When I first saw the advert for JJ Abrahams’ new vehicle Alcatraz I was filled with what can only be described as mixed emotions. Having spent all those hours watching Abrahams’ previous show Lost and having to endure the incredibly unsatisfying ending to the series I am sure in my anger at the time I vowed never to watch another one of his shows.
Yet here I am, sat watching the third episode of his new series with an overwhelming sense of trepidation. In a wave of publicity and with a cast of strong lead actors including Sam Neil, Parminder Nagra and Jorge Garcia (Hurley from Lost) the show launched three weeks ago on UK television.
The show centres around San Fransisco cop Rebecca Madsen (Sarah Jones). Madsen witnesses the death of her partner and in her anger for justice unwittingly becomes embroiled in a mysterious agency trying to unravel a mystery in which over 300 guards and inmates disappeared from the infamous Alcatraz prison in 1963 without a trace. However, in a classic Abrahams twist, these inmates have now begun to return to present day San Francisco, having not aged a day since their disappearance. This creates the jeopardy of the show as each episode focuses on a different inmate who returns to San Fransisco and the attempts by Rebecca, aided by Diego “Doc” Soto (Jorge Garcia) to help track down these harden criminals before they strike again.
As the story continues, we begin to delve into characters’ ‘back-stories’ and to see the intricate webs that link many of the characters to that event in 1963 and keep audiences guessing, and coming back to uncover the secrets. The style and tone of the whole show has dropped into quite dark territory, but that is a commendable achievement and a definite positive of the show not to sugar-coat its style.
This is a show, much like Lost, where it is hard to give any detail away without spoiling plot points, but the appeal of the show is uncovering the mysteries that surround the show. This is unfortunately the shows strongest and weakest point. It feels a bit of a cop-out that each week the show leaves the audience hanging on a final plot twist, but it’s always done with a style and catches you off-guard that leaves you second guessing everything you have just seen. The star of the show is not a character but the mystery of the prison and the mysterious event and sometimes there is a lack of connection with the characters from the audience.
It is very difficult to escape the feeling that the show still has a basis in science fiction, and there is an overdone suspension of reality (like how the prisoners have re-appeared, 50 years later, having not aged a day) so it’s probably best to expect the unexpected. This is shaping up to be another roller-coaster ride through JJ Abrahams’s talents for suspension and drama, even though it relies on a lowest common denominator by keeping the audiences guessing and coming back for more. As much as I hate to say it, there’s no point pretending I won’t be tuning in every week to follow the unravelling of a compelling mystery.
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