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Alcatraz – The finale provides answers and more questions

The first season of 'Alcatraz' has come to an end. We got some answers and more questions, but overall it was a satisfying season and finale.

- Season 1, Episode 12/13 - "Garrett Stillman/Tommy Madsen"

Alcatraz’s first (and only?) season has come to an end. Over the last few weeks, I worried that the season would end with too many unanswered questions. Fortunately, that didn’t happen.

Sure … there are lots of questions both old and new left outstanding, but it was a satisfying finale. The new questions that were introduced make me want a second season more than I did before watching. I’m especially intrigued by the masterminds and players, Warden James, the Silver Man (Matt Craven), Harlan Simmons, and even perhaps the President.

Who is the Silver Man? I don’t know what else to call him because we never got his name, but he is the one who put the silver into Madsen’s blood and mysteriously appeared in the vault behind the Warden’s Door. How convenient of him to show up there after the door was opened?! Or, is that a clue?

The masterminds behind the 63s
While the actual leadership behind the mystery is still not entirely clear, we found out that Warden James and the Silver Man were the primary people behind the mystery at the prison. Their end game is still unclear and whether they were working for someone or just themselves. But, they had been hatching the plan for years.

The Silver Man mentioned he had been tracking Madsen since 1952. Could they have set him up for murder to get him into Alcatraz? While Madsen wasn’t behind the mystery, he was their guinea pig or “advance man.” In 2012, it appeared that he was still working for Warden James.

The other potential man behind the mystery (at least by 2012) is Harlan Simmons. He was working for Warden James at one point, but betrayed him. Simmons is now a very powerful, but reclusive billionaire that not even the President can easily contact. How did Simmons become rich? And, what was he doing for the warden? Ghost (Joe Limerick) was working for Simmons, but to what end?

Who has been running the prisoners who came back? Was it Madsen for the warden or Simmons? They both were looking for the keys. And, then which wants Lucy dead? Or, both?

The reveal regarding these men also answered a nagging question since the pilot: Why did Madsen kill Rebecca’s partner, Will Peters? It turns out that he was on Simmons’s payroll and keeping an eye on Rebecca in hopes she would lead him to Tommy. To protect Rebecca, Tommy killed him. (Yeah, but then he stabbed her? Umm … yeah.)

The new mystery surrounded these characters and their plans has me intrigued. I wish these reveals would have happened a few episodes ago and then played out with other prisoners. It would have made for a much more compelling story. The crimes being committed by the returning prisoners was becoming stale.

Lucy was cured with Porter’s silver-laden blood, but according to Beauregard the silver can’t ever be removed. What will that mean for our lovable 63er, Lucy? Not all the 63s had silver in their blood, why did some but not all?

Is Lucy the key to the mystery?  She’s a target, but who is after her and why? Does she know something that she doesn’t realize is important? Despite being fill of silver and a target, Lucy isn’t going anywhere. She was adamant that she wanted to stay with Hauser and see this mystery through.

Her admission about Hauser was sad. In the 50 years they were apart, he changed. A seemingly never-ending search for the love of your life will do that, especially when faced with criminals of all sorts.

Throughout the season, I’ve had issues with Rebecca just going along with Hauser and not demanding answers. I probably should have been sad when she flatlined, but I really wasn’t. As someone who was a main character, she was boring. Even as Tommy Madsen’s granddaughter, there was not much to it. That familial connection to the story should have driven her, but it never did.

I was surprised that Madsen stabbed her though. After claiming to kill Will in order to protect her, he stabbed her? That’s not protecting her. Was he really protecting himself? And, what was that bit about her parents? How did her parents die?

If there is a second season and she is saved, I don’t want to see the meek Rebecca of season one, I want to see a will-stop-at-nothing crusader in search of the truth. That Rebecca would be amazing to watch!

There was so much to absorb in the two hours that I’m sure I missed a bunch, but those are my initial thoughts. I enjoyed the finale and it worked as a series finale if that’s what it turns out to be. There were enough answers to satisfy me. Of course, I’d really like to see a second season and I think it would be better than the first. The premise is now set up and a second season would be go time!

If the show is renewed for a second season, I’ll recommend that people catch up on the show over the summer. In many ways, I can see this show improving season after season similar to what has happened with Fringe.

What did you think of the finale? Were you satisfied or did you want more answers and fewer questions? Will you be back for a second season?

Odds and Ends

  • “The bat cave behind the bat cave.” — Diego Soto
  •  I loved the car chase. It was nice to actually see the San Francisco scenery on the show. The chase was a homage to Bullitt shot-by-shot.
  • Hauser made it clear that he was friends with Tillman, but nothing ever really came from that. Given the reveal about Warden James, was Tillman involved with Hauser’s investigation before he was killed?
  • “They are everywhere.” — This reveal opens up quite a few creative options for a second season.
  • Can Lucy be tracked now that she has silver in her blood?
  • If the prisoners can be tracked, can Hauser use that to capture them? Can they only be tracked from that room?
  • “What year is it?” — Silver Man, then laughs when told it is 2012.

Photo Credit: FOX

5 Responses to “Alcatraz – The finale provides answers and more questions”

March 27, 2012 at 8:41 AM

The ‘Mystery’ of Screenwriting – 10 Stages to Success
By JJ Abrams

As the first season of Alcatraz draws to a close, I felt it was finally time for me to share my secrets with a new generation of screen-writers.
I knew from an early age that I would make it in the TV business. From my humble beginnings I really never thought that I would be able to master the craft and follow in the footsteps of those literary giants who had come before me. That was until I realised that I didn’t have to. You see what I had was an unnatural amount of energy. I watched talented peers of mine wasting time developing their skills and deepening into the mystery of life, while I was churning out an average of 16 new show ideas every hour. My efficiency was legendary. It enabled me to spend the majority of my time hanging out with likeminded TV executives who were absolutely unencumbered by a desire to create something that would actually be loved by an audience. We shared a passion for the science behind what keeps those ratings up. Even at that early stage, I was dreaming of putting together a professional and talented team which had all the veneer of quality but absolutely no direction or purpose.
Presently, I see so many budding screen-writers out there who remind me of myself but are still really struggling to gain industry adulation. If, like me, your energy levels far outweigh your talent, do not be despondent. You are capable of great things (well mediocre things that a lot of people think are great). Don’t make things too complicated for yourself. These tips are dedicated to kindred spirits:

JJ Abrams Secret Formula – The 10 stages to Success

1. Efficiency is the key. Your aim should always be maximum control, minimum effort. Creators who stay involved with the process after the first two episodes are losers, wasting their life. Remember to move on.

2. Don’t spend too much time on creation either. Remember, if you follow these tips, people will keep watching your show irrespective of how well drawn the situation is. The first step in creation is to pick a scenario or location that people think is pretty cool. Next, scour the internet for conspiracy and secret knowledge websites. Don’t waste time understanding any of them, just pick up enough so you could convince someone with no knowledge of the subject that you kind of know what you are talking about.

3. Print out a list of Myers Briggs personalities. Copy and paste them into character bios, the production team can deal with details like names etc. If you want to add a bit of polish, just pick a couple of names of famous philosophers or scientists. The most important stage is to get a great casting director. Remember, all we are trying to achieve is the veneer of quality. With our meagre abilities, we know that before long things are going to get pretty incomprehensible. Good actors/good-looking actors can help paper over the cracks and buy us some time.

4. Now for the most important step. Those of you who have seen my TED talk will know that I am obsessed with mysteries and believe that a mystery brings more pleasure than knowledge. Those of you with true understanding of the art of literary creation also understand that I have completely confused the means with the end and am mired in some kind of narcissistic, self-satisfied sludge. THE CENTRAL MYSTERY is crucial to the success of your show. It must be a mystery that without understanding of, none of the actions of your characters can make complete sense. They must all do weird stuff which necessitates the viewer to keep watching to work out what is going on. In my experience, the viewer will put up with almost anything in pursuit of making sense of a character. All subsequent stages represent clever ways of confusing, distracting and deceiving the viewer into continuing watching despite their strong (and valid) reservations about the series.

5. Get the geeks on your side. This is the ultimate inoculation against valid criticism and really very easy to achieve. First, lure the geeks. Pepper the series with mystical, literary and pop culture references. They don’t actually have to mean anything but your viewers will certainly try to read into them. They will come up with theories that far surpass your own creative abilities and add depth to the dross that you have served up. You can even cherry-pick a couple of these for future plot development or even future shows. ALWAYS be thinking about the next show! Second, appease the geeks. Do the convention circuits, do endless interviews, release merchandising, multiple editions of DVDs, epic extra features etc.

6. By episode 7 or 8 of the first season, viewers will be starting to suspect you don’t actually have a plan (although your loyal and growing geek fan army will be vigorously defending you on the net). You on the other hand want to squeeze every drop out of this dry fruit before the furore reaches epic proportions. You should have already moved on to your next project by now, leaving production in the hands of a feckless but enthusiastic writing team. If you haven’t, jump ship NOW! This retains your mystique and your departure can always be correlated with when the show started to ‘go downhill’.

7. Instruct your writing team to use the following strategies
a. Always answer a question with a question even if it doesn’t make sense for the characters, the current storyline, the flow of the series or most importantly the sanity of the viewers.
b. Surgically excise normal curiosity from all characters so they don’t keep demanding answers that any believable character would.
c. Create “Trojan horse reveals” that look like genuine explanations but on reflection actually embody more mystery. Great ways to do this include using mysterious glowing light, doors behind doors, keyholes behind keyholes, weird looking contraptions, additions of new characters.
d. Wry looks and maniacal laughter are great substitutes for plot development
e. Fight fire with fire. Refuse to explain a mystery and simultaneously create five more. As you go along crush the viewer under the sheer weight of unexplained nonsense. All but the most committed will have long given up in trying to understand and tie everything together. If you have done it right you will have manifested a kind of televisual Stockholm Syndrome where viewers cannot reconcile the number of hours they have sunk into your show and will see their only option as to start to ‘love their captors’.

8. Remember at all times, show utter contempt for your viewing public. They love it.

9. When the show does finally end (hopefully it will be cancelled abruptly after many seasons so I (my writing team) don’t have to try and wrap up a story that I never had any intention of doing in the first place. Alternatively, ramp up the questions to be answered and sacrifice all the hard work in characterisation that the real members of the production team have put in to cover up your own inadequacy. Write an ending that really makes no sense so that it can be claimed it is open to interpretation. Have fun being extremely patronising to any viewer that actually has taste in fiction and understands that they have been manipulated into many hours of viewing of an empty husk of a tv show, by asserting that they are obsessed with getting ‘answers’ and can’t just ‘enjoy a story for its own sake’.

10. The tenth and final step is the most important. In fact it’s the most central. Without this step none of the others make sense. At the center of all screen-writing theory there has been a cover-up, one which only a select few of writers is privy to. These writers have been holding this secret for many years and passing it down from generation to generation for reasons that might well be explained below. These writers may be people that you know or maybe completely new people, I’m not quite sure yet but it might well become clear if you keep reading. One of them lives in California, and was, until now searching for a key that was stolen from her by two hooded men with …lets say… dragon tattoos on their forearms. This key opens a trapdoor within her grandfather’s apartment, the grandfather who in a flashback we might discover initiated her into this secret screen-writing tradition. She found the key yesterday and, my sources tell me that she went to the trapdoor opened it and some kind of mysterious glowing light shot out of it to reveal a green trapdoor with phoenixes on it with three keyholes and a scrap of parchment with some kind of … wait a sec, wikipedia’s so slow today… ok… Talmudic code on it. As soon as the first trapdoor opened there was a knock at the door and an orthodox Jew called Herodotus, drenched in rain from a storm looking all dramatic marches in, spies the parchment and says “The Bible code can be viewed as a part of Talmudic scholarship, albeit one of the more controversial parts. Throughout history, many Jewish, and later Christian, scholars have attempted to find hidden or coded messages within the Bible’s text, notably including Isaac Newton” He shoots this mysterious lady in her mysterious chest, she’ s bleeding right now, I’ll tell you later what happens to her. So you see the pieces start to fall together, the secrets of screen-writing have something to do with the most famous book ever, the bible. Is there some kind of code to screen writing? Well let me explain it all to you, I want you to understand and gain access to this mystery. This trapdoor is not isolated. There are lets say 20, no hold on we have a bit more space here 80 …er… ok 90 trapdoors all over the world and when all of them have been opened I will definitely, I promise, reveal the secrets to screen-writing that I hold. I absolutely promise you that if you keep reading my blog posts, watching my shows, that eventually, if you can stay the course, I will, as I get more news, reveal the contents of the trapdoors and unravel the mystery of the bible code, the mysterious Jew, the mysterious chiming sound heard around owl sanctuaries (did I mention that one yet?) and how it all relates to the central mystery of screen-writing of all. The mystery that even I am not privy to. The mystery behind why I keep getting commissioned to do TV series. The mystery that, believe me, no one really understands.

March 28, 2012 at 8:35 AM

Best post EVER! Sorry to say it, but I gotta say I respect you a lot more JJ now that you put out your blueprint!

March 27, 2012 at 9:26 PM

I was fairly satisfied. The car chase through San Francisco made excellent use of on-location filming. It’s too bad they couldn’t have afforded to film the episodes since the pilot there. I also was never able to get very attached to Rebecca–I think I had more of a connection to all the other lead characters, including the Warden and the doctor, who got a little less crazy as the show went forward.

While they did explain what was behind the door, and set up a little bit of how the “jumps” came to be, they kept enough unanswered that they could have easily sustained another season–why did the prisoners come back more violent than they were? Why does it seem like their arrivals have been staggered, but everyone seems to have left at the same time? Was that planned? Where is the Warden in 2012? If the silver is a tracking device, why did only some of the prisoners have it?

I think the show had potential. A new more interesting lead character, to replace the apparently dead Rebecca, could’ve given them a real chance at getting past the “crime of the week”. I’m sorry it looks like it won’t be back.

April 16, 2012 at 8:56 AM

but what great potential for the writers to continue on … Is Rebecca really dead? Considering she is the grandaughter of Madsen (whose character alludes to immortality), this lends an interesting twist to the story…

I personally, would love to see a 2nd series… it feels…unfinished.

May 20, 2012 at 7:16 PM

okay I saw al the serie and it was totally amazing im not of a series person but waw this got me all day long watching them! i just cant understand why they quit the serie!!!!! Im hoping for forward series and really cant understand why they ended it! So much more endless prisioners to continue. In the first episode i saw i was like whoa somany prisioners i’ll take a long time for the serie to finish catching them all!

To sad it ended =(

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