Network executives scrambling to find the next zeitgeist-changing LOST can relax — the successor to LOST has been found, and it’s called ALCATRAZ. This new Fox series, from a lot of the same people who produced LOST, can best be described as “LOST on a Different Island.” Plus, it’s produced by J.J. Abrams!
Seriously, ALCATRAZ has adopted a lot of the tropes of LOST, including a mysterious island, strange characters, cryptic clues, random character appearances, backstories and flashbacks, and a powerful Character Who Knows Stuff. Plus, it stars one of LOST’s most beloved actors, Jorge Garcia (ex-Hurley), so how much closer to the former fan phenomenon can it get?
The premise of ALCATRAZ is elegantly simple: The historical “fact” that America’s most famous prison was closed on March 21, 1963, and all its inmates transferred to another facility is merely a cover story. What really happened is that 302 men disappeared from The Rock on March 20, 1963, and have not been seen since. Until now, that is.
Sam Neil (Dr. Alan Grant from the Jurassic Park films) plays Emerson Hauser, an enigmatic federal agent who was one of the first people to discover the mass disappearance back in 1963. He has been waiting for the inmates to reappear “for a very long time” — suggesting he has secret information about what happened 49 years ago. Not that Hauser and his associate, Lucy (Parminder Nagra, ex-Neela, ER), are willing to share much of that intel with his new task force members, former San Francisco detective Rebecca Madsen (Sarah Jones, ex-Polly, SONS OF ANARCHY) and her partner, Dr. Diego Soto (Garcia), an author and expert on Alcatraz history.
In the pilot episode, former Alcatraz inmate and presumed dead man Jack Sylvane (Jeffrey Pierce, ex-Randall THE NINE) suddenly reappears on The Rock in the present day with no memory of where he’s been, but a pocketful of cash, a boat ticket and the key to a gym locker. Inside the locker is a gun, which Sylvane uses to settle old scores. Viewers learn about Sylvane’s grudge thanks to LOST-style flashbacks to his experiences with a sadistic deputy warden back in 1960. But we don’t learn anything about how he got to the present or where he was in the meantime. Madsen and Soto help capture Sylvane, earning them spots on Hauser’s team.
In the second episode, another Alcatraz prisoner, sniper Ernest Cobb (Joe Egender), reappears and picks up his career of mayhem where he left off. “Doc” Soto begins to have second thoughts about joining the team when Cobb shoots Lucy in the chest, but he sticks with it and helps Madsen and Hauser take down Cobb — but only after he has gunned down an assortment of innocents. Yes, in this show, the cavalry does not always arrive in time.
Both episodes end with Hauser escorting the newly recaptured inmates to a secret underground high-tech facility for interrogation and housing in cages that resemble the Alcatraz cellblock.
With its “Escapee of the Week” format, ALCATRAZ appears to be a mash-up of standard procedural featuring a specialized consultant (a la CASTLE, BONES and THE MENTALIST), government investigation of the supernatural (as in FRINGE and THE X-FILES) and a heavy dose of long-term mystery (LOST). The key mysteries the series has set up so far include: How were the inmates and guards disappeared? Where did they go? Who made it happen? Why? How does Hauser know the stuff he knows? Is Hauser really with the government? What’s the deal with Lucy? (I won’t spoil the surprise reveal about her here.)
The most obvious LOST callback (aside from Garcia and Abrams) is the flashbacks. Each time-jump (back and forward) is signaled by the sound of prison bars slamming — exactly like the sound of the plane hatch closing on LOST!
There is also a preoccupation with numbers — inmate numbers, cell numbers, pier numbers, years, vanished inmates are called “the 63s,”, etc. In 1960, Sylvane is referred to by his prisoner number, 2024, and Madsen’s mysterious and sinister grandfather was known as prisoner 2002. Oh, did I mention that Madsen grew up thinking her grandfather was an Alcatraz guard, but suddenly learned that he was actually an inmate? And 2002 has not only come to the present, he killed Madsen’s SFPD partner. What can I say, it happens.
I have also noticed that the name “Kelvin” appeared in both episodes. In “Pilot,” the tugboat carrying Hauser and his partner was named “Warden Kelvin,” and in the second episode, when Cobb was scoping out his final targets, a sign painted on a building read “Kelvin.
I assume that ALCATRAZ is using fictional inmates and prison administrators, rather than impugning the actual people of record. Has there ever been a movie or TV show about a prison that didn’t feature crooked/cruel wardens and guards? Alcatraz certainly isn’t breaking that mold. Chief Warden Edwin James (Jonny Coyne) and Associate Warden E.B. Tiller (Jason Butler Harner) are depicted as pitiless tyrants.
Here’s hoping all the former LOST producers involved learned their lesson and will have pity on viewers: Don’t make us wait six years for an explanation to all these bizarre goings-on. I’m willing to watch for a few weeks in hopes of getting into the deepening mysteries, but I want to be rewarded for sticking with the series. I don’t want to see week after week of repetitive hunts for each new baddie capped by some tacked-on tease about Hauser’s cryptic mission. Mix it up, and keep the audience in the loop. We better get some big answers by the end of this season — or somebody should be locked up!