Alcatraz: Cal Sweeney, Laser Cut Keys, and Geri Jewell
Last week, I dove into Alcatraz head first and spent three consecutive hours with the series, which gave me ample time for introspection and analysis. This week, however, I came to the sorry conclusion that Alcatraz is decidedly not as interesting when you aren’t watching it in mammoth blocks.
In the episodes leading up to last night’s – featuring the safety deposit box plundering Cal Sweeney – we were provided with two disparate elements, that the best sort of T.V. show would eventually weave together for maximum excellence. The first element, a formula: 63 innmates and guards vanished from Alcatraz and are now returning, one each week, as luck would have it, to be trailed, apprehended and plied for information about their magical time traveler ways. Fine. Fair enough. The second element is the dark pasts and motives of the central characters. We have Sam Neill, trying to unlock the secrets of Alcatraz and his lady friend being in a coma, Detective Madsen and her grief over her dead partner – killed by her OWN grandfather, and Dr. Soto, pulled into the police force unwillingly, battling the demons of his childhood kidnapping. That shit is rife with potential drama, right? Right? Exactly! So you’d think that the excellent blending of these two would make for thoroughly engaging drama – and there’s no reason it shouldn’t!
But…it doesn’t. Or to be fair, at least it didn’t last night.
The formula stays nicely on track – Cal Sweeney returns to his old life of crime, we learn more about E.B. Teller and his evilness and we get to spend some time with the warden, who I basically adore. Madsen, Neil, and Soto track Sweeney through the female bank tellers he cons into gaining egress to their boxes, and the banks – HA. Vagina jokes. (Side note, they said those ladies were all in their mid-40s and I LAUGHED.) They eventually catch him, but not before he kills some innocent people – a dark streak he’s picked up since being betrayed by his one-time-protege for showing a weak underbelly while in Alcatraz. This was, admittedly, a nice detail, but one nice detail does not an episode of enjoyable T.V. make.
What’s up with Madsen? She is so flat! She’s only ever engaged when she’s got a gun drawn! Is it a penis envy thing? I don’t get it. She is not a nothing, she is ether, she is air with a decent haircut and dye job! And I don’t think it’s her fault! I think she’s gotten lost in the writing. Repeatedly emphasizing a characters passion for dim sum in a bid to give her a personality (“I am a native to our fair San Francisco! DIM SUM ANYONE?”) does not work, especially when she’s drolling into pork buns when she should be working every minute of the day to find out as much as she can about the grandfather she thought was a hero but who was in fact – PRETTY EVIL.
Soto keeps trying to have moments of emotional development, discussing his rebellion against his parents (by way of Batman – fuck you, script.) and his inability to drive (represent, Soto!) with anyone who will listen – but the problem is, no one does: the characters can only pay attention to hard-driving line of the plot which is completely disconnected from their emotional reality.
Did the show want us to completely forget that Dr. Gupta – the time travelin’ coma ridden object of Sam Neill’s affection – is in a coma? Because I know I did. Even when Dr. Gupta surfaced in the 1960s at a party celebrating EB’s birthday, discussing her mode of removing memories in a bid to make “deviants” responsible member of society, I was more like “Oh, well this will be important later,” instead of “Man, I bet Sam Neill is UPSET in the present because of how she is in a coma.” Granted, I was pretty distracted by the guest star, Geri Jewell.
Geri Jewell is a character actress with cerebral palsy. She is pretty well known for being featured on the Facts of Life, but to me her standout work was in Deadwood. In case you didn’t know, Cerebral Palsy is one sort of term to discover a wide arrange of motor disorders that happen at birth. In its simplest terms, it refers to motor dysfunction caused by the loss of blood flow to the brain during labor and delivery. While the range of severity varies, having cerebral palsy usually includes muscles spasms, effecting the legs, the arms, the hands, and the vocal chords on some level – some people with C.P. can walk, some can’t, some are average, some are highly intelligent, some of them have further brain damage that can cause mental deficiency. In short – they are just like, you know, a person. In the interest of full disclosure, my dad has C.P. He is not mentally handicapped. Though I do like to pretend that he doesn’t know how to read, because it irritates him and few things are as satisfying as irritating a hyper intellectual.
Now as fun as it must have been for you to just read this whole segment about cerebral palsy, let me explain why I brought it up regarding Jewell’s portrayal of EB Tiller’s sister. There’s been a really positive change in terms of acting opportunities provided for people with Down Syndrome – exhibit Glee, American Horror Story, the Target modeling campaign, etc. I think that’s really positive. But when you have someone as famous as Geri Jewell in a guest spot on Alcatraz, swilling wine and muttering about letting an inmate spill all over you so long as they pat you dry in a hilariously cougarish way, you un-do all the good stuff she just did in terms of casting the differently-abled when you don’t give the character her own name, and her call her a gimp. I’m sorry, but you just do. She’s an adult woman and an actress who created a very cool character for her one scene – and you couldn’t give her a name? You have one of the inmates call her a gimp and then give no other explanation, provide no further depth to how others see her? It upset me on a very deep level. It probably wouldn’t upset Jewell because she’s a much more laid back person than I am but whatever – something about the whole scene – other than her witty handling of a weirdly written exchange – upset me. Clearly. Anyway, she is going to be a recurring character – so hopefully they make better use of her and she stops getting the fuzzy, offensive end of the lollipop.
My rant aside, and my beef with the lack of character addressed, let’s talk about the final two scenes of last night’s episode. It seems that the inmates have been sent back to collect keys from different locations. Cal Sweeney’s key is quickly handed over to a cracker jack team of guys from Austin or Brooklyn who all get giddy and talk about how the key, while old, appears to be….laser cut! And how could this be? Sam Neill gives some dramatic eyes, and we are all like “Fuuuuck this show is AWFUL but I just want to KNOW WHAT IS GOING ON SO I WILL PROBABLY WATCH ALL OF IT!” Then, we are flashed back to the 1960s, where the warden escorts Cal Sweeney’s erst-while protege to a basement, where he shoves him into a locked room – UNLOCKED BY A KEY LIKE THE ONES THE HIPSTERS ARE ANALYZING – and mutters something about embracing your new path. SUSPICIOUS. INTRUGING.
So there you have it. The show is a lot like dim sum – full of surprises, some good, some bad, and since its not immediately satisfying, you just keep eating, and eating, and eating, until you throw. the fuck. up.
I still have hope though! Because next week seems cool! Bubba from True Blood is a guard who comes back – first time we have had that happen in the show – and he…confronts himself. Which is interesting. And also potentially…the worst? Or the best? I don’t even know. I don’t know anything anymore.