Alcatraz is trying really hard to be a show like Fringe, Lost or some other mythology-based saga covered in mystery and compelling characters.
The ultimate problem is the series so far has, for the most part, been relatively generic. It's not awful by any means, (although a few episodes have felt overly cliche with plenty of head-scratching moments) but it still hasn't struck that particular level of genre-defining, drawn-out characters. Has anyone really felt overly anxious to find out what happens next?
The drama remains trapped in the unfortunate world of being something that you could possibly tune into when channel surfing, a la whatever Law & Order or CSI episode happens to be on, but won't make you feel compelled to watch because some character is going to make a huge series altering decision.The show still feels average.
If anything, there is plenty of potential, much like your grade school teachers used to say about you when you weren't giving it your all even though they knew you could. And I certainly continue to give credit to the interesting concept of vanishing and reappearing criminals from Alcatraz. It's a cool idea.
Even the plot of "Clarence Montgomery" was an interesting take, focusing on a man who was innocent when he was sent to the prison and ended up becoming a murderer because he watched a subliminal brainwashing movie.
In fact, I truly felt sorry for Clarence. He seemed like a decent guy with a gift for making succulent meals who was convicted of a murder in large part because of the color of his skin. And to top it off, he got caught up in a mini power struggle between the Warden and E.B. Tiller, ending with him visiting the doctor for some electroshock therapy. And voila, it's 50 years later and he can't control when he kills. Luck really was never in his favor.
The episode gave plenty of time for viewers to see this man's struggle, right down to his final moments of anguish and despair at what he had become. I didn't want him to die even when he seemed to be begging to be let go from his vicious cycle. Some great acting from Mahershala Ali to give a convincing portrayal of this conflicted prisoner.
Once again, another mystery popped out of the cells of Alcatraz in that some brainwashing techniques were being used. Why would the Warden want killers? Was he planning to take over the world? Maybe an overzealous thought even for the over animated character, but what if? And let's be real, did anyone actually believe him when he said he did nothing to the blood?
But did I find myself caring about our main trio? Not to the same extent I wanted someone to help Clarence.
Rebecca, Diego and Emerson seem to be just along for the show's ride. It's hard to truly describe them as dimensional characters that excite you, entice you and make you love them. There's not a lot new about them to go off, so the series leaves them to their standard routine actions. Rebecca runs around gun drawn (thankfully she wasn't captured) trying to lead the team. Emerson actually leads the team, but he's still too angry and distant to really want to work with anyone. Then there's Diego, who always knows immediately what bad guy needs to be chased and provides some funny commentary because he's not an action cop.
And that's not bad, they're okay characters. They just haven't had a lot of chances to show why we should like them other than their most basic task of saving the world, one returning Alcatraz prisoner at a time.
In fact, the more the show has progressed, the more that I'd almost rather see the prison back before the convicts disappeared. The Warden, who can be at times a bit cartoonish, pulls it off in a way that I just want to hear his diabolical master plan. Even E.B. Tiller - who seems to be leading towards a power play - brings an interesting dynamic between the two men. I feel more inclined to watch everything taking place in that particular time because that's where the mystery starts, and the characters there have a sense of personality and purpose.
All in all, the episode had certain moments, but there wasn't a wow factor. It was just an average hour of television, another returnee showing up and then dealt with by the end. Hopefully, with three remaining episodes of the season, Alcatraz kicks it into high gear and gives us a grand finale worth talking about and discussing around the local water cooler.
Sean McKenna is a TV Fanatic Staff Writer. Follow him on Twitter.