Quick Take: A little Shawshank, a little No Country For Old Men, and the Alcatraz equivalent of "The Hatch."
I watched the Alcatraz tale of ‘Cal Sweeney’ three times, over and over, because I kept thinking that I was missing something. Maybe I kept blacking out during major chunks of the episode and missed any real meat behind his story.
As it turns out, I didn’t.
In fact, the entirety of ‘Cal Sweeney’ seemed to be a weak method of furthering the “Mysteries of the Island”-vibe a la Lost. While the episode’s weaknesses were nowhere near the stinker episode that shall not be named, it was still a far lesser product than its two previous entrants.
Cal Sweeney seems to be a mix of Red from Shawshank Redemption and Dillinger. He’s a roguish bank robber who uses his good looks to charm tellers into unknowingly helping him pull of his jobs. Aiding Cal is an air gun that not only blows the locks out of safety deposit boxes (genius), but also the brains out of people that put some sort of wrinkle in his plans (a lame rehash of No Country for Old Men).
During his time on The Rock, Cal ran the contraband cafe right out of the prison laundry for both inmates and guards alike. When Tiller tosses his cell, it appears that a very special item was taken, something that Sweeney would give anything for. Tiller does want in on Sweeney’s business, but when confronted a dinner party that has inmates as servers, Tiller denies it. He also takes the Warden’s “Pen mightier than the sword” speech at the dinner to an extreme by jabbing the Warden’s gift (a fountain pen) deep into Sweeney’s knee.
After his time in solitary, it comes out that Sweeney’s protege actually concocted the whole thing to get Sweeney out of the way long enough to take over his operation. While this was an interesting backstory, it didn’t really grab me at all and seemed fairly flimsy in its execution. It shouldn’t have. There was plenty of perceived depth, but when you take a look at it as a whole rather than segments, it just seemed less than what it should have been.
The present day Sweeney exploits weren’t much better. He’s continuing his ways, but now we see that after he gets a score, he’ll find an item that he’ll use in enticing his next teller/victim and goes to its previous owner to get the backstory. It is ironic that the backstory of a character who pursues backstories to aide him in his crimes is the weakest part of the episode.
Cal’s latest job goes awry and cops swarm the bank looking to take him out. Madsen, leaving his weapon behind OF COURSE, sneaks in to bust him out in a cool ’80s Donald Bellasario wink-wink-nudge-nudge kind of way. After Madsen succeeds and a halfhearted chase scene, seatbelt trivia and crash play out, Sweeney is collected by Hauser and sent off presumably to Alcatraz 2.0.
The item that Sweeney was sent to collect was another one of the mysterious keys. This time, Hauser’s group of nerds, who kind of all look like their pitching sketch comedy ideas in their spare time, do some analysis on the keys to try and figure out their origin and purpose.
Two interesting bits of business that lend themselves to the overall mythos of Alcatraz emerged from this otherwise run-of-the-mill episode. The first is our dear friend Dr. Lucy, or at least someone who looks exactly like her back in the ’60s at Tiller’s birthday dinner. She goes on and on about her belief in criminal reform and the use of memory manipulation to achieve that end. I really miss Lucy and am hoping her coma ends very soon.
I’m not entirely sure that the Lucy we see in 2012 is the same woman from 1963. I’m sure she is, but it just seems odd that she would undergo a name change whereas the cigarette loving dance machine Dr. Beauregard keeps his moniker.
The second reveal was found somewhere in the bowels of the prison. The Warden takes Sweeney’s former protege down there in handcuffs and, using presumably the same two keys the Sylvain and Sweeney procured as well as a third, he opens an ominous looking door and escorts the young man inside to meet who or whatever inhabits that room.
Being that we’re messing with space and time, you can’t really be sure about the course of events surrounding that scene. It would appear at first that whoever is causing the 63’s to jump is doing so to get the keys that unlock the mystery door, but a possibility is also that the 63’s jumping and getting the keys happened prior to that moment (remember one of the think tank nerd said that the keys were laser-cut, something that wasn’t possible prior to 1965 when the first machine was used to drill holes in diamond dies).
These types of unexplainable and mysterious threads need to be the meat and potatoes of Alcatraz, not stale backstories about otherwise uninteresting characters.
– James Zappie