At this point, “Alcatraz’s” future is completely unclear. After last week’s horrid episode, I had low expectations for “Cal Sweeney,” but I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was a solid episode of television.
“Cal Sweeney,” unlike the other three episodes, is quite well-written. From start to finish, the episode was engaging and fairly suspenseful. I’m not really a big fan of procedurals, but “Cal Sweeney” makes a case for why “Alcatraz” can become a long-running sci-fi series that doesn’t need a weekly cliffhanger to sustain itself.
This week’s episode focuses on Cal Sweeney, a criminal who robs banks, but not to get into their vaults. Instead, he only takes specific items from selected safety deposit boxes. The outcome is predictable, as it follows the trend of each prior episode’s ending—Cal Sweeney is caught at the end, of course—but it’s a much more interesting story than that of “Kit Nelson.” And while it may not hang together at times, the writers are clearly taking better care of the plot. I suspect the episode’s inconsistencies derive from ongoing plotlines that the writers are slowly creating.
One of the loose ends that the writers will likely return to is what Sweeney was attempting to steal from the safety deposit box. In the end, we find out that the last safety deposit box theft was a velvet black bag. As he said to Sarah when she was driving, he “didn’t know what he stole. He just knew he was supposed to steal it.” Sarah, following her well-conceived car accident that knocked Sweeney out (seat belts didn’t exist in the 60’s!), found a key in the black bag. But the key had a laser engraving on it, and there’s no way it could’ve existed while Alcatraz was still booming.
So what does it mean? Heck if I know! But that’s part of the fun. “Cal Sweeney” is the first episode of the series to feature a bit of mythology that this show needs to remain entertaining. And after the twisted ending, in which the warden shoved a prisoner into a vaulted room underneath Alcatraz (this is what the keys were for), I can’t wait to see what next week has to offer.
Sure, the episode wasn’t perfect. The “envelope-pushing” violence is getting irritating. The plot holes are rife, like how prisoners would understand how security cameras work after being gone for 50 years. The show doesn’t get everything right, but these are all minor gripes.
I’m mostly just pleased that “Alcatraz” regained its traction, and it seems possible that after four episodes, the show may have finally hit its stride. Yet at the same time, “Alcatraz” is the hardest show on air to predict, in terms of its week-by-week quality. It is a show that’s wildly inconsistent, so I’m keeping my hopes low for next week. But if all future episodes are anything like the quality of “Cal Sweeney,” “Alcatraz” will be a show worth staying on the air.
Alex Greenberger is a staff writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.