Though I haven’t written about it up until now, I’ve been watching Alcatraz, and I’ve been enjoying it. The show’s season 1 finale aired last night, so I thought I’d do a brief write-up of my thoughts on it.
About midway through last night’s finale, a realization hit me: “Wow, they weren’t bullshitting. They actually planned this.” Having previously been burned by The Killing, and more recently, the complete lack of sensible plot progression in the current season of Fringe, I didn’t have confidence that Alcatraz’s writers would be able to bring together the disparate pieces of its mythology in a compelling way. I’m happy to say that I was mistaken. (My apologies to Elizabeth Sarnoff and co.)
No, we didn’t get a lot of answers. But we did get a picture of how everything ties together in a way that explained a lot of what we saw this season while leaving a number of other mysteries open. It seems as if Warden James is unleashing an army of supermen all over the United States and tracking them using the colloidal silver in their blood. To do what? Lord knows. Honestly, this plot sounds totally ridiculous, and that’s fine. I’m not watching Alcatraz for realism; as long as the plot doesn’t defy the show’s own internal logic, I’m okay.
Assuming that Fox decides to renew Alcatraz (which it probably won’t, since the ratings are abysmal), many people are calling for the show to abandon its case-of-the-week structure. That’s not a view with which I necessarily agree. Unlike other procedurals, Alcatraz has the benefit of not having to go through too much rote case-solving work. Because of its unique flashback structure, it can instead delve into the psyches of its criminals. Sure, it’s the kind of pop psychology that drives people who have studied human behaviour nuts. But it’s also fascinating, and it helps us see the Alcatraz inmates as real characters, not just plot puppets who exist solely to provide a continuous stream of criminal activity for Madsen and her colleagues to stop. Getting rid of the case-of-the-week format doesn’t seem like a wise choice for a show that has the core strength of being able to get into the heads of its crimes’ perpetrators like no other show.
That being said, I hope that in a hypothetical second season, Alcatraz continues to advance its mythology. The show struck a nice balance between its mythology and its cases in the back half of this season, and that’s the sweet spot it should continue to hit. Jonny Coyne has been absolutely fantastic as the jovial-but-villainous Warden James, and with him behind whatever is happening with the 63’s, the show has a lot of intriguing storytelling possibilities.
I’m not holding my breath for a renewal, but I will miss the show if it gets the axe. It’s something fun and fresh, and it’s more competently plotted than any other sci-fi series on the air at the moment. And if last night’s season finale was really a series finale, then I’m just going to pretend that Madsen really did die and that Warden James took over the world. He’s too awesome not to.