Alcatraz so often felt like a bargain-basement Lost — even down to the music and the frequent Jack Bender visual touches. Not to mention the power of Jorge Garcia. And yet, the makers of this time-traveling jailbird show seemed totally oblivious to what made Lost such an addictive show: its compelling characters, and their intense relationships.
Above, you can watch the one and only moment that Alcatraz managed to deliver any real emotional impact, in its entire two hour finale. Why did this show fail so badly to make us care about any of its main characters?
The plot of last night's two-hour season (and probably series) finale was actually kind of laughable. There's a key that helps unlock the secret magic door under the island prison. And it's held by Broadway Mutual, a huge company that's owned by former Alcatraz inmate Harlan Simmons. For some reason, Broadway Mutual doesn't hide this key in any one of the million ways you can hide a tiny object — instead, they take it out and drive it around in an armored van, once a month, in broad daylight. (It's stated that Broadway Mutual is a major client of the armored van company, and they have one major delivery a month, but also that they have no physical assets worth delivering, and somehow the bad guys know that the magic key will be in the armored van. Ergo, it appears that the key gets driven around once a month, for fun. You know, because magic keys need to go for a ride occasionally, or they lose their shiny.)
Tommy Madsen, Rebecca's grandfather and the season's Big Bad, wants that key, so first he hires another former Alcatraz lag named Garrett Stillman — who, coincidentally, was the one who got Harlan Simmons sprung from Alcatraz in 1960 — to steal it. And when another Alcatraz inmate whose name I'm too lazy to look up steals it and hides in a mental institution, Tommy kidnaps a woman and gets her to let him into the institution where he once again fails to get the key.
Finally, our heroes get the magic key, which opens the secret door, and it turns out the thing Tommy and friends have been fighting for all season is... a big map that lets you track all the escaped inmates, or at least the ones with colloidal silver in their blood. You can see how that would be useful — except, couldn't someone in 2012 figure out a way to build their own colloidal silver tracker? Given that we have tons of satellites and other technological advantages now, it should be much, much easier now. Also behind the secret door: the mysterious scientist who apparently hatched the whole scheme.
Oh, and other bits of mythos we uncover: Tommy Madsen was the "advance man." Tommy killed Rebecca's partner because he was taking money from Broadway Mutual. Harlan Simmons made a promise to the Warden before he was sprung from prison, and then apparently broke it. The mysterious scientist had his eye on Tommy Madsen as far back as 1952, when Tommy was in Korea. OH, and there's a mysterious soldier guy on an airplane, who outranks everybody on Earth and says stuff like "Brief your team. That's a direct order." And there were various other plot hammers going up and down, I guess.
But let's get back to the fact that only once during these two hours — the scene above — did the show really have any emotional weight to it.
One of the show's most memorable episodes prior to last night was the one where we delved into the Madsen family, including the whole backstory of Ray becoming a guard to try and get his brother Tommy out — and then raising Tommy's granddaughter, Rebecca. And if this show had decided to invest in its characters, beefing up the exploration of the Madsen family might have paid off handsomely. As it was, I groaned involuntarily last night — because the second hour begins with Rebecca sitting in Ray's bar, for the first time since that episode two months ago, and Ray is in the background of the scene, watching. But Ray and Rebecca don't really have a conversation, nor do we get any insight into how their relationship has evolved during the two months the show decided to ignore it.