Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Review: Alcatraz "Cal Sweeney"

Non Spoiler Review:
Cal Sweeney is a charming bank robber who's really quite dangerous. It appears he's been operating for awhile in the present by the time he gets on the Alcatraz team's radar. His flashbacks raise plenty of questions of what transpired in 1960, particularly around a dinner party the warden hosts for Tiller.

Cal Sweeney was heavy on the mythology, and those tidbits were (as usual) the most compelling elements. I didn't find the present-day crimes that interesting again, nor the usual explanation of what motivates the particular felon of the week. Though, to be fair, Sweeney's robberies (and his capture) appeared to get a more complex handling this time around. So the strength of the show remains in what's revealed in the 1960s stuff. But this was definitely one of the strongest episodes to date and the mystery (conspiracy?) has definitely become the show's strength.

Spoilers Now!
Cal Sweeney is a charismatic bank robber who is is also viciously violent when necessary. In prison he ran contraband into Alcatraz and took a young prisoner, Harlan, under his wing. Tiller tosses his cell and takes a small metal box that belongs to him and uses it to extort a share of his operation. Frustrated, Harlan gets him a gig working a birthday dinner at the warden's house for Tiller. 

In the present, Rebecca finally asks how Diego has two PhDs and runs a comic book shop. He explains he got them for his parents, and was subsequently blacklisted by his peers for a controversial crime paper that referenced Gotham City as a model. His relationship with his parents is complicated. They're then called in to a case dealing with safety deposit box robberies. Diego immediately knows it's Cal Sweeney. In the 50s stealing from boxes (and not the vault) was less serious given it wasn't a federal crime. Sweeney's method relies on seducing bank tellers and using them to get inside the safety deposit box room.

Sweeney later shows up at William Barry's house, one of the owners of the stolen boxes, and he claims to be from the bank attempting to get a list of what was stolen from his box. That includes his will and deed to his house, as well as an expensive blue sapphire necklace which is of interest to Sweeney. He wants to know where he met his wife and the whole story around its purchase.

Diego and Rebecca get to the house (the last one on their list), running into Barry's wife arriving home at the same time. Unfortunately Barry is dead. They return to the Alcatraz records room and look through Sweeney's archives, which are all mysteriously burned. Then they track down some of his bouquets to his tellers to a flower shop, where he's identified by the owner as a frequent customer. They locate the teller where he's sent the latest flower arrangement, determining that bank will be his next target.

He's already there. The bank is locked down as he's emerging, so he opts to take everyone inside hostage as the police arrive. Diego figures that old bank buildings like that one will share common air vents with nearby buildings, so Rebecca goes in unarmed and confronts Sweeney, telling him she's there to break him out.

Rebecca manages to gain his trust that it serves her purposes to get him out, so manages to escape with him (unbelievably easily, as usual) during a crowd of hostages that emerge from the bank, with Sweeney concealed. She takes off with him in a police car as Diego gets Hauser to follow.

Sweeney isn't going to let her drop him off, but takes her hostage instead. She wants to know what he took from the bank, but he has no idea. He isn't supposed to open the box and gets annoyed that she keeps asking. She runs the car into another parked vehicle given they didn't have seat belt laws in the 50s and Sweeney's knocked out and captured.

Back to the flashback. At Tiller's birthday party, the warden's sister attends, who seems to be quite a hoot. Also, Dr. Beauregard is there, as well as Lucy. Her clinical psychology ideas don't go over well with the more practical men. She has theories on removing troublesome memories in order to correct behaviour.

The warden gives Tiller a pen, then Tiller gets coffee spilled on him so Sweeney can confront him in the bathroom about getting the box back. Tiller wants fifty percent of his operation, but he's also given the box away already. Sweeney gets rough so Tiller stabs him in the leg with the pen. He tells him to stay there until the party's over and someone will take him back to his cell to stay in the hole for thirty days.

Back at Alcatraz, Harlan reveals his true colours—he knows that Sweeney lost his family when he was 10, and the only thing that didn't burn was a tin box, which he returns to him, and taunts him about not having a single memento of his past (so Sweeney's been stealing mementos from safety deposit boxes so he can get the thrill of other people's memories. Sigh). It was all a set up so he could take over Sweeney's operation. Sweeney crushes the box before he's taken away to the hole.

Rebecca explains to Diego that Sweeney only opened one box at the bank and took a key, which Rebecca now has. Hauser immediately comes in and demands it. She agrees as long as he explains what it's for. He says okay, then takes it and tells them nothing.

Hauser goes into another area of the control room and announces he has another one, in addition to the one they got from Sylvain. Molecular analysis of the keys might reveal some insight into how the prisoners jumped. The scientists scan them and find they've been laser cut, which wasn't around in the 60s. Hauser wants the island examined for signs of any chambers that they might open.

In the final flashback, the warden brings Harlan down into the bowls of Alcatraz to show him a particular room sealed by a heavy door, telling him his future just got brighter.

The Verdict:
The mythology gets a big kick in the pants this time, and even the felon of the week has a more mysterious (though still unbelievable) tale. It's quite a stretch to think these criminals all act out some singular trauma of their past that gives each their thing. It's all very comic book villain.

For some reason Lucy stuck out like a sore thumb at the dinner party. She doesn't look like she's from the 60s at all, plus her entire demeanor was out of place. Does that mean she's a time traveller back to that era? Similarly, Dr. Beauregard seems plucked from the 60s in his appearance in the present. That all leads me to believe he's been brought forward, and Lucy's been travelling to the past.

There were a lot of clues and questions raised—particularly Lucy's research on removing memories, something that appears to figure prominently in all the timelost felons (the compulsion to retrieve the keys without knowing what they are or why). Could she be brainwashing them and setting them on their particular missions? But that would seem to contradict her close friendship with Hauser (unless her goal was to guide them to the keys in the future to get them for Hauser). Confusing. Tiller's back with his hands in things, and it looks like new character Harlan will be another player with whatever lurks in the mysterious room the warden shows him.

In addition to all this Hauser drops a clue about Diego's past—he drove when he was 11, but not after. There are also hints about his problematic relationship with his parents. What if his infatuation with Alcatraz actually isn't a coincidence at all?

Diego continues to outshine his costars. Even the warden and Tiller, Harlan and the warden's sister were more interesting than the flat Hauser and Rebecca. That's not too much of a problem yet given I'm getting into the mystery. If the writers could just make the crimes and the felons more believable, because it's laughable how easily Diego makes an intuitive leap, discerns the identity of the prisoner and his modus operandi, then the quick manner in which he gets rounded up and carted off to neo-Alcatraz. It's obvious the prisoners are plot devices rather than fully fleshed characters, and that's really the big flaw in the story right now.

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