Last night two episodes of Alcatraz aired. You might think that because of last Monday’s NASCAR debacle, Fox transferred last week’s episode over to this week. Only that's not what happened. Not at all....
Actually, the episode that was to air on Feb. 27 will air on March 12. Last night's eps had been planned as a twofer for a while and after watching them I can see why. Both “The Ames Bros.” and “Sonny Burnett” showed off a more assured series than we’ve seen before, in terms of eerie cinematography and characterization. And since the first episode was a brisk action-packed hour while the second episode was a measured investigation into the overarching intrigue, they played well when seen back to back.
“The Ames Bros.” might have had a silly setup -- the inmates were two brothers looking for the legendary lost gold beneath Alcatraz -- but the claustrophobic lighting and tense pacing kept you from dwelling on that. The entire episode took place on the Rock, with Rebecca, Soto, and Hauser sharing their 9 to 5 office with three returned ‘63s.
A storm had knocked out the lights on Alcatraz (though not the security cameras), so most of what we saw in the first hour was lit solely by flashlight. That constricted lighting, along with a rather gruesome slasher-style killing in the beginning, gave the episode an unsettling quality. To be fair, it's hard to have a consistently frightening tone when your series takes place in one of the nation’s most gorgeous cities (even if it isn't entirely filmed there).
The inmates of the week -- the titular Ames Brothers -- weren’t exactly psychologically complex, but the presence of a former Alcatraz guard working in cahoots with them in 2012 was a surprising twist.
The guard, a man named Donovan who definitely did not seem to be down with the electric banana, had been working with the Ames boys back in the 1960s as part of a rather convoluted scheme. Apparently the three of them bought into the legend that the U.S. government had accidentally left behind gold on the Rock from Civil War days and they decided to do a little heist while they were doing some time (how they were planning on escaping with the gold was another matter entirely).
Their plan involved faking a religious awakening, lifting a key from Warden James and making a copy of it surreptitiously during kitchen duty. Before it was over, one of them had his pinky sliced off by a meat saw and Donovan had to suffer a bloody beating that made him resemble Rocky Balboa for a second.
The key in question was one of the hefty, mysterious keys we’ve been seeing since the pilot. When the warden caught the Ames Bros. back in the '60s -- before they had a chance to try it on the room they assumed held the gold -- he assured them that the key was to something else entirely. (That being said, the episode did wrap with Warden James cackling over a pile of gold bars and calling them his “ladies.” How many weird things are happening on this island anyway?)
After failing to steal the booty in 1960, the Ames brothers suddenly found themselves alive and young in 2012 (along with their guard friend) and apparently decided the best thing to do was to stick to their 50-year-old game plan and get the gold. Before the episode had wrapped, one of Hauser’s tech dweebs was murdered, Dr. Soto was taken hostage, and Det. Madsen killed both brothers (one she clobbered by launching a jail door at his head, which was gnarly and nasty).
NEXT: Secret of the silver and the reverse Godfather moment