I had one major revelation while watching last night's episode of Alcatraz, "Webb Porter": Parminder Nagra, who plays comatose prison-behavior specialist Lucy, looks like Snooki. And now I can't unsee it. Proof:
Sorry about that. I hope the thought doesn't invade your nightmares. Aside from Lucy's resemblance to the pregnant Jersey Shore star, there was a bunch of surface-level stuff about "Webb Porter" that differentiated it from other episodes of Alcatraz. Most noticeably, it was by far the best-looking and well put together episode of the season, and a lot of that credit goes to director Jack Bender. He's the man who shot a lot of Lost's most important episodes, and he's already directed a handful of episodes for Alcatraz. But there was a certain flair to "Webb Porter," particularly noticeable in the scenes where the convict-of-the-week played his violin and the various P.O.V. shots, that lent an air of competence to the series.
Unfortunately, Bender didn't write the episode, too. The new look of "Webb Porter" couldn't mask the Alcatraz's ineptitude with regard to developing quality case-of-the-week stories or justifying the false bravado of each episode's final moments.
This week a '63 returned to present day to play his violin and hold ladies hostage so he could snip off their hair and use that hair to string his bow. And in a something-that-I-can't-believe-I'm-calling-a-twist twist that should have happened several episodes ago, Webb Porter wasn't immediately identified by so-called Alcatraz expert Soto, forcing the A-Team to actually figure out who he was.
Eventually the team figured out that the violin people were hearing at the crime scenes was that of the killer and not the victims (great detective work!) so Rebecca and Soto went to the perfectly preserved Alcatraz music room and found a violin there with Webb Porter's name etched into it the same way a third-grader would have marked his instrument. Then the team caught him alive, because Emerson thought his magical and healing colloidal-silver-laced blood was a match for comatose Lucy. It was a pretty easy case to solve, even by Alcatraz standards.
Meanwhile, in flashbacks, an uncomatose Lucy was working with Webb by introducing him to music to help him deal with tinnitus, an annoying ringing in the ears. He took to the fiddle like Soto does to a Hot Pocket, and it wasn't not long before he was playing Inmate Concerto #5 for the rest of the cell block. We also saw flashbacks of young Emerson and Lucy's budding romance, but without any sense of chemistry. Seriously, it was like spying on a Match.com first date between two people so desperate they'd kiss a doorknob.
In the final scene, Webb's blood was transfused into Lucy, who woke up. Finally. She's been in a coma since Episode 2. I know of a little boy on another TV series who was pushed off a castle tower and fell into a coma for just one episode, and that worked out well. Soto and 'Becca did see old footage of Lucy looking the same age back in 1963, so there'd better be some sort of confrontation with Emerson in next week's two-hour finale or I'll kill someone.
Again, there was a sense of "who the F cares" with regard to the episode's bad guy. Alcatraz doesn't have the guts to make its villains downright heinous or totally compassionate. Maybe this is by design, but until we understand why, it's just bad characterization. Every convict is doing horrible things today but has a sad backstory in the past that's intended to explain their actions and lay the blame on someone else. So are we supposed to feel bad for Webb Porter because his mom tried to drown him, or are we supposed to hate the guy because he drowned women in the present day? Alcatraz is flirting with the whole idea of cause and effect, especially recently with Lucy's behavioral studies, but the flirting has to give way to heavy petting because it's already too little too late.
And that's what strikes me about Alcatraz. The series has NO THEME. It's all plot. There's no story behind the stories, it's only a series of good guys catching bad guys and end-of-episode "reveals." There's no sense of destiny or fate that's usually present in J.J. Abrams' projects. If the show can break the ice and talk more about nature versus nurture with its criminals, that'd be something to grow on. But 11 episodes into Season 1, theme—which is just as important to a show as its story—is locked up in a hole somewhere.
There are only two hours left of Alcatraz, and we're not much closer to learning the series' secrets than we were when the show started. But the finale is sure to answer some of the questions (like who is behind everything and what's behind the door) before leaving us with a cliffhanger that will never be resolved, because the show is unlikely to get a second season.
– Soto knows everything about Alcatraz and its inmates, but he doesn't know that Alcatraz once housed a musical savant? The man was one of the most interesting cases in the prison. And wouldn't Soto have known about Lucy?
– How about that convenient switching of hair color for his bows that Webb used? He went from brunette to blonde to redhead, which helped the A-Team crack the case. My favorite part was when Soto was looking up faces from the Philharmonic (now that's a powerful computer), came up with two redheads, and said, "It must be the girl with the long hair." Rebecca then said DMV photos could be out-of-date, so Soto discovered that the one with short hair had just FourSquared in Union Square, which meant the one he originally picked was the right one. I wish he had flashed Rebecca a look that said, "Thanks for wasting our time." I don't understand why procedurals stall like that. Proof should be needed to disprove hunches, not support them. It totally undermined the need for logical police work.
– Rebecca seriously needs to make some friends outside of work. Scratch that, Rebecca seriously needs to make some friends. Does this chick have a personal life? Does she have any interests? What happened to her fiancee?
– Have you ever seen a show where the main characters become less and less important as the series progresses, as is happening with Alcatraz?
Follow TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom