Alcatraz: "Guy Hastings" (Season 1, Episode 5)

Flabbergasted

So here’s the deal—this episode did not leave me cynical about the worth of human existence. It’s ridiculous and improbable, yes. But it didn’t fill me with disgust. They finally broke their pattern, and the results were downright tolerable. We learned more this episode than we’ve learned in all the previous four combined.

The Alcatraz returnee this week is a guard by the name of Guy Hastings. We meet him in the abandoned resident wing of Alcatraz where the guard’s families lived. He beats up a Park Ranger who surprises him, finds a fake panel on one wall, then removes pictures of his family and a gun.

Next we’re with Ray Archer, the former Alcatraz prison guard who raised Rebecca Madsen, our intrepid Police lady. They’re eating lunch. Chinese food seems to be a running gag with Rebecca, although it’s not funny yet. Ray is telling her he grew up with Tommy Madsen, her real grandfather, who is also the guy who helped kill her partner in the opener. Then she gets called away by Howser to help find Hastings. Flash to Hastings who is stalking Archer. Thank God. We really couldn’t handle another character right now and have any chance of this description making sense.

So in narrative structure we have a little round robin going. It works. That’s because for once, stuff is actually happening. Real information is being divulged by each leg of the story triad: (1) Ray with Hastings; (2) Rebecca hunting him with Diego Soto; and (3) the obligatory flashback.

When Ray is seized by Hastings, we learn Hastings is trying to find Tommy Madsen, the Alcatraz mystery escapee. He knows Tommy and Ray had some kind of connection. In the flashback, we see that. Ray is a new guard being trained by Hastings. Tommy sees him in the mess hall, and Ray stares right at Tommy. Tommy whispers “You shouldn’t have come here” and attacks Ray with his tray. Smacks him up good, too. But now in this week’s ridiculously forced, quick CSI clue stunt with Rebecca and Diego Soto, we at least get a payoff. The house they locate cross matches to census records with a Tommy and a Ray. Only they’re brothers.

The flashback shows Ray having to beat Tommy up to reestablish himself as an alpha male in front of the prisoners. In the present, Ray has taken Hastings to the old house where the brothers grew up. He says Tommy will return there. Hastings gets a moment of pathos where he reveals all eight guards who vanished were told their families had died in an accident. Then it just wasn’t 1963 anymore. Ray tells Hastings the mirror image story. Their families were told the guards had died in an accident. For the first time, the mystery of Alcatraz honestly feels evil.

Tommy Madsen is apparently the key. They were taking lots of blood from him on Alcatraz. Doing things to him. And now he’s slipped the leash. Another flashback shows Ray, who changed his name to Archer to get the guard job, with Tommy in the infirmary. He tells his brother he doesn’t deserve to be here, that they’re in this together. Tommy holds his hand.

In the present, Rebecca arrives at the house. Hastings seizes her. Howser arrive and they’re all in a standoff that’s broken when Rebecca slips free and shoots Hastings in the leg. For once, Howser isn’t a low life. He drives Hastings by a house and lets him see his grown up daughter, her children and grandchildren. He won’t let him out to talk to them, but says “You’re a casualty in this. You don’t deserve what happened to you.”

Back at the Alcatraz cave, Rebecca confronts Howser. She says he wanted a Madsen to get to Tommy. That’s why Ray wasn’t freaked out by what happened; Ray knew. Howser admits he approached Ray about a job years ago. Ray turned him down to raise Rebecca. So Rebecca finally gets a good jab in on Howser: “I know something now. I know you need me more than I need you.”

Heck, the final minute isn’t even ludicrous this time. It’s Ray closing up his bar. Tommy walks in. The paraphrase as best I remember goes like this. Ray: “ I told you to never come back here. Tommy: “I’m Rebecca’s grandfather.” Ray: “You’re nobody’s grandfather.” Tommy: “This isn’t over.” Ray: “I’m keeping her out of harm’s way. If I see you again, I’ll kill you.”

I was actually paying attention at this point. That’s a plus. So finally we have an episode with real plot movement, passable story construction, meaningful mystery and, heaven help us, some earned emotion. It’s not shabby. This is the first episode that feels like people with some talent are involved.

I said last week that this show badly needed structural depth. This week felt like it was trying. Of course, next week’s trailer looks like another criminal of the week. But I was ready to write Alcatraz off if this episode had gone true to form. Now I’ll have to give it a little longer.

Will conservatives like this episode: I think so.

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