doesn’t know yet. In this pursuit her partner is killed by her grandfather and manages to escape. She is the lead in this case and asks the help of Diego Soto, an expert on Alcatraz. Emmerson Hauser, FBI, joins the scene and basically tells Madison to take a hike, it is a case for the Feds. But it does not take long before Rebecca Madsen is assigned to Hauser’s team, including Soto. Emmerson explains to them what has happened with the prisoners from Alcatraz and Rebecca also learns that the man she was chasing was actually her grandfather and was also an inmate on Alcatraz. Jack Sylvane is the first prisoner who has been re-captured by Hauser, Madsen and Soto. He has been taking to a secret place into the woods where a prison has been built below ground. In the 2nd episode Ernest Cobb, someone who kills people with a long distance riffle, he shoots Lucy when during the investigation, Hauser feels the need to let Lucy babysit Rebecca and Soto. Hauser sort of blames Rebecca for Lucy having being shot. Soto has a hard time with what he sees, experiences, Rebecca convinces him he is doing important work. In the final moments of the episode we see Lucy being introduced by Warden James to Cobb, which means she also has returned after a 50 year absence.
In the 3rd episode, Kit Nelson, who is a child killer, has some tough times in prison, warden James took a special interest in him, he gets it out of him that he kills his brother, something he never confesses before to his father. Soto knows immediately it’s Nelson when a kid has been kidnapped because of a chrysanthemum he left behind. Lucy is still in coma, Hauser takes this hard and in part because of his frustration he wants Soto gone, but Rebecca convinces him that she, and he, need Soto because of his expert capabilities about Alcatraz. We also find out that Soto also has been kidnapped when he was 11 years old. Episode 4, Cal Sweeney, a bank robber, a nasty SOAB who has been conned by his apprentice on Alcatraz. He stole a big key we see warden James use back in the 60’s which Rebecca now has in her possession. Hauser wants the key from Rebecca, who at first doesn’t want to give it to him but he insists, promises to explain everything but doesn’t. This is key number two, the first one they found on Sylvane. They have no idea what lock this opens, the composition on the Key dates before they vanished from Alcatraz. Finale scene, back in the 60’s, we see the warden take the former apprentice to a big iron door, where these to keys would fit, but there is a 3rd key which the warden also has. He pushes the former apprentice in and says to him he has a bright future ahead of him.
In episode 5, Guy Hastings we see a first prison guard who has been returned after 50 years. He was Ray Archer’s trainer, he was looking for Tommy Madsen who turns out to be Archer’s brother. Tommy Madsen is angry with Ray Archer when they meet each other on Alcatraz as guard and inmate opposite from each other. Like the others, Hasting also has no clue what happened, why he has returned. Rebecca realizes Hauser needs her more than she needs him, because her grandfather is Tommy Madsen. Archer had already met Tommy since his return, so he already was aware. Episode Bill Paxton, is about a prisoner who likes the blow things up. when he is imprisoned in the 60’s apparently there is still one bomb unaccounted for. Dr. Milton Beauregard likes to do it the hard way to find out where the 4th bomb is buried but Dr. Lucy Banerjee convinces the warden to try it her way, it seems gentle but at one point he get electrocuted and starts to talk! Both doctors vanished in the past but returned in 2012. In pursuit of Petty, Hauser stands on a mine, Rebecca pulls him of the mine, but ultimately it does kill a guy from the bomb squad. The apprehended Petty sees this and smiles. Soto meets Nikki, the coroner, they are hitting it off, it appears she is also into comics!
Johnny McKee is episode 7, McKee likes to poison people, he takes menial jobs where he continues killing, in 1958 he killed more than 70 people before arrested. Lucy is still in a coma, Dr. Bearegard suggest reading to her but Hauser somehow cannot do it. Rebecca needs to talk to Sylvane because he was next to McKee in prison but when she asks him about her grandfather, Hauser breaks off the interview. The Ames Brothers, episode 8, they try to break out Alcatraz mainly for the gold that supposedly was lying below the prison. Soto gets into trouble when he goes into the prison when he gets caught by the Ames Brothers who are there again for the gold. With them Donovan, a prison guard is with them, he also helped them back in 60’s. Rebecca sees it happening on the monitor and goes in after Soto. She kills a brother, the other goes nuts and threatens to kill Soto. Hauser comes in to save Rebecca but she goes back in to save Soto and ultimately defeats the prison guard as well as the remaining Ames brother. Meanwhile back in 60’s we see the warden James opening the door, which was empty in the present but in the past we see him take away a cloth and underneath it bars of gold! So in this episode we see 3 persons who came back from the 60’s.
Sonny Burnett who in fact, back when he was imprisoned, had never killed anybody. He kidnapped a 14 year old girl and kept her for several months before she had the nerve to escape. When he returns in the present, he wants revenge because she was his life, he “loved” her. He kills her husband and buries her daughter alive. Dr. Beauregard thinks he can help Lucy, some returnees have silver in their blood, this might help Lucy. Back in the 60’s there was being experimented on the inmates, especially on Rebecca’s grandfather Tommy Madsen. E.B. Tiller is letting warden James know that he does not agree with the way he handles things. Rebecca’s uncle wants Rebecca to quit, when she doesn’t respond well to his demand, he tries it with Hauser but he also doesn’t see a problem. Rebecca figures that he has seen her grandfather. Rebecca has dreams that her grandfather is watching her while she is asleep, in reality he is doing this.
The 10th episode Clarence Montgomery, goes to prison but he always kept saying he was innocent although his first kill is in prison. In the present he does kill two girls the same way it was done back then. Warden wanted him to cook for the inmates but the white inmates didn’t want his food because he was colored. Dr. Beauregard would like to know why it is that healthy men need to go to infirmary so often, Clarence was also a frequent visitor. Warden says he’s not the man who would keep secrets but he does. Webb Porter wants to be a musician but he has a strange habit, he kidnaps women, needs them for their hair, which he uses for his strike stick for his violin. Lucy is trying to help him, back then he lived in isolation because he screamed all day. Lucy gets him into music. Porter might have the same silver “stuff” in his blood, this might wake Lucy up from her coma. Soto is digitizing film material they have found and Rebecca sees Lucy in the footage, she is one of them, a “63”. Doc injects Porter’s blood into Lucy who opens her eyes.
In episode 12, Garret Stillman, Lucy is back at work and although Soto and Rebecca know that she is a 63, she apologizes to them for the fact that they were kept in the dark. Warden James has an interest in Stillman, who robbed armored money trucks, he has a high IQ. Warden wants him to switch a parole outcome, Tiller is suspecting this thus Stillman pulls one over Tiller also. Stillman and Tommy Madsen are working together in the present. Rebecca, Soto & Hauser find a chamber down in the cellar of Alcatraz, it is hidden by a wall. The warden’s hidden room. He has two keys but then Hauser finds out he needs another key. A key that has been stolen by Stillman but he has to pay his life for it. Ernest Cobb tells Lucy she will always be a target. Not the other members of her team but just her. Very strange remark from Cobb! Unfortunately we will never know…
The season and ultimately also the series finale, Tommy Madsen, Rebecca finds out that her old partner and her grandfather knew each other. Limerick has the key in the present day, 3rd key. He tried to escape in 1960, got declared dead but was found again but he kept being dead! Tommy Madsen is after him, for the key. Lucy realizes Hauser is not the same man as he used to be. There indeed was being experimented on certain inmates, Tommy Madsen got a transfusion of silver, a project lead by the warden James. So that they can become some kind of a super soldier. Hauser, Lucy, Soto find Limerick dead, Soto finds the key but keeps it from Hauser till Rebecca is there too so they can go together, Hauser is pointing a weapon at Soto but he doesn’t care. Rebecca and Tommy, are in a street race, she gets Tommy’s car to tumble, points a gun at her grandfather. He tells her, her partner kept an eye on her, but then he stabs her and escapes. Soto brings her to hospital, gives Hauser the key. He and Lucy check out the room, they find that the prisoners are being tracked, by the silver. The room is an operation center for tracking inmates so it seems. Meanwhile, Rebecca dies on a hospital bed!
As said, Alcatraz was a show with lots of potential! From the very first episode it grabbed me, the time-travel, the mystery, the silver in the blood, strong characters, it was a show that was kind of original. But the viewing numbers were cut in half from the pilot to the season finale so ask the question, can you blame FOX for cancelling this, even though it was one of the most anticipated new TV shows in 2012. Ending on such a cliff-hanger is criminal but it happened, which happens to many SCI-FI shows unfortunately. Alcatraz is not a perfect show but for me, it will forever be show I regularly will want to rewatch, every 5 years or so, it had so much potential….