Friday, February 3, 2012

ALCATRAZ Episode 1.04 ("Cal Sweeney"): Thoughts & Theories

My apologies for the delay of episode analysis - I was out of town and unable to dedicate the amount of time necessary to complete this!

Without further delay, let's gather 'round the dinner table and attempt to re-wire our memories while dining by the candlelight of a demented phillumenist...

302/THE 63’s

By my count, we have now been introduced to 8 of the 302 who vanished from Alcatraz on 3/21/63: 

1. Lucy Banerjee
2. Dr. Beauregard 
3. Mrs. Beauregard (presumably, since she lived on the Rock with him)
4. Ernest Cobb, inmate #2047
5. Tommy Madsen, inmate #2002
6. Kit Nelson, inmate #2046 
7. Cal Sweeney, inmate #2112
8. Jack Sylvane, inmate #2024


We know that Doc endured a traumatic experience as a young boy, that his parents are professors, that he earned several PhDs to appease them and that their relationship is “complicated.” My guess is that the trauma involved a former Alcatraz inmate or guard (but not one of the 63’s, given Doc’s age), and that the person responsible for whatever happened to Doc either knew or was related to his parents. 

Soto referred to the secret spy lair beneath Alcatraz as the Bat Cave and published a major breakthrough in crime prevention using a statistical model based on Gotham City. So it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that, like Bruce Wayne - he was present when his parents were mugged and killed (which would make him adopted, providing a potentially “complicated” relationship with the folks who raised him).  Like Bruce Wayne, Soto’s super power is the use of his intellect; he studied criminology and criminal psychology (one of his degrees is in Criminal Justice) – resulting in his Alcatraz obsession and expertise.

In the car, Hauser made a comment that the last time Doc drove a car – he was 11 years old (the same age of the trauma). Taking Dr. Lucy Banerjee’s comments about removing traumatic memories into consideration, they are strongly hinting that Lucy and Hauser know exactly what happened to Doc and may have even played a role. 

Doc is an Alcatraz expert and knows more about the prisoners than anyone, and yet he was unaware of Sweeney’s background - about the fire that took his family. Oversight or clue? 

In the Pilot, Doc said that “you have to double up; double-ups are KEY.” Thinking about the double locks that the Warden had to use in order to access the final lock on the dungeon door, Doc’s comment suddenly takes on an entirely new light…


I have watched a good deal of sci-fi and primetime television in my life. So I just have to point out how nice it is to see a female lead actually eat. Often. That Detective Madsen is particularly fond of dim sum is rather appropriate, given that the show is set in San Francisco. I live here and can vouch for the amazing variety of delicious dim sum in the Bay Area. 

I want Madsen and Soto to be more curious, to be asking WHERE the returned and recently captured inmates go after Hauser allegedly gives them new identities and removes them from society. They are both very intelligent, intuitive characters and it stands to reason that they would be suspicious of Hauser’s methods and the whereabouts of the prisoners. 


All four returning prisoners spent time in solitary in 1960. This is not a coincidental fact. 


Just as Jack Sylvane was not a murderer in his previous incarnation as a less-than-model-citizen, Cal Sweeney had simply robbed safe deposit boxes - unaccompanied by a trail of blood.  This further solidifies my theory that the returning inmates have been programmed.  And like Sylvane, Cobb and Nelson before him, Sweeney was provided very specific instructions for his mission. He purposefully hit a few banks and miscellaneous safe deposit boxes (likely to convince authorities that the pattern was random) before getting to his primary target – box 1869. 

It was not entirely clear why Sweeney was so interested in the story behind the sapphire necklace, given the ages of the couple he targeted. While the show has already established sibling issues with previous prisoners, I think it might be too soon to have another motivated-by-guilt-from-wronging-a-family-member episode. Then again, it may not be coincidental that this episode also featured the introduction of Deputy Warden Tiller’s sister.

In my estimation, Sweeney would have been an infant around the time that the red headed Mrs. Victim was also an infant.  He visually reacted primarily to the victim’s comment that the sapphire was his wife’s birthstone. We know that Sweeney was targeting 45-50 year old female bank tellers (including one red head), so my best guess is that Sweeney’s mother was a red head with a birthday in September. Mommy issues, party of one.

While negotiating with Deputy Warden Tiller during his shave in 1960 on Alcatraz, Sweeney referred to the inmates as 300 “nosebleeds.” In 1963, there were only 256 prisoners when they all vanished. So over the next three years, 44 inmates were killed or released. 

Sweeney was not very bright – he did not question why young Harlan was already working as a steward at the Warden’s house, a “top shelf employment” opportunity for select inmates. 

Tiller could have killed Sweeney in the bathroom at the Warden’s house, but chose to only stab him. They may have needed the inmates to remain alive in preparation for the 1963 event – or at least prisoners like Sweeney, who drew the attention of the Wardens and may have been designated for experimentation from the get-go.  Of course the leg wound provided an opportunity for Sweeney to visit the infirmary, where they could start taking/testing his blood…


Now that young Harlan has entered the dungeon, it is unclear whether we will see him again either in 1960 or current day. I certainly hope we are privy to what he experienced and how it affects his returning mission. 


“The Warden tends to look the other way when it comes to the smaller vices and minor infractions. If it were up to me, I’d run this place on the up and up. But it ain’t. So in the meantime, you’re getting squeezed.”
Deputy Warden Tiller definitely aspired to take over for Warden James, but was clearly fearful of the man. We now know that both of them relocated to other positions off of Alcatraz before 1963 and the abduction (likely because they were warned or involved), so Tiller never got the opportunity to run the prison.

Tiller’s demeanor in front of the inmates and in front of his boss was vastly, visually different. He appeared to be much more comfortable in the power position at the prison, and visibly nervous in a social setting at the Warden’s house.  If Elijah Bailey Tiller was indeed named after the Asimov character (see paragraph in earlier post called Isaac Asimov’s Robot Series), his agoraphobia is appropriately attributed and illustrated. 

When Sylvane perused the Alcatraz book on the ferry that featured the photo of the Wardens, the book noted that there were two attempts on Tiller’s life. Was Sweeney’s attack in the bathroom one of them? 

When Warden James gave Tiller a pen for his birthday, his reaction was classic Say Anything exasperation: “I gave her my heart, she gave me a pen.”


The wealthy Warden used inmates as dinner stewards at his home, which seemed risky but was yet another indication of his demented sense of entertainment. 

It seems the Warden specifically hired Lucy in 1960 to create or oversee the preparation of the occupants on the Rock for the event in 1963. 



In the last episode, they specifically showed us that Dr. B was wearing a wedding ring while working in New Alcatraz. I am adding Mrs. Beauregard to the list of those who vanished in 1963, and have a strong suspicion that we will see an ageless version of Mrs. B very soon. Once again, we have to remember that family members lived with the prison staff while employed on Alcatraz. There will be more of them among the 302. We were deliberately misled to believe that the 302 consisted of 256 prisoners and 46 guards only…

Dr. B is threatened by and has open disdain for Lucy, so it will be interesting to watch how he reacts when Hauser brings her to New Alcatraz (calling upon that favor he mentioned, for a friend). I wouldn’t be surprised to see her there after she either wakes up from the coma or Hauser somehow arranges a transfer in her current condition. After all, the magical Dr. B may have access to medical equipment designed to revive…

“Inner feelings are of secondary importance to me. When it comes to deviant behavior, their wiring lies in their memories. Specifically, traumatic memories that give rise to these instincts and impulses. If I can remove the traumatic memories and leave a more soothing one in its place, we might be able to correct or adjust their behavior. In essence, we re-wire them.”
For several reasons, this may be the most significant and telling quote of the season thus far. If in fact the returning inmates have been programmed for one purpose and mission only, it seems that their wiring has deviated from the plan. It is quite clear that the traumatic memories of those we’ve seen thus far were not removed at all, and that their behaviors have been anything but adjusted.  Sylvane and Sweeney each retrieved one of the mysterious Alcatraz dungeon keys, but had absolutely no idea why they were doing so. And every prisoner that has returned so far has directly reacted to former flames and family members by seeking out those who have harmed them or reminded them of their pasts. System failure!

I believe that Lucy failed her original task, and that she has returned from 1963 to correct her mistakes, make adjustments and try again. Thus…New Alcatraz. I have changed my opinion about Hauser’s knowledge of Lucy since the Pilot – and believe that they are working together to capture the 302. Hauser’s funding and technology, coupled with Lucy’s experience as a time traveling scientist and familiarity with the prisoners - makes for quite a dangerous and powerful team.

The nerd herd working behind closed doors on Alcatraz was likely the responsibility of Lucy, but now that she is in a coma – they must work with and for Hauser. I will be curious to find out if we will get to know anyone else on their team, or if any of them withhold information they discover until Lucy is able to return.


This was the first time we did not get to see Hauser bring a returning inmate to New Alcatraz. We last saw Sweeney in the police car after Madsen crashed - and it seems like a deliberate choice to keep his New Alcatraz entry from us.


The obvious guess is that Tiller’s sister Geri was locked up below Alcatraz in the dungeon. While Tiller likely resided on the Rock along with the other staff, I would be very surprised to find out that they kept her there caged like an animal. Even for those in charge with a clear lack of humanity, it seems far too monstrous and cruel. I would suggest that there was not be a person per se down there, but rather a machine or system designed and/or overseen by Lucy.  Geri was not the only guest at the Warden’s table for Tiller’s party, and Harlan could have caught the eye of another “subterranean resident who desires to have a parlay.” The mysteriously silent Mrs. Beauregard could be considered as another option for who was behind 3-lock door number one…

Though we don’t know yet whether Deputy Warden Tiller was aware of or used the dungeon like Warden James, I believe that Lucy did. She may have programmed Sylvane and Sweeney to retrieve two of the three keys upon their return – but her end-game and purpose is murky at this point. We have to ponder whether or not she herself placed the keys with Barclay Flynn and the safe deposit box, why she did so, and where the third and final key is (as well as which inmate or guard will be programmed to obtain it). 

If we are to assume that the dungeon is the place beneath Solitary where horrible things happen (which inmate Tommy Madsen referred to while in the infirmary) – it is safe to also assume that Madsen had been taken there. He lived to tell the tale, so perhaps Harlan will as well. 


We have now seen record players both in 2011 (Dr. B’s infirmary in New Alcatraz) and 1960 (at the Warden’s house). If the returning inmates have been brainwashed, perhaps music is used as part of the reintegration process.  Dr. B put on a record as he was about to revive Nelson…


The show has not outright mentioned time travel, although most viewers and fans seem to have concluded as much. So I was pleasantly surprised to hear Hauser mention that he needs to find out “how the prisoners jumped.” To be honest, I’m hoping that they take a more complicated, less obvious route. I’d much prefer to watch them unravel the mystery of suspension in time and cryogenics.

I also noticed that both Dr. B (at  Tiller’s dinner) and Sweeney (meeting with Tiller at the prison) made casual mentions of nosebleeds in two separate contexts. Anyone who watched LOST probably also thought about the nosebleeds that resulted from time jumps… 


Forget Spinal Tap. The writers on this show know something more about the number 11 than we do.  Soto last drove when he was 11, the same age he was when the trauma occurred. Inmate Kit Nelson went after 11-year old boys. And so on. If we want to delve into super nerdy territory, there are 11 space time dimensions in M-theory. String theories, gravity and quantum physics may certainly be considered as we contemplate exactly how the 63’s are reappearing…


One of the prisoners is named Pinkner - a nice shout-out to Bad Robot and Fringe executive producer Jeff Pinkner.

The inclusion of a mystery box (Sweeney's tin) is no surprise to fans of shows produced by Bad Robot. If you have not already watched the incredibly illuminating video J.J. Abrams' Mystery Box, I highly recommend it. 


With Dr. B (Leon Rippy) and Geri Tiller (Geri Jewell) at the same table in this episode, it was a mini Deadwood reunion. ALCATRAZ co-creator and former executive producer Elizabeth Sarnoff was a story editor and producer on Deadwood, my second favorite show of all time (after LOST, of course).  Fun side note: on Deadwood, Geri Jewell played Jewel and on ALCATRAZ , she’s playing Geri. 


With inmate Kit Nelson, Warden James utilized matches to force a confession out of him. The Warden then left the remaining matches with Nelson in Solitary, and we saw him with the same matches after he’d returned to contemporary society. Inmate Cal Sweeney’s sole possession was a scorched tin box, the only item from his family and past that remained after a fire took everything.  A fire, I might add, that Alcatraz expert Doc Soto had no knowledge of.  I would further offer that the tin was a tobacco box, another item collected by phillumenists like Warden James...

To me, it seems feasible that the Warden was responsible for the fire that robbed Sweeney of his entire life. Perhaps Doc was unaware of Sweeney’s past because the crime was undocumented. Someone in a position of great power, like the Warden overseeing the worst criminals in America, may have had the reach to cover up certain details when necessary.  
“Your future just got a heck of a lot BRIGHTER, kid.”
In addition, although laser cutting was not available until after 1965 (keeping in mind that this is a sci-fi show where suspension of disbelief is always mandatory) - the lover of light himself may have also had a hand in the creation of the system that carved the keys to the dungeon and quite possibly related to HOW they suspended the 302 in time. Lasers are wireless transfers of electromagnetic energy and radiation, emitting light through optical amplification. I am not a scientist, but somehow it seems possible that this is all related…

To reward your patience for my delayed posts and for spreading the word about this site, I am going to give away two copies of the book “Letters from Alcatraz” by Michael Esslinger. If you’d like to be entered to win one (your choice: book or Kindle version), simply re-tweet the link to this post or leave a comment below! I will randomly select the winners and announce them in next week’s post.

Once again I thank you for the comments and feedback, because without you - I am yet another voice in the very crowded television analysis blogosphere. I appreciate your interest and the word-of-mouth, and look forward to your thoughts about this episode! 


Shasta @ intheoldroad said...

Great analysis, Jo. Just like in the LOST days, I look forward to reading your analysis and theories after the show airs. Excellent! As usual. Have a great weekend :)

Farnsworth said...

Doc XI - The Man Behind the "Alcatraz" Iron Bar Curtain

In screenwriting it is essential to introduce the antagonist and the protagonist in the first act. But the JJ Abrams antagonists are often not what they seem to be:

X-ample: In LOST the antagonist was the Smoke Monster, who first appeared as protagonist Good Shepherd Doctor Jack's deceased father ON THE BEACH in the pilot episode. Eventually (five seasons later) the Smoke Monster revealed his antagonistic self when he assumed another deceased identity of John Locke and his goal, according to Jacob, the real Man Behind the LOST Curtain, that if the Smoke Monster had escaped the island, the whole world was in mortal danger. In the climax Good Shepherd Doctor Jack fought his personal ghosts figuratively, and the ghost of his father literally, sacrificing himself and saved the world.

While it is evident the protagonist in "Alcatraz" is She-Steve McQueen, who drives around in her "Bullitt" Mustang, if you haven't suspected it yet, Diego "Doctor XI" Soto is the trickster antagonist, or his Manchurian candidate self who was programmed when he was mysteriously abducted at age 11. Like the Smoke Monster, Doc XI has been manipulating unsuspecting She-Steve from the start when she first Google-searched for escaped prisoner Jack Sylvane. Trickster Soto, or his "double-up," wants She-Steve to find the Alcatraz keys in order to open the doors to the secret lab, perhaps a Golden Gate Bridge to another time and place connected to the mass disappearance.

"Alcatraz" - It's about time, it's about space, about '63ers LOST in the strangest place."

The big questions in "Alcatraz"-- why did they "jump" in 1963; where did they "jump"; why are they jumping back in 2012?

I have suggested the prisoners may have jumped (or pushed) into the past to change the past dynamics behind the Iron Curtain by assassinating scientists involved in the nuclear weapons program--like Mossad is doing in Iran. Depending on the show's ratings, we will either learn the answers in the endless LOST-ian tradition of flashbacks (i.e. Jumpin' Jack Flashback) or jump to the ending in the last episode this season like that crappy show "LIFE on Mars." If that happens, JJ will take his empty mystery box (like Sweeney's) and go home.

Too coincidental that her grandfather killed her partner, which allowed She-Steve to seek Soto (or his double) as a replacement? Too coincidental that Doc XI leads She-Steve to the various puzzle pieces of the prisoners?

Coincidence is the word we use when we can't see the levers and pulleys. Emma Bull

As for the Number 11 fetish, it may be related to JJ's 47 (4+7) fetish, coincidentally the opposite of 74, the sum of the numbers of the comic book series Soto gave the boy. There is more 11 news to come and you can read it on my blog, the 11 (o'clock) news.

RobPerrin said...

Thanks Jo for your in-depth analysis. Along with Diego's Soul Patch and podcatraz it has become part of my weekly Alcatraz ritual. Cheers!

toyz said...

Hi Jo you have some great theory I'm so glad I found this site, I look forward to keep on readied as season go on, did I miss something I thought cal stomp the tin, but in present time doc and Madsen it looks fine so I think. Thanks for this place.

sportsattitudes said...

Jo, well worth "the wait" for your analysis and theories on the latest ep. As I sent via Twitter, my wife is now reminding me to make sure I advise her when new posts are created I need any reminder! Have a great weekend!

maven said...

Great crazy theories and astute analysis, Jo.

I had a feeling that Sweeny went to the house of the guy with the necklace because of his need to know the story behind some tangible momento of someone's life....something he lacks (except for a tin box).

I like your Batman story for Doc Soto...would explain his interest in all things Batman!

lennyg said...

Love how you organize your thoughts. Now time for a rewatch. Word of the day phillumenist - everyone who has a junk drawer is one and who doesn't have one?

darq said...

One note about the mysterious keys. The silver-colored "oval head" keys that have been the mission of the returned 63s are not the same keys Warden James uses to open the sub-bunker mystery room.

If you look closely, Warden James' keys have a 3-leaf clover-like head aand the keys Hauser has have a simple oval shaped head. Also the warden's keys have no knob at the tip of the key and different teeth or bits, Also the clover-head keys have 2 grooves in the key shaft while Hauser's have only one groove and do have a knob at the tip of the key.

So Warden James' keys may not be laser cut, and look to open a different door or at least a different lock since the teeth and grooves are different.

A couple pictures to illustrate my points.

One thought I have is that since the single grooved clover-head keys open a lock under the original Alcatraz, maybe the silver oval-head keys open a similar lock under Alcatraz 2.0 since they have 2 grooves.

shar said...

Hey Jo, your posts are worth the wait. Interesting that you think there is a person in the dungeon. I'm not sure what's down there, but just thought it's a different type of solitary that only the warden knows about. Looking forward to another episode Monday.

KickinAssTakingNames said...

I wish I would've found you when Lost was still on. I'm amazed every week by the detail you pick up on and some of the connections you make that I completely missed. I'm actually enjoying this show more than Lost, perhaps simply because the subject matter is a bit more up my alley. I just hope it sticks around. I have a bad track record with that.

Keep it up, Jo. I will need your in-depth analysis to help sort this all out as time goes on!

Rhiannon said...

I completely agree with your observation about Rebecca eating. Something tells me she's going to be more than just your average "female sci-fi show character".

RLMinVA said...

Jo, I cannot tell you how great it is to have a blogspot like this to sort out my own thoughts after watching each episode...and the comments help to formulate ideas. too! What a great show!

HoffTiger said...

Jo, enjoyed the write-up. You bring up many interesting thoughts and ideas that I miss during my first watching, thus, I have had to DVR and rewatch each episode after reading the blog. Thanks for your time and efforts!

Farnsworth said...

Two new keys to unlock the "Alcatraz" secret? Paperclip and Yellow Hammer

Jeff said...

Great analysis Jo. Your blog, along with Diego's Soul Patch and Podcatraz podcasts, are my prime sources for information and analysis about Alcatraz. Can't wait to see/hear thoughts about the next episode!

Jan said...

LOVE your analysis. My friends and I read it religiously. Thanks!

The Hoodies said...

Thanks as always, Jo! Loving the recaps. Can't wait for tonight!

Stacey said...

Why did you include Harlan in the 302/63's?

Stacey said...

Oops didn't