TV Recap: Alcatraz: “Pilot”, “Ernest Cobb”, “Kit Nelson”

For the sake of full disclosure expect spoilers for episodes discussed as well as previously aired episodes.

Show Premise: On March 21, 1963, the prison known as “The Rock” was closed and all the prisoners were transferred off the island. However, that is a lie. What happened on that fateful day is everyone who was once on the island mysteriously disappeared. Now in present day San Francisco the inmates are returning into the public.

Episode 01 – “Pilot”

With the introduction of our main characters – Rebecca Madsen (Sarah Jones), Dr. Diego “Doc” Soto (Jorge Garcia) and Emerson Hauser (Sam Neill) – we’re thrust into a world where we have to quickly accept the fact that this happens.

Our introduction to Rebecca as the hard as nails police detective through the tragedy of the loss of her partner by who we discover later is a recently returned inmate of Alcatraz is done as quickly as any other TV show does it. It gives us almost no time to mourn the death of a character that we never got to know and leads us to one of my least favourite television tropes. Why spend the time showing us unnamed police detective that makes our real protagonist shake up for a moment in a scene that we’re going to care less about than his imaginary yet to be born children. Why not leave this as an origin story, as our other protagonist “Doc” loves to call out?

We’re transported back to 1963 when the halls of Alcatraz went empty. Add more than four decades and we return to modern day Alcatraz where Jack Sylvane (Jeffrey Pierce) wakes up and heads out the door with little questions or answers.

Through a series of flashbacks we’re told the tale of how Jack was constantly harassed by the Deputy Warden, which explains why he murders him. Now that we have a crime scene we finally get all our eggs mixing together with Rebecca on the hunt for a former Alcatraz (and supposedly dead) inmate after being brushed off the case after Emerson waves his FBI credentials around the room. With Rebecca unable to give up on this oddity of a case she decides to contact Dr. Soto, an author of one of the most comprehensive novels about the ’63 Alcatraz inmates. This brings together our unlikely partners for the show.

Only took me four paragraphs to explain what the show decided to muddle over the span of half an hour. This episode doesn’t fail as much as it suffers from what most one hour dramatic television, which is that it has to attempt to introduce us to our main characters, the general format of the procedural and also try and set up the mystery of the show in a way that doesn’t have to be real, but at the same time not allow us to dwell on it long enough to start questioning it.

I take it back, this episode does fail. The show takes too long to mix in all its elements and at the same time stutters along the way completely. Shows like this should be happy with the fact that I have a four episode rule*.

The Prison Thoughts: At the end of this episode we’re introduced to the weird idea of a new Alcatraz existing where Hauser seems to be planning to keep all of these inmates imprisoned once captured. It’s obvious that the show wants to embrace the idea of their being a bigger reason as to why these inmates are here, and probably why they’re here now. So I expect as the show goes on and the prison becomes more populated for more details to come along, I also expect for the show to question the intentions of Hauser.

Episode 01 | Episode 02 | Episode 03

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Andrew Robinson

Andrew Robinson

I love movies, I love TV so obviously I blog. You can read all my other ramblings on this and that over at