Created by Elizabeth Sarnoff, Steven Lilien, Bryan Wynbrandt with executive producer J.J. Abrams, it was only a short week ago, a master stroke appeared on our television screens produced at Warner Brothers Television Studios by Bad Robot Productions for FOX Broadcasting. Alcatraz certainly delighted viewers and this reviewer with it’s wonderful science fiction series based here in San Francisco!
Featuring a time travel thematic story arc, the pilot run has certainly drawn great interest among science fiction fans with over 10 million United States viewers and a 3.31 rating for both hours during the premiere.
Internationally another 6 million world-wide viewers tuned in for the premiere setting a new record on FOX Broadcasting for a series premiere up some six percent over the series premiere of Terra Nova.
As previously reported, featured are numerous Alcatraz superb cast members, guest stars and gifted creators including Andrea Datzman, Brad Anderson, Bryan Burk, Bryan Wynbrandt, Danny Cannon, David Hoflin, David Stockton, Donna Bis, Elizabeth Sarnoff, J.J. Abrams, James Bamford, Jeananne Goossen, Jeffrey Pierce, Jennifer Donaldson, Joe Egender, Jonny Coyne, Jorge Garcia, Mark Lane, Michael Giacchino, Paul McGillion, Parminder Nagra, Rebeccah Delchambre, Robert Hull, Robert Lawrenson, Robert Forster, Sam Neill, Samuel Patrick Chu, Sarah Jones, Stephen McNutt, Steven Lilien, Vee Dubois, Wayne Bennett, and Zack Grobler!
A haunting narration voice over begins the series by none other than Sam Neill who portrays Emerson Hauser in the epic program. Mr. Neill is only one of the many series “anchor celebrities” in Alcatraz. Neill is a legendary actor many remember best from his roles in the Jurassic Park series of movies.
However this fine actor has a proven career that dates back some thirty-seven years with notable performances in film theatrical productions including “Dead Calm” with a young Nicole Kidman and Billy Zane. “The Hunt for Red October”, “Event Horizon”, and most recently on television in “Happy Town” as featured on the ABC network.
The Alcatraz creators features several other strong anchors including Jorge Garcia, the beloved “Hurley” from LOST, Parminder Nagra from “ER”, Sarah Jones from “The Sons of Anarchy”, Jeffrey Pierce of “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles” and Jonny Coyne from “The Bill” to name but a few of the outstanding leading actors and actresses.
The series also features many supporting actors. One of my favorites is James Bamford (gifted stunt coordinator and actor recently featured in a Fringe cameo and well known for his recent work in MGM Studios Stargate Universe).
Mr. Bamford appears in a cameo role as a San Francisco policeman, and coordinated the exciting building jump stunt sequences. We hope we may see him again soon in Alcatraz! Be prepared people, there are many surprise guest stars that will appear in future episodes of Alcatraz.
My grade for the premiere is a straight “A”. This assessment is based on believable solid acting, wonderful writing, great location shooting in San Francisco and on “The Rock”, Vancouver locations substituting for “The City” and superb cinematography throughout the first two hours of the new series.
Although Alcatraz aired as a two hour premiere, we are going to split the episodes into two reviews because they have distinct story lines that deserve individual attention.
Before continuing, be warned this is a detailed analysis review containing complete spoilers and reveals about the series.
This reviewer has always enjoyed time travel science fiction paradox adventures. Where and when have they gone, and who is behind this nefarious activity is certain to be an exciting focus as the series continues in season one.
It is March 20, 1963 where we start the investigation into the mystery of Alcatraz. The Alcatraz action begins on a rainy evening as the prisons supply boat is pulling up to the pier on the island. The two guards on the boat are stunned to find that two other guards who were to meet them are not where they are supposed to be.
As the elder guard states “What the hell”, the younger of the two says maybe they “forgot”. This is met with a retort from the older veteran guard “This is Alcatraz, no one forgets”. Foul play is quickly suspected. The two boat guards pull their weapons and search the prison. The entire prison is empty!
At this juncture, observant fans familiar with the series plot may have noticed that not only have the prisoners been whisked away in a time warp wormhole of some sort, but so has at the entire prison staff! One, the elder guard says “Radio the station, tell them to send everyone” upon discovery of the “The Rock’s” 302 missing people!
MAJOR SPOILER: The young 1963 guard pictured is Emerson Hauser!
The scene shifts to the present day with a group of tourists inside the prison now turned national park in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
Our attention is drawn away from the crowd when we witness a little girl named Susie (Djuna Maxfield) who is drawn to a cell block after hearing a creaking noise.
We hear a tour guide telling someone “Hey buddy, no sleeping” into one of the prison cells where Susie has seen a man apparently asleep.
This man is no “Alcatraz tourist”, it is an Alcatraz inmate whisked to the present from 1963, one Jack Sylvane (Jeffrey Pierce), a World War Two hero who had run afoul of the law. Close observation reveals that somehow Sylvane is dressed in modern day clothing, not 1963 prison garb.
To further compound the juxtaposition in time, Jack Sylvane is asked for his ticket by Park Ranger Bob (Michael Ching) before he can return to the mainland via Alcatraz Cruises tour ferry boat (the real thing by the way).
Sylvane reaches into his pocket only to find a money clip with contemporary currency and a ticket for the tour boat. Clearly whoever is behind bringing Sylvane to the present has thought of every detail. Just what the heck is going on asks this reviewer?
During the trip back to the port of San Francisco where in real life the tours of Alcatraz are conducted by “Alcatraz Cruises” as noted above, the official government concessioner for Alcatraz tours, Jack Sylvane grabs a book about Alcatraz history from a tourists swag bag.
Leafing through the Inside he finds a picture of himself and a person he has hated for nearly five decades, Deputy Warden E. B. Tiller (Jason Butler Harner). A flashback sequence reveals why. On family visiting day in 1960, Tiller had planted a screwdriver in Sylvane’s cell during a shakedown. One can only assume that there were many such instances which will motivate Sylvane to ultimately seek revenge.
Segue to the mainland where we are introduced to Detective Rebecca Madsen (Sarah Jones) who is in pursuit of a criminal suspect. During the chase her partner is killed by a man whose identity we will later learn is Thomas Madsen (David Hoflin).
Madsen feels great guilt for not being there to save him. This circumstance necessitates the need for a new partner setting up the introduction of her new partner, Jorge Garcia as Dr. Diego Soto a bit later in the pilot.
The pace picks up quickly as Sylvane somehow tracks down Tiller and kills him in revenge. This brings us to the introduction of Sam Neill as Emerson Hauser who is at the scene of the murder being investigated by Rebecca Madsen.
Madsen is observed taking great care to notice the smallest detail as she is searching clues about Tiller’s past and who would want to kill him.
Madsen tries to argue with Hauser to no avail. Hausers says jurisdiction is “mine” just as Madsen receives a call from her boss Lt. Paul Reeger (Keith Martin Gordey) who we have seen earlier when Madsen was grieving.
Not to be stopped in her quest for answers about the strange circumstances, Madsen heads back to police headquarters to research a fingerprint she photographed at the scene of the murder. She soon discovers it is a man named Jack Sylvane.
Unfortunately the law enforcement digital computer files have been marked as restricted (no doubt by Emerson Hauser). Her frustration mounts at being blocked from learning more about the circumstances.
Madsen quickly uses another method conducting a Google search. She learns about a Dr. Diego Soto who is an expert on the subject matter at hand, the infamous and nefarious inmates of the Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary!
A somewhat humorous sequence develops during the introduction between Rebecca Madsen and Dr. Diego Soto. Before all hell breaks loose in San Francisco, Soto is in a local comics and video game store with some geek making a sexual innuendo about Madsen being a hot babe “who’s that”?
Soto later quips “THAT is my partner! The punk quickly shuts his mouth allowing Madsen to question Soto about Jack Sylvane whose prints were found at the scene of the crime. Soto informs Madsen that is impossible because Jack Sylvane had died 30 years earlier.
Another flashback occurs with Sylvane in solitary at Alcatraz in 1960 with Tiller mentally abusing him by at first saying he was to be released from solitary. No dice. The sound of “the slammer” locking Jack in which only serves to further motivate him to kill Tiller in the present.
Madsen and Dr. Soto meet at “Ray’s Bar” owned by “Uncle Ray” Archer (Robert Forster) who discusses some details about Sylvane, her family adding a bit more history about Tiller and the facts in the present. Soto discloses that he had been on the island in a room with boxes of papers he was not supposed to see.
Interestingly, like many real life police operating under great stress, Rebecca Madsen is a daytime drinker. She orders a “belt” of whiskey while Diego Soto has sparkling water.
Madsen and Soto head over to Alcatraz after obtaining the key to the secrets documents room. Upon entering and looking at a row after row of files filing the entire room, Madsen asks “why the inmate files were not transferred with the inmates”.
Soto and Madsen continue their investigation of the contents of the inmate transfer file documents. This reviewer was amazed at how the room was made to look so realistic. I wondered if the room was a set in Vancouver (likely) or filmed on location at Alcatraz? Madsen and Dr. Soto are rudely interrupted when a canister of knock out gas suddenly rolls down the stairs into the secret room filled with rows and stacks of inmate files.
Madsen and Soto are next seen in an ultra modern facility recovering. We hear Hauser and another woman telling him she will not stop after what she has learned.
This surprising development introduces another primary character, Lucy Banerjee (Parminder Nagra) who is Hauser’s “partner” on his secret team. Madsen and Soto are in their secret facility under Alcatraz. Soto calls the place the “Bat Cave”.
Both are given the situational truth regarding the disappearance of the people from 1963 and recruited on Hauser’s team. Madsen deduces that the transfers and death certificates were faked. She wants to know why Jack Sylvane has not aged. A spoiler: Jack Sylvane is not the only one who has not aged.
Out of actual episodic sequence, we are treated to a flashback to a prison visiting room where Sonya Sylvane (Camille Sullivan) is observed begging her husband Jack for a divorce.
Jack refuses to grant Sonya a divorce and loses his temper. He is livid and ends up throwing his chair in the prison side of the visitor gallery at the guards on duty. Sonya walks away in disappointment, but we will learn her fate a bit further on in the pilot.
Sylvane is quickly subdued by visitor’s center prison guards. This sequence ties the planted screwdriver by Tiller shakedown setup in the previous scene together quite nicely. Injured during the exchange,
Jack Sylvane is next observed in the prison hospital recovering from the beating he no doubt was subjected to by the Alcatraz guards for his outburst.
During the prison hospital sequence, an unseen person named prisoner 2002 is on the other side of a bed privacy drape. Prisoner 2002 is talking to Jack Sylvane attempting to elicit his cooperation. As we will learn soon, Alcatraz prisoner 2002 is none other that Thomas Madsen, Rebecca’s grandfather!
Sylane is uncooperative until the formerly unknown person tells Sylvane that something terrible is about to happen and that he needs to be ready for that. The unknown person will help Jack Sylvane survive. Based upon later events, the recruitment of Sylvane is successful, perfectly setting the stage for what is about to happen in 2012.
In talking with other Wormholeriders off-line, we were quite pleased to see Robert Lawrenson of Sanctuary portraying Barclay Flynn. Unfortunately the Flynn character is killed after only a few minutes. This involves leaving a clue as to Sylvane’s next move, his seeking retribution from anyone involved with the now dead Tiller. Before killing Flynn, Sylvane demands he opens a safe and give him a soft black bag which contains what appears to be a safety deposit or post office box key. Once Flynn turns over the requested item, ka-boom, Robert Lawrenson is shot dead.
As an analytical note, much of the Alcatraz action in the premiere required flashbacks to effectively establish the back story. We did observe a few complaints on Twitter during the premiere about the flashbacks either being confusing or hard to follow.
This reviewer and members of the WHR team respectfully do not agree with such comments. We believing the use of flashbacks delving into the Alcatraz story arc “history” was artfully accomplished, and more importantly are critical to understanding what will be happening in modern times.
After killing Tilller, Jack Sylvane tracks down the surviving members of his family. He appears at a door of a residence where he meets Alan Sylvane Jr. portrayed by fan favorite Paul McGillion of Stargate Atlantis.
It is here at this point in the episode story arc that Jack actually has the flashback sequence with his wife Sonya after looking at Sylvane family photographs which ended up with Jack in the prison hospital. A shock to this reviewer Alan Sylvane Jr. is supposed to be Jack’s nephew. Or is he?
This reviewer will offer a hypothesis that Alan Jr. might in fact be Jack’s son! You see Alan Sylvane Sr. (Ken Pogue) is Jack Sylvane’s brother who married Sonya Sylvane! Could she have been made pregnant by Jack before he was imprisoned?
Could Alan Sylvane Sr. have done the “right thing” and married Sonya to provide Alan Jr. with the benefit of having two parents?
Mind you I could be wrong about this, but it would certainly make for an interesting plot twist. It would also explain why Jack Sylvane did not kill Alan Sr. and Alan Jr. In any event Jack learns that his wife Sonya died a painful death from cancer producing a touching family moment for the surviving members of the Sylvane family as illustrated below.
In the third act, Jack has kidnapped his brother Alan Sr. to take him to his wife Sonya’s grave. Alan Jr. is found tied up at the residence by Madsen. Alan Jr. relates what has transpired. The information Madsen obtains from Alan Jr. leads her to follow Jack Sylvane to the grave site where she confronts him.
It appears that Jack plans to commit suicide or wants to be killed to end it all at the grave per his orders whatever those entailed. His need for his own death is also seemingly motivated by the fact that his beloved Sonya has passed away.
Madsen is observed holding Sylvane in a tense sequence at the grave site. She and Jack face each other at gunpoint when one of Hauser’s snipers incapacitates him before he can harm anyone. Emerson Hauser promptly takes him into custody.
Prisoner 2002 from the hospital prison is Thomas Madsen. Only at this point does Rebecca Madsen figure out that her grandfather was not a prison guard, but was instead an inmate of Alcatraz.
When she looks at the picture of her grandfather, the look of shock on her face is palpable. she flashes to the day her partner was killed. The person who murdered her partner was her grandfather Thomas Madsen, apparently the first to return back from 1963! This leads us to another theory. Is Thomas Madsen the mastermind or just another inmate sent to the future on a mission at the behest of someone else?
Hauser then completes his recruitment process of Rebecca Madsen and Dr. Diego Soto swearing them to secrecy. Quite enjoyable was Hauser’s sarcastic joking with Soto that he is pleased Soto has a accepted the assignment so he will not have to “kill him”.
Finally, Hauser reveals that of the missing 302 people, 256 are prisoners. 46 are guards. Jack Sylvane and Thomas Madsen are only two of the missing inmates. And what has become of the 46 missing guards?
In the last scene, Emerson Hauser is with Jack Sylvane in a rain forest outside an armored door to yet another facility obviously located underground.
The location shot can only be in Vancouver. My assessment is based upon the precipitation in the location artfully disguising the scene as somewhere outside San Francisco.
Hauser takes him inside the facility head butting Sylvane in the process telling him that “Tiller was a friend of mine”. As the camera pans back, the facility is a perfect pristine copy of Alcatraz when it was brand new. Hauser gloats that Sylvane will “not be lonely for very long”. We end the episode with the sound of “the slammer” that seals Jack in his new home, an Alcatraz cell block!
Confused? Do not be… yet. It will get much worse, or should I say better depending on your point of view!
Alcatraz the series is a very complex science fiction story that requires a willing suspension of disbelief which will in all likelihood take many episodes to fully or even begin to comprehend. The program eloquently blends historical fact with fiction creating an enigma wrapped in science fiction, time travel, and in the opinion of this reviewer a wormhole required to transport the missing criminals through time. The use of criminal activities is a clever mechanism concocted by the creators as a vehicle for the intriguing story arc.
As mentioned in the beginning of this review, I give the Alcatraz premiere a straight “A” and eagerly look forward to the third episode on FOX Broadcasting Monday January 23, 2012 when Hauser, Madsen, Soto, Lucy, and you will meet our next time warped villain, Kit Nelson!
In the meantime our second review by Nayari09 (Pam) “Ernest Cobb” posts later today. Until then please enjoy the entire pilot episode courtesy of FOX Broadcasting via Hulu!
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