Alcatraz Review: Silver and Gold
Sometimes watching multiple episodes of a TV show in a row has an easier job of hooking you and sucking you in. It can be a lot tougher to enjoy a series when you have to wait every week for a new development, especially if groundbreaking or riveting action isn't attached.
Perhaps it had a lot to do with the fact that there was a genuine understanding and revelation of the returned prisoners motives. The Ames Brothers were simply looking to find the hidden gold they'd been searching for 50 years prior and Sonny Burnett wanted revenge for being betrayed by the girl he thought loved him.
I didn't even mind that none of the most recent returnees had a purpose that was tied into the larger mythology of getting the keys, although we did learn that the Warden kept the originals close at hand. Yes, we viewers did receive plenty of interesting tidbits in reference to that bigger mystery of Alcatraz, but the particular cases made more sense than simply tossing in a random bad guy and having him do violent things.
Yet both episodes really dove headfirst into the shock factor of violence. From watching Pinky Ames beat a man to bloody death to Sonny Burnet poking his enemy's eyes out, the cringe factor of these vicious criminals went up. I'm not sure if scenes like that were done for shock and awe effect or if to really establish that the criminals on Alcatraz are as dangerous as described.
"Ames Brothers was the best of the two episodes, sticking simply to the prison and giving the tone a spooky and jumpy feel. It was certainly different from a majority of the other installments, but its style and story direction proved interesting. I even enjoyed that Pinky wasn't simply the "dumb" muscle for the brothers and actually maintained his own sensibilities, even if he did go on a crazy rampage at the end.
Additionally, the tying in of the past and present made sense in establishing the search for gold, the connection between the three men and the realization that the Warden's special keys weren't for the gold. It's clearly enough of a big secret to persuade Ray Archer to keep quiet, but it's interesting to see he's working with his brother, Tommy Madsen.
The plot certainly went a little deeper and it paid off.
As for Sonny Burnett, his case returned to the typical hunting down criminals procedural, but his flashbacks provided for witnessing his visual change into the deranged man he had become. It was a clear transformation based on revenge and a need to survive.
I loved that Emerson Hauser would shout demands like "I want them alive" only to have Diego comment that he's the only one that kills them. I really do find it hard not to like his character and his dialogue. And did anyone think to take his mention of Hauser not being human to heart? What if he wasn't human?
What piqued my interest in this particular episode was more so the realization that the Warden and Deputy Warden aren't necessarily on the same side. These two men might work together, but there is a tension and mistrust from both sides. The Warden's speech about remembering who runs the "pack" makes for an interesting dynamic between these two men.
In fact, I've grown rather fond of the Warden's somewhat campy sinister bad guy routine. He reminds me a lot of the Penguin from Batman fame and his overly enthusiastic and sinister tones when speaking to anyone give him enough credence to be the bad guy in a way that fits perfectly for the show.
Maybe it's the glasses, maybe it's because he's bald, maybe because he grins like a mad man with a plan, but the Warden knows how to evoke that evil leader attitude. Is it possible he is behind all the returning convicts? Has he returned as well? What secret is so big that he won't share it with the Deputy Warden?
Yes, I know that the questions continue to pile up, but it felt like both episodes did a good job in providing a solid story while touching on certain bigger aspects of the show. Who knew that some of the prisoners' blood contained a silver that gave them healing properties? Who knew that Emerson doesn't have any idea why the Warden was so interested in Tommy Madsen or what the return of the '63s actually mean? Who knew that Emerson is willing to torture to get what he wants?
I know I'm still having a hard time investing myself in the main characters, although thank goodness Rebecca didn't get herself caught again, but they aren't bad characters at all. They just seem stuck in basic outlines rather than slowly developing ones.
When it comes down to it, the big mystery is what draws me back in and thankfully both episodes contained that while giving us solid cases of the week. But can that be enough to keep the show around for the long haul?
Alcatraz: "Sonny Burnett"
Sean McKenna is a TV Fanatic Staff Writer. Follow him on Twitter.