Welcome back to Alcatraz!
“Forty-seven slats in the picket fence.”
Call me crazy, but I am pretty sure that picket fence had forty-nine, not forty-seven!
There is no question about it; the series is off to a running start, though it still has to swim a mile and a half to get to safe ground.
Me personally, I am optimistic. Interwoven storylines, smooth transitions, intriguing characters, and the air of mystery that I have least come to associate with Abrams’ work have all combined into a strong showing out of the gate.
I hope the show continues to meet the standards it set for itself over the course of the nine episode pilot season.
Now then, you know my drill if you have read my reviews: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD! (Seriously, stop reading if you have not seen the episode and plan to)!
Picking up almost straight from the pilot, Ernest Cobb, (Joe Egender), is setting up a neat little picnic of death on the top of a hill. After nibbling on a sandwich and setting himself up, he takes out three people and vanishes.
In the city, Diego Soto, (Jorge Garcia), is leaving his store in the hands of a coworker when Rebecca Madsen, (Sarah Jones), shows up asking more questions about her inmate-not-guard grandfather. The two are almost immediately called to a crime scene.
It is Diego’s first scene, and he is unable to hold it together. Rebecca schools him gently, then takes him up on the hill to locate the shells from the sniping. The pieces fall rapidly into place, revealing Ernest Cobb and setting them on his trail.
It soon becomes obvious that they are on the wrong side of the investigation as Ernest proves he’s a step ahead of them, shooting the beautiful Lucy Banerjee, (Parminder Nagra). Emerson Hauser, (Sam Neill), is affected by this, but keeps himself together long enough to rap out orders for Madsen to find Cobb. She does, and talks him down long enough to take him into custody, (but not long enough to protect him from the vengeful Emerson, who shoots him in the hand).
We learn a bit about Cobb as well through flashbacks in the story, much like Sylvane in the first episode. He likely killed his yapping inmate, (Ben Cotton), after a quiet showdown with Chief Warden Edwin James, (Jonny Coyne). Evidence of his mental instability AND his potential genius comes through in subtle moments, and of course the shocking revelation that he is possibly ‘helped’ by Lucy gives the episode a breathtaking cliffhanger ending.
Back now to our convicted criminal and the second one of Alcatraz’s ‘63s’ to return to the streets of San Francisco. As a character, he is completely fascinating. Ernest Cobb is a nerdy-looking, soft-spoken sufferer of OCD with a passion for solitary and a steel trap mind that might even silence Rodney McKay of Stargate Atlantis.
How did he become a sniper, why he is so good at it, and what is his motivation are just some of the questions we are left wondering with this meticulous gentleman. We are led to believe he is attempting to kill his sister out of jealousy because he was abandoned as a child, but would that alone turn a man into a serial killer?
Perhaps he was endlessly teased in the orphanage, or never had any privacy. Perhaps he has some form of mental disorder in addition to or other than OCD. Despite his harsh upbringing, he became quite a bit of a gentleman – where did he go to learn those manners and what kind of a man was he before he became a serial killer?
What was he doing that left him naked when he was brought to Alcatraz? While anything is possible, I think we have not seen or heard the end of Ernest Cobb – and indeed, given the last lines of the episode, (as well as the look he shared with Jack Sylvane [Jeffrey Pierce]), there is just too much left hanging. He is a giant, fascinating question mark.
To segue, the overall question of just how much Emerson and Lucy know is getting a bit clearer rather early in the game, unless the writers are going to pull a switch on us smack dab in season one!
From the looks of it, Lucy is herself one of the architects of what is going on, seeing as how she has barely aged a day herself in nearly fifty-two years. (Either that, or every woman in the world is going to want to know what anti-aging cream she uses). If not that, then she is one of the 63s herself and no one has seen her yet.
Emerson, after all, HAS aged and he is perfectly okay with her. Perhaps a little too okay. Did anyone else hear that exchange between them involving children? Just what IS their relationship? Is she the Mystique to his Magneto, (okay, that was a little too disturbing in my head…). Were they married or romantically involved? Is she a student to his mentoring? Are they just really close friends?
Emerson Hauser is a chilling character in and of himself, Sam Neill’s natural ability to send shivers down your spine with one look of his eyes notwithstanding. I found myself holding my breath quite a bit whenever he was onscreen.
The enigmatic man constantly plays both sides, never leaving anyone sure whether or not he knows what is going on. Cracks in his shell appeared multiple times in this second episode, both around Lucy and Rebecca.
While it is too early to assume he trusts Rebecca, he certainly seemed to regard her with a bit of expectation throughout, showing that he already assumes certain things about her, (for example, his line of ‘then why are you still here?’ did not carry the meaning ‘get the heck out’ but rather ‘I know you do not sit around when you receive information, so what is wrong?’)
Around Lucy, Emerson becomes a little softer, as mentioned above. “You wanted kids,” he says, “so go babysit.”
When she is hurt, Emerson is deeply affected by her injuries and resulting coma, though he does his best to hide it. He even went so far as to personally, (and unnecessarily), shoot Cobb in the hand in cold blood, commenting that he would never shoot again.
Emerson is clearly not a man to consider morals in his line of work, (or he is a man prone to vengeance, which could be quite an exciting angle in the future). That being said, given the fact that his line of work involves criminals of the worst kind, morals themselves are questionable. Regardless, Emerson and Lucy’s link to each other will certainly answer some questions, so now I suppose the wait begins…as do the theories.
Rebecca Madsen remains a bit secretive with us even in the second episode. While she is clearly driven by a core need for justice and a passion for redemption, much of her personal life is still rather shrouded. She has been pulled into this not by chance, but by choice, (ultimately hers – Emerson did pretty much give her an offer she could not refuse). Watching her break down after Lucy got shot offered a few insights into her character.
Her job probably has desensitized her a bit to seeing people get shot, but there is something about having someone else’s blood on you that will get to a person. Add in her need for control, (anyone who is as driven as Madsen has some control issues), and her realization that Cobb outsmarted her, and multiple cracks show in her veneer. Rebecca is a human despite being about the job.
More ‘behind the curtain’, please, writers – making her human will hook us, and keeping her human will keep us! Learning her grandfather was an inmate and not a guard did not seem to shake her much, though that could potentially be due to the fact that he is still alive and she thinks she can get some answers out of him. That will be an interesting episode to watch once it comes up.
Diego Soto still has my favorite line of the series so far. “Diego Soto, will you marry me?” He is affable, quippy, jovial, and adaptable – as we will see while he continues to grow that thick skin he will need to deal with dead bodies. He displays much of the expected response to his first case: specifically an intense desire to quit. Madsen possibly talks him out of it, and by the next episode we will begin to see Diego’s core.
Once a person comes up against something that shakes the foundations of their being, then you begin to see what kind of person they are. I think Diego will be stronger than he thinks of himself, (and not just because he is a character and has to remain in the show). Watching him grow will be a satisfying bit of character development.
Madsen and Soto make for a solid pair, rebounding off the other on a neutral scale for now. Hopefully this will grow as the show does, because the two of them could become a LOT of fun to watch as they get used to each other. This early on, using Soto as a partner was a bold move for the job-driven Madsen, though perhaps she was too focused on his potential offerings and not so much on him as a person. She shows him compassion for his difficulties, but like a teacher she urges him forward.
The style of the episodes seem to be based on J.J. Abrams’ famous ‘Lost’, telling two stories at once: past and present. So far, the flashbacks serve not quite as character development within the episode, but more as clues and hints to push the plot forward and open the doors for more questions, (which personally, I prefer). The Ultimate Question at this time is: “What is going ON?” and in true Abrams style I am fairly certain neither he nor the writers will tell us until the series is over – if ever. Regardless, the transitions are smooth and precluded, not jarring us between times and forcing us to switch over harshly, creating a kind of graceful roller coaster that keep attention from start to finish, and does not detract from itself in any way.
The writers of the show also know how to weave a mystery. Their opening episode, tying it all together with the voice over and bringing back scenes from the beginning to the end, made a beautiful and clean circle that wrapped up the pilot nicely. In episode two, they continue to capture our interest and literally crack open certain moments and certain characters. You are left feeling as though you are on a treadmill sprinting for a piece of candy, (or fruit if you are a health nut), but by golly the reward is worth the wait. Alcatraz has hooked me, and I hope you as well.
Ladies and gentlemen, say it with me now – and you know which accent to use:
“Welcome to the Rock!”
This evening we return to the secret facility at Alcatraz for the exciting third episode “Kit Nelson”. In the meantime enjoy the full “Ernest Cobb” episode below courtesy of FOX Broadcasting via Hulu.
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I and the WHR team look forward to and will be Seeing You on The Other Side“!