First Impressions – Alcatraz: Pilot/Ernest Cobb


Alcatraz Prison is one of the most notorious federal prisons in American history.  In 1963, the prison closed its doors and the prisoners were transported elsewhere due to rising maintenance costs and decrepit facilities.  Or did they?

The drama speculates that the prisoners and some of the guardsmen actually disappeared in 1963.  We don’t know why but suddenly they are back in the present and they haven’t aged.  Who is behind their disappearance/reappearance act?  Detective Rebecca Madsen (Sarah Jones) teams up with comic book artist/Alcatraz historian, Diego Soto (Jorge Garcia) to recapture these inmates.

Afterwards, Emerson Hauser (Sam Neill) takes the inmates to a secret bunker that serves as another Alcatraz prison where the prisoner is expected to live out his sentence for the rest of his life.

I must admit that Alcatraz is one of those things in history that has always fascinated me.  When I first saw the trailer, I was skeptical.  I didn’t know where the series wanted to go with the whole sci-fi/mystery thing.

The show’s got this déjà vu feeling to it.  The series is brought to us by J.J. Abrams and his production company.  Jack Bender is one of the executive producers and he directed the 2nd and 3rd episodes (he directed many episodes of Lost and was one its producers).  Jorge Garcia (aka Hurley) plays one of the main characters and Michael Giacchino is one of the composers for the series.  Plus, it takes place on another island and we’ve got a secret bunker.  So there is a Lost-esque familiarity to it.

Each episode we get one of the 1963 inmates or ‘63ers who appears back in the present, looking like their old self and committing crimes.  In the pilot, we were introduced to Jack Sylvane (Jeffrey Pierce) who had held up a grocery store in order to feed his family but then he killed a man in prison while trying to defend himself which brought him to Alcatraz.  We get to see the ‘63ers in the past and get an understanding of what their experience was like on the Rock.

I’m not really sure if all the ‘63ers really know what’s going on.  It seems like Jack knows more than he’s letting on because he went after a man that had no connection to him or his history.

Ernest Cobb (Joe Egender, who strongly resembles Giovanni Ribisi) returns to the present to continue the sniper killings he was pulling off in the 60’s.  I like that we get a new character, new case with each new episode but they are going to have to start connecting the dots for me sooner.  There are so many questions that if left unanswered for too long could leave me frustrated rather than intrigued.  I like it when a series answers a question but presents new mysteries and new obstacles.

Sarah Jones is a new face for me but she does seem to play the tough, gritty cop well.  I like how Madsen’s personal story is tied to Alcatraz and she was raised to believe in one thing but as an investigator for this covert federal unit, she finds something else about herself.  That internal struggle will serve well for the first season of the drama and keep the viewers invested in her.

Jorge’s character, on the other hand, is a bit geek and a bit like a running database for the Alcatraz crew.  I’d like to see more into his history and how he became to be such an expert.  However, if you were going to write a character about a comic book geek that is smart and witty, Hurley’s your man.

So we know that some of the guardsmen and other personnel at Alcatraz are currently in the present.  Like the inmates, they haven’t aged as well.  Among them is Lucy Banerjee (Parminder Nagra).  Lucy is Emerson Hauser’s assistant and in “Ernest Cobb” it appears that she was an Alcatraz therapist to Cobb.

I’m not exactly sure if she remembers what happened to her or how she figures into this whole mystery.   However that scene when Cobb takes her out was an excellent move by the writers.  It certainly got my attention.  To do that to one of your main characters so early in the series, you bet I want to know what happens to her and if being one of the ’63ers makes any difference.

I’m glad to see Parminder Nagra again.  I haven’t been following her since her Bend it Like Beckham days because her stint on ER and the movie Ella Enchanted were okay but a bit underwhelming.

Sam Neill… once I figured out how his character Emerson Hauser connects to the mystery of Alcatraz, I was wary of that casting choice.  You know, Sam Neill’s an excellent actor and I’m fine with him playing Emerson Hauser in the present day.  However, he just doesn’t look old enough to have been a prison guard back in 1963 and that bugs me a little bit.  Other than that, how did Emerson know to build that prison?  What are his motives?  So many questions.  Another Lost déjà vu moment.

Despite the Lost similarities, it’s been a long time since a pilot of show got its hooks immediately into me.  It usually takes a couple of episodes to win me over.  Right now, I’ve been thoroughly enjoying the show but if it turns out to be anything like the end of Lost, then we’re gonna have problems.  I’ve been hurt once so I am approaching this show cautiously but for now I’m sold on the concept of this show.



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