Every TV show has an emotional core, something that all the action revolves around. After last night's episode, it's clear that Alcatraz's core is the Madsen family, with all of its unfinished business. What's more, there's actually some hope that there might really be a cool story to tell about these dysfunctional peeps.
Will the Madsens ever be as fascinating as the Bishops? Probably not, but at least there's hope. Spoilers ahead...
Let's recap the action using our patented Alcatraz-o-meter:
This week's time-traveling rapscallion: Guy Hastings — our first Alcatraz guard. He doesn't have a criminal record or an M.O., so it's impossible for our heroes to know what he's up to. And in fact, unlike other time-travelers who combined a crime spree with following out the orders of the mysterious time-nappers, Hastings' mission is entirely time-napper inspired. And now, I want to start calling the evil masterminds behind Alcatraz's temporal disappearances the Time-Nappers from now on.
What emotional unfinished business does our con-of-the-week grapple with? Not much. I mean, he thinks his family is dead, but then it turns out his daughter is alive and has a whole family. But mostly, it's about the Madsen family and their unfinished business this week.
What unethical things do the "good guys" do to keep the Alcatraz thing a secret? Not letting Guy Hastings talk to his daughter who thinks he's been dead for almost 50 years.
Hurley's cute geeky dude moment of the week: Not much. He does go to Doc's Comics and get the stockboy to help with some kind of extremely dubious "find the neighborhood in the Bay Area based on architecture" wizardry. Speaking of which, this show looks less and less like it's really taking place in San Francisco. Or Daly City, as the case may be. But I love that Doc's Comics has a cable car going right past. I'm guessing they filmed a ton of establishing shots of Doc's Comics, during their one day of actual shooting in SF.
Tough-but-evil Emerson Hauser moment of the week: Not a lot. He growls a fair bit, and then at one point he's ready to shoot Guy Hastings in the head, or at least he vaguely acts like it. He's getting soft, and when Rebecca quizzes him early on in the episode he telegraphs he's lying with a giant blazing sign made out of fireworks.
What do we learn about Rebecca's grand-daddy issues? And this is where the episode gets interesting. Turns out that Ray isn't just an old friend of Rebecca's grandfather Tommy — they were brothers, and Ray changed his name so he could become a guard at Alcatraz after Tommy got locked up there. (Because apparently nobody did background checks on guards.) Tommy tries to warn Ray to get out of there, under cover of assaulting him, and Ray is forced to beat Tommy to a pulp — so he can stay as a guard, so Tommy won't be alone. Yes, he beats Tommy half to death out of brotherly love. In the present day, meanwhile, Ray knows that Tommy is back but wants nothing to do with him — or Emerson's taskforce.
And Rebecca realizes her surrogate grandpa, Emerson, desperately needs someone with ties to Tommy Madsen on his taskforce, because Tommy (who's now missing or off the rails) is important somehow. Which means, as Rebecca puts it, that Emerson needs her more than she needs him. The sibling relationship between Ray and Tommy is already the most interesting thing about this show, and if Rebecca seemed to have an emotional connection to either of those guys, we'd be cooking with gas. (Sadly, Rebecca continues to have one personality trait: Dim sum.)
The week's mystery fodder: Well, we hear more about the infirmary and the mysterious blood-drawing and experiments. And we finally hear the story of what it was like to be time-napped, from the perspective of someone who was there. (See clip, above.) At one point, Emerson goes into the "Room" to talk to his weird panel of experts about Tommy, and nobody seems to know much. But the main revelation seems to be that the Time-Nappers have lost track of Tommy, and he's incredibly important to both them and Emerson for some reason. Is it something to do with those experiments that Tommy underwent? Or does Tommy know something?
How sadistic are the flashback scenes, on a scale of Club Fed to Gitmo? Not that sadistic, although Ray beating Tommy to hamburger was pretty violent. Mostly, the flashback scenes continue to be the best part of the show, partly because they tell an interesting story and partly because someone obviously spent a ton of time researching Alcatraz. The amount of detail packed into this episode, about the chaos in the mess hall and about the way the cell doors operated with levers, is gratifying to watch. This is a show where the past is vivid and immediate, and the present feels sort of remote.
This week's random moment of creepiness: I'm straining to think of one. I guess Dr. Beauregard stitching a guy up without anesthetic was vaguely creepy. But not "dancing around next to a corpse" creepy.