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.
Let's just repeat that — the big Ray/Rebecca falling out happened in the episode broadcast Feb. 6. The show has not given them any scenes together since then, and it's now late March. (Come to think of it, did Ray and Rebecca speak to each other last night? I think not.)
This is almost criminal malpractice. The relationship between those two characters should have been the bedrock of the show. As it is, I have no clue how Ray and Rebecca feel about each other, other than being aware that Ray doesn't want Rebecca to die, and he feels bad that she's part of the FBI special taskforce.
Actually, last night's finale — especially the second hour — did try valiantly to give us some more insight into some of the characters and their relationships. But it felt like too little, too late. There was:
Tommy and Ray. It was a nice reveal that Tommy shot his wife in front of their son, and that's why the son won't look at Tommy. The son was literally spattered with his mom's blood. Sad that the "Ray gets in with the Warden" subplot literally went nowhere, but at least it had an okay ending — Tommy is resigned to his fate, because he's made a deal with the Warden to get Ray out and get his kid adopted by Ray. I wish we'd gotten to see more of these two together, either in 1960 or in 2012.
Emerson and Lucille. I'm sorry, I just don't buy the love story between these two. The past few episodes gave it the college try — we saw them going out in North Beach and flirting, and Lucy was apparently so excited that Emerson studied philosophy in college, she feels compelled to mention it every few minutes. But they had no chemistry in 1960, and the loss of that chemistry (or whatever) in 2012 is not palpable. It's a neat concept — Emerson lost Lucy in 1963, and has been searching for her ever since — but I don't feel it. At all. Also, Emerson finds out that Lucy is marked for death, and decides this means she should go to Paraguay forever.
Rebecca and Diego. On a better show, these two would have had something. Not necessarily a will-they-won't-they flirtation (those are overplayed) but a friendship, or something. Again, there was a valiant attempt last night, especially when Diego chooses to stay in the hospital rather than find out what the magic key opens at Alcatraz. But these two have the sort of cute banter that would make them excellent minor supporting characters on another show — they could be the labrats on Bones or CSI, joking in the backdrop of a few scenes. Oh, and I guess Diego's flirtation with Sexy ME is not going anywhere?
Rebecca and Emerson. Did these two have a meaningful conversation last night? I can't actually remember. I know they scowled at each other once or twice, notably before Emerson showed Rebecca the "Batcave behind the Batcave." Weren't they supposed to have a sparky, tense, even tormented relationship, in which Emerson needs Rebecca more than she needs him, and she won't play by his rules, and he finally opens up to her and shows her his inner gentle soul? Or something? I feel like, again, they're banter-mates.
The Warden and E.B. Tiller. So sad we'll never get to know what was going on with these two, especially after their game of cat and mouse in the first episode. Actually, it was kind of a huge letdown that we didn't get the Warden in 2012, after all the hints this show dropped. That should have been the whole second hour — the Warden being a badass mastermind in 2012, and everybody being outfoxed. I have a distinct feeling this show would be 1000 percent more fun if the Warden was around in both time periods. (I mean, we know the Warden is around in 2012, but we haven't seen it thus far. And we probably never will.)
I have to give Alcatraz credit: it ended with a bit of a bang. That was a gutsy ending — no pun intended — having Rebecca get stabbed in the stomach by her grand-dad and actually dying on the operating table. Should this show actually get a second season, it seems almost inconceivable that Rebecca won't bounce back, maybe after a Magnum P.I.-style "ghost" episode. (We can hope, anyway.) Actually, come to think of it, Alcatraz could do immensely worse than to imitate Magnum P.I. — that was a show that made you believe in a few characters and their relationships.