Alcatraz Review: Do Prisoners Dream of Electric Train Tracks?

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I'm not sure what to make of Alcatraz.

On the one hand, there's plenty of deep mystery, intriguing questions and a set of characters that should be interesting. And let's not forget that it involves the infamous prison and perhaps a bit of time travel (or whatever possible theory for the returned convicts.) That's a great premise, of course.

But the problem lies in the execution and a seemingly standard routine for each episode that drops in significant points here and there, but leaves out energetic characters and motives beyond capturing the bad guy of the week.

Alcatraz Scene

Sure, each felon has his own set of creepy killing standards and the flashbacks provide for a tiny context to explain what makes each so evil for both the past and the present. And for those prisoners, popping back into present time means picking up where they left off and getting back to crime. But there's not enough time to see these characters as more then the basic criminals that they are.

Of course, Johnny was bullied by the prettiest girl in school, that's why he kills people that bother him or because they ride on trains. So while the flashbacks issued a sense of remorse and haunting images for the pained man, present time Johnny seemed at ease with his murder.

And then he eventually gets caught. Did you expect anything different?

Not surprisingly, Rebecca Madsen was grabbed and held hostage. Again. I know she managed to escape a little faster than usual, but someone needs to help her out. That just can't happen so often.

For me, Rebecca has become a character that isn't as spunky and edgy as the show wants us to believe. It's disappointing because she's become the stereotypical cop on the hunt that could easily be replaced by any other newcomer.

I mean, why does she not question Jack Sylvane further about Alcatraz, about Beauregard, about anything that Emerson continues to try and push her away from? Isn't she supposed to be the persistent one who doesn't let others tell her what to do? Shouldn't she want to ignore Emerson and have herself thrown out while trying to seek for those answers?

It's as if her spark has fizzled. Someone please reignite it for her.

As for Diego, I like his personality, but how is that he knows immediately who the criminal is, their relevant background information and exuberantly shouts out their name like he just figured out the answer to a trivia game? I want him to be more than just a verbal encyclopedia of facts.

And Emerson, he continued to be Mr. Grouchy with that hidden soft spot for Lucy, but refuses to be a complete team player. Does he ever lighten up?

I just want these characters to bring their scenes to life and show a little chemistry beyond the fact that they need to be in the same room together.

I would say that the significance of dreams did prove rather interesting, but I have no idea what that could mean for the show. Can Jack Sylvane really not dream anymore? Why can Lucy, if she is potentially a returnee as well? Are they really back? Are they clones? Are they androids? The possibilities really do seem endless.

Yet, even with that fascinating dream tidbit tossed in, you could essentially throw away this episode and still jump right into the series. Which is fine, but the show promises to be so much more with its grander mythology. And when you have three leads that are significantly connected in extremely personal ways, as a viewer, I want to see that personality shine through, that passion, that drive, that confusion. I don't want it to feel like I'm watching any old type of procedural.

When it comes down to it, "Johnny McKee" wasn't a bad episode at all, but it didn't mark for an overly interesting one. As a show that should separate itself from the rest, the hour came across as average, rather standard, and missing a set of characters to bring the show to life in a way that only Alcatraz should.

I still hold strong on the potential of this series, but I just hope that it doesn't get stuck in only the conventional and eventually disappear like its inmates.


Editor Rating: 2.6 / 5.0
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User Rating:

Rating: 3.1 / 5.0 (49 Votes)

Sean McKenna is a TV Fanatic Staff Writer. Follow him on Twitter.

Eludium q36

They're using the same formula as LOST. String you along with tepid episodes that hint at a larger theme then wait till the final two shows of the season to dig deep into the mystery theme in a transparent attempt to hook you into next season. And of course, you will, because you'll swear they're on a roll now and it'll be a myth theme episode every time, but it won't, this is what JJ does and it's insipid.


I've totally lost interest in this show. The characters are dull, the plots are virtually identical every week, and they haven't given us enough of the mythology to make me care about why or how these criminals are reappearing. Why are they resurfacing one at a time anyway? Despite the diversity of their crimes, they're all basically the same character: young men who are basically pretty bad and do bad stuff, and whose motivations can be deduced from the cigarettes and chocolate wrappers they left behind in their "boxes". I find the Hauser/Lucy romance creepy and unconvincing, and Diego is basically Hurley. It's lame that Madsen calls him "Doc" and I don't get why they don't question Emerson Hauser further about what the hell is actually going on. And to "tvcrazy", who said "isn't this show produced by JJ Abrams? So why do people complain about a show done by a man who is great at mysterious story lines and has had popular shows and movies?" are you serious?




I wonder if, on next week's episode, a guy will come back, kill some people, the alcatraz team will find out, try and stop him, the cop chick will be captured and escape, the fat dude will "intuit" some fact that saves the day and in the end the bad guy will be caught and thrown into the new alcatraz in the jungle, while throughout the episode we get cryptic stares and obtuse dialog that doesn't do anything except keep the "mystery" that isn't a mystery, a mystery. It's either the government or aliens and what do they want? To deplete the San Fran population until housing prices come down and they can get a nice 3 bedroom on the water? This show sucks.


Okay... so isn't this show produced by JJ Abrams? So why do people complain about a show done by a man who is great at mysterious story lines and has had popular shows and movies? I know that not everything he will do will be great, but I think this show follows along with his style and is executed perfectly. This show is what I expected plus some. The little hints, the super young old cons and the deep mystery of who is who and what houser knows is a perfect mix. Every show feels like part of a movie that keeps getting better and I hate that it seems to end so quickly. I cannot wait for this to continue!


I admit: the ONLY reason I keep watching this show is because of Rebecca. If she wasn't in the show I would have bailed after the second episode. Sean is right - they've got to find a way to liven the show up, if they want to even keep their ratings, nevermind increase them.


they give some hints as to how they stayed alive or brought back in the way of taking alot of blood and being in the infirmary for no aparrent reason. any comments on this.


I don't like the Lost ripoff angle of this but do like the fact they are not makeing it a soap where if you miss one episode you won't get it at all. Nothing wrong with a good 'bad guy' of the week episode that they solve in an hour.


I can handle a few average episodes. The main story, how and why the 63's are coming back, is still moving along, albeit slowly. Again that's fine with me. I can handle it because of 'Heroes'. A show that looked for shock and awe in every episode and meandered pointlessly, all bouncy house and no pony ride. I do like that, unlike Heroes and even Fringe, that we do at least wrap something up every week. I agree that Rebecca has mellowed too much. I'd rather her be more tenacious, gritty cop than femme fatale.


Thats the problem with all these episodic tv shows, 3-5 minutes of actual story progression each week and 35 minutes of crap that no one cares about. Its shows like this that make me miss the epicness of 24.

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Alcatraz Season 1 Episode 7 Quotes

I'm the grandmaster.


What is it with scientists and mice?