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Alcatraz – Kit Nelson

After the rather disappointing extended premiere, Fox's Alcatraz did nothing with "Kit Nelson" to reassure those who have mixed feelings on this latest J.J. Abrams venture into genre shows. The episode kept the same pattern used in the previous week, building the story around an Alcatraz inmate who has reappeared and can't help but to resume the activities that got him incarcerated in the first place. The title character, "Kit Nelson", was sent to prison for killing 11-year-olds, and that is of course the first thing he sets out to do when he reappears in our time. This follows "Ernest Cobb", the second episode last week, featuring a sniper whose favorite pastime consisted of shooting people at random. The two episodes, unlike the pilot, brought nothing new to the overarching storyline, but attempted clumsily to do some character development.

Where "Ernest Cobb" tried, but failed, to involve the team emotionally by getting Lucy in a coma after being shot at by the returning inmate, "Kit Nelson" focused on Diego "Doc" Soto by connecting him to the case while at the same time trying to make the viewer — and agent Emerson Hauser — see his relevance, which before the episode was largely debatable. By allowing the connection between a crime and a former Alcatraz inmate to be made by Doc right from the start, the series made a strong case for keeping him around, even if some could still argue that reading his books would be as helpful.

Although it was very good to get Hauser to profile Doc as a victim of a childhood trauma that has had a great deal of influence on what he does and who he is today, the execution showed a fundamental issue in the writing and into the dynamics of relationships between characters in the story. Our leads, especially Doc and Hauser, don't sound as experienced or as much experts as they should to fit their profiles. Hauser using the 10000-hour rule and "arrested development" made him sound more like a caricature than an expert in human learning processes or in developmental psychology. Even for someone who doesn't realize the 10000-hour rule is far from established and the expression "arrested development" in this case is wrong, there is still the fact that such an analysis coming from a government agent like Hauser seems a bit far-fetched.

Rebecca & Hauser
More so this episode than in the previous ones, this special "unit" Hauser heads appeared to be the most dysfunctional and amateurish entity in the web of government agencies, while having, surprisingly, a lot of power concentrated in one man. Also, considering what they are up against, a team of two for field work (before Rebecca and Doc joined) seems extraordinarily lean. A team that in "Kit Nelson" painfully dragged its way through an investigation that exposed what is possibly the biggest liability of the freshman series, which oddly enough, is made obvious by the one thing the series has done very well so far.

In the three episodes we have seen up until now, the show has used flashbacks very effectively to take us back to Alcatraz during the last years before the prison closed down. Those carefully built trips have introduced us to characters on both sides of the law, painting an intimate portrait of inmates in particular Kit Nelson's conversations with the prison doctor, warden, and his father were very effective albeit at times disturbing.
Those details reinforce the fact that Fox's Alcatraz is all about the famous prison, about those inmates that vanished in 1963, and them reappearing today —  the same age. Although there is the obvious question of where they went and what they are up to as they return, which was a question that was briefly and evasively touched on in the pilot. There's also the pattern that each episode takes on an inmate at a time. That would be fine if we had more Jack Sylvanes (Pilot) than Ernest Cobbs and Kit Nelsons in this world. The problem with the latter is that it makes for a lot of time spent exploring the minds and behaviors of inmates that might be more at their place in a mental institution than in a state prison, which of course makes them less likely to be picked up for a "mission" that would tap into the greater mythology of the series. Such an approach has produced another episode that is filled with physical and mental violence, clumsy character development, and that is ultimately very likely to turn off viewers who sit through very trying standalone episodes only if there is a perceived value.


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