(This review contains SPOILERS for the season finale of Alcatraz. Stop reading if you have not yet seen the episode.)
When it was first announced, Alcatraz sounded like it had all the makings of another success from proven hit maker J.J. Abrams. But after a somewhat lackluster premiere earlier this year, and a steady, but not disastrous, decline in the ratings, the series had quickly proven it was not the next Lost; in fact, it wasn’t even the next Fringe.
After that inauspicious premiere, there was still hope that when the season came to a close answers would arise to not only validate the unending questions brought up in the storyline, but also to suggest the writers had a coherent and exciting plan for the series – should FOX decide to continue into season 2.
And so, with the season finale comprised of two episodes, ‘Garrett Stillman’ and ‘Tommy Madsen,’ it certainly seemed like Alcatraz was well on its way to revealing its secrets.
While the series hasn’t been incredibly serialized, there have been certain elements that carried over directly from one episode to the next. But here specifically, ‘Garrett Stillman’ and ‘Tommy Madsen’ operate more like a single, super-sized episode that begins by having the prison’s master tactician, Garrett Stillman (Greg Ellis), set up all the pieces for what will be the final showdown between Rebecca Madsen (Sarah Jones) and her out-of-time grandfather, Tommy Madsen (David Hoflin).
One of the key pieces outside of Stillman’s control, however, is the return of Dr. Lucy Banerjee (Parminder Nagra), who appears to be fully healed from the gunshot that rendered her comatose after the events of ‘Ernest Cobb.’ We have been waiting all season for the return of Lucy, especially after having learned of her involvement with the returning ’63s and Warden James (Jonny Coyne). Frustratingly, when offered a chance to finally acquire some information that could, at the very least, provide some insight into why the inmates are returning, or why she seemingly “jumped” along with them, the writers have Madsen hit Lucy with questions of what her grandfather was like as a person.
This was a problem that has plagued the series from the onset. In fact, during the premiere, it seemed odd that Madsen and Doc Soto (Jorge Garcia) would not have serious questions about these inmates, but it was worth overlooking to allow the progression of the show’s overall plot. Now, however, as the series stands on the precipice of what may very well be the end, it becomes almost inexcusable to have central characters acting indifferent toward such a bizarre and threatening occurrence, favoring a personal agenda instead.
Nevertheless, beyond putting Dr. Banerjee back into the fray, ‘Garrett Stillman’ ultimately serves to make clear that former Alcatraz inmate and current reclusive billionaire Harlan Simmons is somehow involved in the mystery of the missing inmates and guards, and that Simmons may be at odds with Tommy and Warden James (Jonny Coyne) – though not revealing what the end game may actually be.
We segue into the final hour (‘Tommy Madsen’) with Emerson Hauser (Sam Neill) and Madsen simultaneously tracking down Tommy and searching for a third key to unlock the hidden door beneath the prison’s lighthouse.
It is finally revealed that Tommy is in collusion with the Warden, which almost certainly has to do with the stolen gold seen in ‘The Ames Bros.’ and that the colloidal silver found in some of the inmate’s blood – which also healed Lucy – serves as a means of tracking the inmates. The episode also gives us an unsubtly sliver-haired doctor, played by Matt Craven (Justified, Public Enemies), who is at the center of the blood-related experiments on the inmates.
With Madsen fighting for her life in the hospital, following a Bullitt-like car chase through the streets of San Francisco that ended with her being stabbed by her grandfather, Hauser and Banerjee finally see what is behind the mysterious door. It turns out to be the system used to track the inmates, which also reveals that they are being dispersed across the nation, not simply dropped back into San Francisco. Adding to the new layers of mystery is the silver-haired doctor who is seemingly awoken by Hauser and Banerjee. The doctor is unaware what year it is, but laughs maniacally upon learning it is 2012 – suggesting he’s been in some kind of suspended animation this whole time?
The season ends with Madsen apparently dying in the ER from her knife wounds. So should the series continue on to season 2, perhaps the miraculous colloidal silver might be introduced to bring Madsen back into the land of the living? If this proves to be the last episode in the series, however, that’s one heck of a bummer with which to end things. Then again, there’s always Netflix.
Try as it might, Alcatraz seemed unable to avoid disappointing viewers excited to be let in on the mythology week after week, and as those tidbits were dispensed at torturously slow intervals, the audience either grew frustrated or simply checked out. That’s not to say that Alcatraz did everything poorly. No, for the most part, the characters (especially the guest stars) were likeable, if not overly interesting. Perhaps that was part of the problem: without the presence of a divisive character, Alcatraz became too perfunctory week after week. It was like the antithesis of The Walking Dead – which seems only to have characters that drive its viewership nuts.
While Jones and Garcia worked well, it was largely Neill, Coyne and Jason Butler Harner (Deputy Warden E.B. Tiller) who carried the show. Given the excellence of his performance in the episode ‘Guy Hastings,’ that list would also include the great Robert Forster (Ray Archer), had he been more of a substantial presence throughout the season.
In the end, though, it simply progressed at such a deliberate pace that it was hard to tell when there was any real progression at all. For what it’s worth, Alcatraz may have ultimately been a victim of association. Had it not been for the J.J. Abrams/Lost connection, perhaps the program would have been judged on the merits of its own storytelling, rather than the expectation of something grander. But if that were the case, would there have been any point in telling this story at all?
Screen Rant will update with news regarding the future of Alcatraz as information is made available.