I hope you enjoyed this episode. I have to say that I did and did not enjoy it, my reasons why for both will become clear throughout the course of my review.
Even though the episodes aired the last two Mondays out of sequence, I actually think that it made sense and I will show you why a bit later.
Next week’s episode looks great, the dark side of music and the diabolical genius that accompanies it. We include the “Webb Porter” promotional trailer below for your enjoyment courtesy of FOX Broadcasting.
Now, on with the show…an innocent man goes to jail and suffers the consequences. Jail changes him in every way, it breaks him down fundamentally and he becomes a guinea pig for their twisted experiments. Native son Mahershala Ali plays Clarence Montgomery a man who loved a woman, the right woman in the wrong time. The fact of his interracial coupling with his beloved is what made him more of a target than usual. He had to combat more than the bigots during his time.
The opening scene is one that is for Clarence somewhat reminiscent. He sees the flashes of what his ‘crime’ was and unfortunately re-enacts it brutally. The interesting thing I noticed throughout the episode is the manners that Clarence had. He always said ‘yes ma’am’ or ‘yes sir’, never was he one to usurp authority.
Even when flirting with the girl at the party, he could have called her sweetie or baby, but he did not. This to me shows that he did not have the kind of personality that would cause trouble, he always did what he was told and shut his mouth, but still was who he was.
The flashbacks and the voice that piggy back on them are disturbing on so many levels, the way that they were used as a device to manipulate him, but more on that later. I truly believe that if he was not part of the sick experiments on The Rock that he would have served his time and gotten out.
Clarence disassociates himself from the killing, he does not think that he was the one that wielded the knife, that it was some alter ego perhaps (maybe he developed one) because of what he endured in prison.
A great scene that showed Clarence’s upbringing was when Warden James (the ever brilliant and extremely talented Jonny Coyne) called him into the kitchen to taste a dish. Clarence’s answer was not what James was looking for and asked him again, giving him permission if you will to answer freely. Clarence then was recruited to do what he does best, which is both good and bad for him in his own hell on earth.
When modern day Clarence goes to visit his old friend Emmitt Little (the incomparable Glynn Turman), he is desperate, in every way. He asks for help and Emmitt being his old friend and someone who admired Clarence for his fight does help him. Glynn is such a fantastic actor, one that can play everything from career criminal to the President and do it with such amazing conviction. Emmitt is the only one that can help Clarence and he does, as we will see later.
While Clarence was incarcerated he was constantly having his blood taken out and sampled, he became their little experiment. Clarence tells Emmitt that “night after night they took my blood and messed with my head” As we know from a previous episode that colloidal silver was one component that Doc Beauregard was looking for. The question as to why this kept happening has at this point no answer, but I am sure we will find out (or maybe we will never find out).
Beautiful shot of Alcatraz, once again Stephen McNutt does a great job at his craft. I must also say that I am very happy to see Jack Bender at the helm again. Great director…for reasons I stated in a previous review.
When the flashback to the prison happens and Emmitt is talking to Clarence about the ‘movement’ I can only assume it was the civil rights movement. I like that Emmitt tells him that he is taking a step forward and that he is an inspiration to not only him but the other coloreds (I loathe that word) as well.
Clarence protests that he does not want to be considered an inspiration. “I don’t want to be a symbol of progress I just want to serve my time” Clarence states to Emmitt, driving his point home as best he can. But as we all know from the Sonny Burnett episode there is no such thing as just serving time. So in this case the fact that the Sonny Burnett episode aired before this one makes sense.
Tiller is being particularly malevolent in this episode, more so that I think we have ever seen him. His malice resonates off the screen, it is one of the reasons I did not like this episode.
I felt very uncomfortable watching his interaction with Clarence and the other inmates of color. As much as I hated it, I also know that the director in me loved it. It proves what a great actor Jason Butler Harner is. If he can make me feel that way then his job is done.
Upon examining the crime scene photos from the first crime, the similarities become uncanny. Since the photos were never released to the public, the theories of a copycat killer were bandied about. Later we come to find out why Clarence ended up becoming a killer. What changed in him that made him do such a heinous act? Again like Sonny Burnett, albeit Sonny was not innocent, but he was not a murderer, that Alcatraz changes you…in the worst way. Sonny went in a kidnapper but left a murderer.
I love how Emmitt tells Rebecca (Sarah Jones) and Diego (Jorge Garcia) about the Black Panthers and Bobby Seale. About the progress that he spoke about to Clarence, Emmitt became a part of, so Clarence did indirectly influence him.
One theme that runs like wildfire through the entire episode is the constant reminder of how Clarence was innocent. Emmitt stressed it on every occasion he could and to anyone he could. There are many innocent that get sent to prison all the time. They just happen to be at the wrong place at the wrong time or their skin color matched the suspect or any number of reasons.
When Emmitt tells Rebecca and Diego that you never really get out, you just go from one cell to another; his meaning is two-fold. His wheelchair has become his cell, his life has become confinement, he still can’t live a normal life. We all have our own personal prisons, whether it be the inability to move forward or the constant mundane task day in and day out that is slowly killing us. Wonderfully done by Glynn and by the writer to help us understand that, it’s a few words, but it speaks volumes.
The scenes in the prison are particularly hard to watch. They hit a nerve with me that I cannot tolerate. The Warden’s motive is cloudy, does he really see potential in Clarence or is he using him for his own sadistic purposes?
Did he give him the cook position because he knew what the consequences to Clarence would be?
I do, however, love the Warden’s scene in the kitchen as he is eating a rib. His comment is priceless “If we were in private, you would see my true intention with this bone” as he takes another delicious bite. Then the kitchen/mess hall scene turns for the worse.
After the confidence that Clarence felt and the acknowledgment that the Warden gave him, it was a startling contrast. The quote the Warden recites about breaking bread with an enemy is the mark of a civilized man…and then hell breaks loose. Apparently the inmates did not agree with that sentiment.
It is not surprising to me that this is the reaction that comes out of the Warden’s misfire. There is still very much segregation and prejudice among inmates, it was the sign of the times. It was a failed attempt by the Warden to make the murderers and rapists slightly more civilized.
This is yet another example of the things I hated and liked about this episode. There are things that make me very mad, things that make me very sad that these men have to resort to being animals towards each other. That they treat each other like animals, it makes my skin crawl, but also makes me thankful that times HAVE changed (somewhat, but have markedly improved). All men are created equal, well maybe not in the prisoner’s eyes. There is no footnote about how to treat people, they are either equal to you or they are not.
I noticed that Clarence only seems to get the visions of his dead girlfriend when he is in social situations, either at a wedding or party. It is almost like a trigger, a mechanism that turns that switch on in his brain and the murderer comes out. It reminds me of the brainwashing or conditioning if you will in one of the greatest psychological thrillers of all time, Manchurian Candidate.
What Laurence Harvey’s character turned into at the hands of his mother played so diabolically by Angela Lansbury. Just a game of solitaire and he became something else. I believe the same has happened to Clarence. Something inside him is triggered and he goes into alter-ego mode.
I could not even imagine walking through the cellblock in Alcatraz and being called names left and right. No matter how tough you are it still affects you. Ali does a great job at conveying that, his body language, his walk, his whole demeanor, wonderfully done. Especially with Clarence being the kind of man who minds his business and never hurt anyone, just goes about his business. Again, the hatred, racism, prejudice that is infused in this episode is scary, but necessary. It teaches us a lesson on tolerance and intolerance.
The next scene is harrowing and cruel. It goes to show how inmates (especially the ones of color) were treated in the prison. When Clarence is strapped to the chair and Dr. Beauregard makes the comment about the shock treatment working in on direction so it must work in reverse is a huge telltale. Instead of ‘curing’ the patient with shock treatments, it is causing the patient to become violent.
The fact that Clarence’s eyes are forced open and not allowed to close is disturbing. His psyche is constantly bombarded with images and sounds of the horror and trauma of what he went through. Sick stuff, but a further glimpse into the debauchery and sinister plans of The Rock. On a side note I could not help but think of the Ramones song “Gimme Gimme Shock Treatment”
I like that Rebecca Madsen (Sarah Jones) can keep up with Clarence at his speed. There is not too much of her featured in this episode, which is fine, it gives others a time to shine. Jones does a good job always between walking that fine line between cop and friend. She knows when to be which one.
The scene in the prison laundry room is brilliant, brutal but effective. When Tiller comes in and subtly starts to scolds him in that despicable way he does, I cringed…in a good way. The use of ‘you people’ set me off, but again in a good (bad) way. Tiller claims he meant criminals, but his tone tells us otherwise.
I know that the words he chose were used during that period in American history, part if the vernacular, but that does not mean I had to like it. It reminds me of Huckleberry Finn and the use of a negative word over and over in that book. Yes it is offensive to all (at least I hope it is) but that was the point, it was used more as a lesson and comment on a certain subject. The late, great comedian George Carlin had a thing about words; he often said that the words themselves are not the problem it is the context in which they are used that makes them offensive.
Clarence killing Gant (Ben Cotton) was a punctuation to all that was brewing inside of him, that trigger again was set to the on position and he executed (sorry for the pun) his task. Pavlov struck again, his dog barked, begged and played dead…and forget what he did, as he was trained to do. His ‘Queen of Diamonds’ made him do it.
My favorite scene in this episode is when Rebecca and Doc Soto (Jorge Garcia) go to see Nikki (Jeananne Goossen) and he semi-flits with her and she takes him up on his offer. The look on Jorge’s face is perfect. Do I smell romance in the cards for future episodes?
The last few scenes are good ones. When the trio goes and visit Emmitt Little for a second time and he opens fire on them. I love that you could hear the cocking of the rifle before you saw the blast, reminds me of Sergio Leone Westerns.
What Emmitt says about not taking Clarence back to prison, giving him a second chance, his belief in Clarence. The fate of Clarence and how he died was fitting, Emmitt gave his friend the peace he needed, the dignity he deserved, he closure they both needed. Little makes the point that the Rock turned him into a killer, just like it did with Sonny Burnett.
The scene of Clarence’s innocence is sad, Clarence finally gets his day, finally is exonerated of the previous crime he was convicted of, but did not live to see it. He was an innocent man…and two girls are dead.
Gorgeous shot of The Palace of Fine Arts…McNutt again, his eye is perfect. I am going to gush here for a moment. I love my city, I am proud to be born and raised in one of the greatest cities on the planet.
When Diego comments about the weird experiments that were being conducted on The Rock, it is shocking, to an extent, but not surprising. Who else would be the perfect candidates for those experiments than the lowest of the low? Rippy, as much as I adore him, was a complete and utter bastard in this episode, well done, Leon, well done. Men playing God seems to be a theme in a few Abrams shows (Fringe!).
The ending with Parminder Nagra is brilliant. What she says about trauma is eerie, because it explains, if only partially, what the trigger may be for Clarence. It is a succinct observation and truth about what we all go through traumatic time sin our lives. Well done to Leigh Dana Jackson, nice morsel you leave us with to chew on.
Then there is the final revelation. The conversation between the Warden James and Doc Beauregard…answers some questions, but still opens a whole other floodgate of other ones. All in all this was a great episode. It taught us so much and informed us, enlightened us and made us examine ourselves as humans. I am looking forward to next week. Thanks for reading and I would love to hear from you!
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