After two weeks of quality episodes that shed some much needed light on Rebecca Madsen (Sarah Jones) and her extended family – particularly Alcatraz prisoner Tommy Madsen, her grandfather – it wasn’t too surprising to find out that this weeks episode, 'Paxton Petty,' would turn the series' attention elsewhere. The fact that it dropped some information on the mysterious Emerson Hauser (Sam Neill), however, did come as something of a pleasant surprise.
In a nice change of pace, the episode opens up with what should be the backstory of the inmate of the week, but instead uses Petty's arrival on the island to show us the nauseous Officer Hauser casually hitting on the lovely Dr. Sengupta. It’s a side of Hauser we have yet to see, and the exchange between them illustrates what a strong and competent woman Lucille was back in 1960. A fact that is further evidenced by the way she interacts with Warden James (Jonny Coyne) and especially her rather strained relationship with Dr. Beauregard (Leon Rippy).
Petty (James Pizzinato) is a disgraced war veteran who likes to bury landmines in populated areas and then survey the damage afterwards. The initial round of explosions happens in a public park and features some pretty gruesome injuries – especially for a network television show. The display of violence and Petty's eagerness to watch puts him easily near the top in terms of villains the Alcatraz crew has faced.
After the park incident, Soto and Hauser prove to be immediately on the same page in terms of identifying the perpetrator, and, like in the 'Cal Sweeney' episode, the pair is developing a nice sense of subdued comedic timing. The moments between the show's core characters is almost enough to excuse some of the sloppier procedural elements, such as Madsen giving chase after recognizing Petty, but failing to hail any of the dozens of police officers at the scene of the crime – allowing him time and room to roll a landmine in her direction, and secure the killer's escape.
Even though the show has established a need to keep a lid on the identity of the returned inmates, this may have been too much to overlook.
As with the beginning of the episode, the 1960 elements really tell the story of Lucy, using Petty as a catalyst for her confrontation with Dr. Beauregard, and a brief meeting with Tommy Madsen (David Hoflin), in which he describes the bizarre exsanguinations he's being subjected to at the hands of Beauregard.
As 'Paxton Petty' progresses, we begin to realize that, yes, Petty will be apprehended, eventually; but on the way there, we're going to pick up some nice character bits regarding the somewhat prickly Hauser. Thanks to the episode, we now largely understand his concern for Lucy and the determination with which he undertakes her recovery. Secondly, we see a moment of genuine concern for Hauser from Madsen, which goes a long way in convincing the audience that this is an actual team, which is capable of working together toward a common goal.
Perhaps more importantly, though, for once, it appears that the returned inmate is also in search of some answers regarding his reappearance. Petty's disclosure that his last memory was of the '60s, and that he simply woke up in the present, once more raises all sorts of questions that Alcatraz is slowly beginning to answer. Hopefully, more inmates will make similar inquiries into their apparent time-jumps, as it helps to make the weekly characters feel less disposable.
Alcatraz is sometimes wildly inconsistent in its balance of providing character building moments and telling the procedural elements of its story in a way that isn't overly problematic. Here we have an episode that is strong in the character department, but fails to tell a convincing procedural story. Perhaps this is an indication that the series will be making a shift toward focusing more stories on the characters' involvement in the larger mystery, and less on the bad guy of the week.
Alcatraz airs Monday nights @9pm on FOX.