Friday, February 17, 2012

Alcatraz: Episode 1-6 Recap & Catch Up

In the year 1963, suddenly with no explanation, all of the prisoners and guards residing on Alcatraz suddenly disappear without warning or explanation. The government of course creates a cover up to explain the disappearances and no one is any the wiser until the prisoners start coming back and resuming their criminal activity in the present day.  The project to recapture the prisoners is highly classified and the government still has no idea who or what is behind the disappearances.

Det. Rebecca Madsen of the San Francisco police is drawn into the mystery first when her partner is killed and then again when she surreptitiously runs a finger print from a murder scene in which she had been removed, only to discover that it belonged to a man once housed at Alcatraz and had since been declared legally dead. To fill in her knowledge on Alcatraz, she contacts Dr. Soto, who has written a book on the infamous prison. Together they stumble upon the secret that the government has kept hidden for the last 49 years.  Emerson Houser, the leader of the top secret government task force, decides to bring Madsen more firmly into the case, and when she chooses Dr. Soto for her partner, he becomes her civilian advisor.

It turns out that Hauser might actually need Rebecca far more than she needs him.  It seems that her grandfather was once a prisoner at Alcatraz, and at one point, Hauser had even tried to hire her uncle, who was also a guard at Alcatraz to aid in the search for these returned prisoners.  There is definitely a connection between the Madsens and the mystery that is unfolding.

Throughout the story, we keep leaping back into the past, to warden Edwin James. There we see what Alcatraz was like back when it was working - and the insidious plans working behind the scenes. It’s clearly nefarious that  two of his medical staff - Dr. Sangupta and Dr. Beauregard - appear in both the past and the present - with no age difference. Additionally, the mystery is further deepened when it is discovered that the guard and inmates are returning with orders and instructions - and odd clues like the laser cut keys in their pockets, (keys that were impossible to make in 1963) and we have a huge mystery that we’re only just beginning to see the edges of.

I do have to admire some of the characters. Emerson Hauser is a classic example of the ends-justifies-the-means, not to be trusted authority figure; the guy who needs watching and checking, which works very well juxtaposed with  Rebecca Madsen’s independence, and Dr. Soto’s humanity.

Warden Edwin James is a perfectly disturbing character. Ruthless yet paternal, chilling in his cruelty, refined and urbane in his demeanor

Inclusion wise, these first 4 episodes have been far from great. We do have several POC, but none of them have especially good roles. Dr. Sangupta/LucyBanerjee is a capable and intelligent woman, but in the past, she has a relatively minor role and in the future she spends her time in a coma.

In the latest episode, we saw a Black bomb disposal expert - again showing skill and capability, but he then died saving Emerson - a White guy.

Dr. Soto, a Latino man has much more commonly occurring screen time, and is certainly one of the core cast of characters. He’s an expert, he’s intelligent and he’s a very valuable resource, with a powerful conscience. Unfortunately, he functions as a side-kick for Rebecca.  As a fat man, he is also highly stereotyped. How many times in the media do we see fat men as rather child-like, comic-book loving, slightly bumbling man-children, who are extremely awkward around women? We have an explanation in the form of the abuse he suffered as a child, but it’s still a pervasive stereotype.

On the plus side, Dr. Soto, more than anyone, seems to be the humane element of the group, the conscience, the one who cares more about the victims and the public, than about getting the bad guy and finding the truth.

Rebecca is a character I like. She’s very independent, does not take orders well, and often acts independently, to follow up her own leads and ideas. Despite that, she doesn’t suffer from the all so-common Spunky Agency or Keillie Independence. Her defiance is always reasonable and never crosses lines, her objections are sensible and her ideas are clever, informed and well reasoned. She objects to things that are objectionable and doesn’t stay silent when she disagrees. She demands explanations and resents Emerson saying “do this because I said so”. When explained and reasoned, she will follow orders as the reasonable person she is. She can kick arse without being super woman. We’re a full SIX EPISODES into the series and she’s only been kidnapped once - but she rescued herself and, since then, she has rescued other people as well, so there’s a definite pass there.

There are no GBLT characters on the show so far. San Francisco is full of straight people it seems. Can there be anything more inauthentic than San Francisco as an all heterosexual city? It’s so ridiculous, that it makes me want to send the writers a map of The Castro.  

The plot intrigues us, and so many of the characters are interesting and engaging - so we’re definitely going to be adding this to our watch list, even if it does stretch our genre boundaries slightly, but what’s a little boundary stretching between friends?