The first season of Fox's new mystery machine Alcatraz mercifully came to an end last night after 13 episodes' worth of squandered potential, characters sketched on cocktail napkins, and all the focus of a hyperactive kid who just snorted two pounds of Pixy Stix. But watching the finales of these types of shows (serialized supernatural dramas that never quite find their way, i.e. FlashForward, The Event) is always fun, because producers go into them trumpeting, "Questions will be answered!" like an old-timey fella selling invigorating tonic out of the back of wagon, and it's a blast to see if they live up to their promises.
In these types of scenarios, the best possible outcome is that some of a show's initial potential is finally fulfilled and a vision of what was ahead becomes clear. That, or things go absolutely nuts and an alien queen skewers her mother (hello, V!) or an alien planet shows up in the sky (hello, The Event!). The worst possible outcome is that your biggest fear—that you wasted several hours of your life watching this garbage—comes true as the plot remains muddled and the show continues to insult your intelligence. But no matter the result, I look forward to these situations because there's always some sort of reward of closure.
And heck, we've come this far with Alcatraz, why not stick out the final 120 minutes to finally learn the answers to the show's most important questions: How are the prisoners returning to present day? Why do the doctors keep sucking the blood out of Tommy Madsen? And what in Warden James' name is behind that triple-locked door? The answers are, in order, "because of movement in tectonic plates," "we don't know," and "a room to track all the escaped '63s." Basically, Alcatraz's finale was a worst-case scenario.
Of those three questions, the "Why do the doctors keep sucking the blood out of Tommy Madsen?" query got the best answer, in that there was no answer. Because the answers to the other two questions were the letdown of the century. Geo-thermal activity and tectonic plates sliding? Are you effing kidding me with this nonsensical B.S.? The big reveal in the super-duper triple-locked room was a map with a bunch of red dots tracking the prisoners let loose on the world? Snooooooooze.
Alcatraz needed to pay off big in its finale, and it failed miserably on all accounts unless you count Hauser booking a flight to Paraguay for Lucy as a pay-off. Not that we really expected anything great, given the show's track record. This was a quintessential case of answering questions with more questions, except we barely cared about the original questions in the first place and the new questions were a bunch of unnecessary hooey that honestly could have been crammed into the pilot.
But what DID we learn? In the penultimate hour (which also aired last night but was largely inconsequential) we were introduced to a new character named Harlan Simmons, who plays a big part in the overall story. "Don't you love it when big serialized shows keep their secrets by not even introducing major characters until way late in the season," said me, sarcastically? Simmons is a bajillionaire and has been leading a faction of escaped '63s in the present day, while we'd been led to believe that Warden James (who may or may not be coming to or already in the present day) is at the head of another faction and having Tommy do his dirty work. Both were after the key to the third lock to the secret room, but Soto snagged it from a guy who decided to swan dive out of a building rather than hand it over to Tommy. We also met an unnamed scientist who once worked at Alcatraz with James on super-secret stuff, and later made "the jump" and appeared in the mystery triple-locked room ROFLing when he was informed he was in 2012. And more time was spent on Hauser's nauseating romance with Lucy. Either he's about 75 now (which would make him 25 back on The Rock when he was a guard), or Lucy was seriously robbing the cradle back in 1963.
Welcome to Alcatraz, the most convoluted place on Earth. And just when you thought it couldn't get any more amateur (and at this point I was hoping it would get more amateur just to see how much of a disaster it could be), Rebecca and her grandfather had a showdown in the street, and he stuck her like a pig. She was sent off to the hospital, and as the clock ticked down on Alcatraz's first season, she flatlined. Wow. There's your cliffhanger. The main character's life hangs in the balance. I wonder how that will turn out, and I wonder if any of this magic silver blood will have anything to do with it. Unfortunately, even though she's the main character, it's a character we knew very little about because the writers never bothered to develop her. She may as well be someone dying on a table on the other side of the planet. I don't really care.
There was a cool car chase that was an homage to Bullitt, complete with big-time product placement from Ford and that cool green VW Beetle, but it felt so incredibly out of place in relation to the rest of the series. It was as if the crew decided to have fun with a final scene because they knew they weren't coming back. Or maybe Ford told them what they wanted and that's how it was going to be and if you don't like it then we'll just pull out our advertising, cool?
Everyone who tuned into the finale of Alcatraz did so in hopes of getting answers to the questions the show posed in the first promotional trailer. Instead, Alcatraz had the ego to assume it would last seven seasons, opted for a cliffhanger that we know the resolution of, and opened up mythology that could have been laid out in the premiere episode.
– I know some of you are hoping for a second season, but don't count on it. The finale drew a 1.5 rating among adults, a series low. This episode needed to give Fox a reason to bring the show back, and instead it gave the network a reason to cancel it.
– Chess metaphors galore! Welcome to Creative Writing 101.
– I would have preferred seeing two hours of Soto on a date with that medical examiner. Now THAT's a series.
Follow TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom