Tuesday, February 21, 2012

ALCATRAZ Episode 1.07 ("Johnny McKee"): Thoughts & Theories

Well you know, I've been shoved around
Hey, but I've done my share of the shovin' too
I guess you get what you deserve
Yeah you get what's comin' to you.
- John Mellencamp, “Born Reckless”

Let's hop on the train with our gas masks at hand, and make our way through the manufactured fog...

The 302/63’s

1. Dr. Lucille Sengupta/Lucy Banerjee
2. Dr. Milton Beauregard 
3. Mrs. Beauregard (questionable)
4. Guy Hastings, guard
5. Ernest Cobb, inmate #2047
6. Tommy Madsen, inmate #2002
7. Johnny McKee, inmate #2055
8. Kit Nelson, inmate #2046 
9. Paxton Petty, inmate #2223
10. Cal Sweeney, inmate #2112
11. Jack Sylvane, inmate #2024


As was the case with LOST, one of my favorite aspects of contemporary television is the integration of literary references that encourage viewers to research and read actual books (versus gadgets). So I was thrilled to see so many books and hear related quotes in last night’s episode of ALCATRAZ.  

The Carpetbaggers – Harold Robbins

I do not see any real connection from to the show. As Dr. B said, it is pulp. At least compared to the others on display in the episode. 

The Metamorphoses of Ovid 

The Metamorphoses is a 12,000-line poem, essentially about transformation. The book is far too dense for me to possibly attempt to explain in any brief manner, but I believe it was used in this episode for two specific reasons: 1. Lucille/Lucy has not appeared to change in any way from 1963 to present day (physically or mentally, pre-coma) and 2. Jack Sylvane told Hauser that he HAD changed (and could no longer dream). 

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea – Jules Verne

The book is about adventures aboard the submarine Nautilus, which was built in secrecy and roamed the ocean without detection from land-based government. 

The real USS Nautilus submarine launched on 1/21/54, and became the first commissioned nuclear power submarine in the US Navy. Johnny McKee said that the USS Nautilus passed through the SF Bay, but it didn’t depart Pearl Harbor toward the North Pole until 1958.


The man deserves his own section. Jules Verne also wrote an aptly titled book called "The Mysterious Island" and much of his work is very applicable to this show, thematically. 
“Is the Master out of his mind?' she asked me. I nodded. 'And he's taking you with him?' I nodded again. 'Where?' she asked. I pointed towards the centre of the earth. 'Into the cellar?' exclaimed the old servant. 'No,' I said, 'farther down than that.” ― Jules Verne, Journey to the Centre of the Earth
Perhaps the secret to the 63’s does lie in the hole beneath The Hole, in the subterranean area of Alcatraz (see crazy theory below)....
“When I returned to partial life my face was wet with tears. How long that state of insensibility had lasted I cannot say. I had no means now of taking account of time. Never was solitude equal to this, never had any living being been so utterly forsaken.” ― Jules Verne, Journey to the Centre of the Earth
An apt way to describe the experiences of the returning inmates…


McKee rigged sprinklers with Zyklon A, a liquid pesticide that releases hydrogen cyanide in a chemical reaction with water. Zyklon B is more commonly known, primarily because it was used in gas chambers during the Holocaust.

Most nightshade plants have berries that contain poisonous solanine, causing convulsions and death. But there are other plants in the nightshade family with toxic berries that harm but do not kill (see crazy theory below). 


I live here, and I have no complaints about what they’re using in Vancouver to stand in for locations in San Francisco. For legal/clearance reasons, they can’t use some of the real names, as is the case with most shows (thus, SFTA rather than BART for the trains).  But it is a bit disconcerting when they show a crazy man gassing the “East Bay Tube,” as we take the train through that very Trans Bay Tunnel quite frequently. Speaking of clearances – I did laugh out loud that McKee gassed a train full of Golden State Warriors fans. Clearly it was a good deal cheaper to feature that fan gear than the Giants, A’s, Raiders or 49ers.  

“I can help you with that memory; I can help it go away.” - Dr. Sengupta, to Johnny McKee
We now know that her “methods” included electroshock therapy, traumatic memory therapy and acupuncture [auricular acupuncture has been known to treat inmates in prison psych wards; it was developed in 1957, which would have made it a relatively new and experimental method for Dr. Sengupta]. 

The newly unfrozen-in-time Jack Sylvane said that he’s changed because “I don’t dream.” It seems that Dr. Sengupta’s efforts to remove painful memories resulted in the removal of dream capacity instead. That would make sense, considering how many of the returning 63ers seek to revenge or avenge loved ones, with memories more intact and missions activated. 

Flashing back to 1960, Dr. Sengupta asked Johnny McKee if he dreamed about his victims. In 2012, we know that Lucy Banerjee is dreaming while in a coma. We have to ponder whether or not SHE is dreaming about her victims…possibly the 63’s.


Dr. B referred to current day in New Alcatraz as “our so-called reality.” Given that he is ageless, we must consider WHEN and HOW he re-entered, if he returned at the same time as Lucille/Lucy, if he was given a choice to go with the 63’s, if he knows how he lost 50 years and/or if he helped orchestrate the entire event.  It was quite telling that Dr. B called the 1961 book The Carpetbaggers “a MODERN classic." It could very well be that he has no idea what year it is. Look at the man - he does not get out much.

Now that Rebecca Madsen has heard the name Beauregard, I’m hoping she brings it up with Doc, who must have written about Dr. B in his books. If they figure out that he’s still alive, and one of the 63’s – they might finally start to put the puzzle pieces together and discover New Alcatraz.

“You were in prison then, you’re in prison now. Take away the passing of 50 years – nothing’s changed for you.” – Emerson Hauser, to Jack Sylvane

This is a shot in the dark, but I am starting to think that Rebecca’s grandfather is going to discover New Alcatraz; that he went off-mission to “rescue” his fellow inmates from their re-incarceration. 


McKee is the first returning inmate we’ve seen that sought out employment in order to continue their life of crime.  

I believe that McKee specifically chose that train at that time to gas. He must have known that there was a Warriors game that night, and assumed that most of the fans would be male. Although much has changed since 1963, the section of passengers they chose to show did not seem to contain any female basketball fans. Score one for the psychopath. 

Once again, we do not see Hauser bring an inmate to New Alcatraz. Johnny McKee might have died, but so did Kit Nelson – and we have yet to see if Dr. B brought him back to life in New Alcatraz. So either the killed inmates are in cold storage, or they are in revitalization chambers. I prefer to think it is the latter. 


Donde esta Deputy Warden Tiller? His absence, two episodes in a row, is blowing a hole right through my agoraphobia/Isaac Asimov theory.  

Can someone please make an animated gif of Warden James saying Ding? Hilarious. But when I hear Ding, I see Fring. Breaking Bad fans will understand. 

Just as Warden James forced a confession out of Kit Nelson with his creepy match game, he assisted Dr. Sengupta to force a confession out of Johnny McKee. To me, it is almost as if the Warden makes it his personal mission to have each inmate confess to their sins before they qualify (in his mind) to be part of the future 63’s. 


It might be possible that  “they” combined the areas of expertise from among the 302 on Alcatraz to create the tools necessary to pull off the events of 3/21/63. So far, those that fit the task: Kit Nelson used to work for a company that built bomb shelters (the subterranean dungeon and/or wormhole), and Johnny McKee used to be an organic chemistry teacher (“the fog”). 

In addition, I think it was a major clue that McKee “pulled garden duty a lot,” as Warden James himself seemed to be particularly fond of the prison gardens (noted in “Guy Hastings”).  The phillumenist is also a horticulturist! The Warden may have been working with or forcing McKee to educate him about the uses of the nightshade plants.  


In smaller dosages, some of the chemicals derived from the plants in the nightshade family can be used as a sedative or to treat motion sickness. Side effects from these drugs may include confusion, agitation, hallucinations, paranoid behaviors, and delusions. Thus…the “fog that took all the stars away” on 3/21/63.   

For the second episode in a row, the Medical Examiner (not coroner, as I've erroneously labeled her previously) Nikki has worn a Sandman comic tee. As I noted in last week’s post, the main character in The Sandman comics was an escaped prisoner named Dream.  Obviously, dreams play a huge role in this episode and the entire series.  But what is even more relevant (particularly for this theory) is that Dream used a gas gun to compel his enemies to tell the truth and also to put them to sleep.  

Nikki is not one of the 63’s, BUT…my conspiratorial instinct suspects that she is Dr. Beauregard’s granddaughter. Her profession, location and conveniently nerdy tees are pointing me in that direction. She is a plant, she knows SOMETHING and may just play a role in the re-entry process of returning 63ers. Who better to help revive those stuck in time than an M.E.? Especially if she was tasked with reviving some who may not have survived or were injured during the 20,000-league journey back from the center of the earth…


Johnny McKee was a huge Jules Verne fan, and noted that as early as the 1800’s - he wrote about “how we would travel underwater.” If those who vanished from Alcatraz in 1963 didn’t travel through a wormhole, perhaps the subterranean area beneath Solitary on Alcatraz was actually a carved out tunnel system for submarines. If you’re wondering how that many subs (enough to hold 302 people) were able to travel the Bay undetected, just remember that a) we are suspending our disbelief here, people and b) Verne's Nautilus utilized that very technology.

And…scene. Thank you for taking the time to read though my analysis and (hopefully) get a few laughs out of the crazy theories! As always, I encourage and appreciate feedback and constructive comments. Please note: due to travel, I will not be able to watch & write about next week’s episode until Friday, March 2. 



maven said...

Like your crazy theories this week. It does make sense that these inmates might have been selected for their expertise in certain areas. Also, even though it would be too small a world, having Nikki be related to Dr. B would be great. The Jules Verne references were pretty blatant in this episode. I do like your theory that there might be something underwater related here. Maybe even an underwater dome a la Capt. Nemo.

Zort70 said...

Great analysis as always.

I'm on board with the idea that the warden is making prisoners truly confess before he selects then for a visit to the future.

Which makes me wonder if Beauregard and Sengupta are going to reveal something shocking about their own respective pasts at some point.

Regarding the underground tunnels and submarine terminal, it kind of makes a certain sense that they could be transported unseen that way, but if there is a fog around that hides everything and knocks people out who come in contact with it a boat seems like a lot easier way do things.

Unless of course the tunnels have been there since egyptian times and there is a bright mystical light.... I'll stop there.

Tweb said...

Excellent Recap, I too think Nikki is a sleeper as well. An underwater base in the middle of SF Harbor is wonderful theory. I am sure that the Navy may have even contemplated it at some time while Alcatraz was a military prison.

Thanks for the rapid recap again!

Farnsworth said...

Stop me if you've seen this one before: "Mastermind" Doc Soto just happens to the first one who realizes a '63er is back in SF, this time while watching the viral video of Johnny McKee flashing on the "YouTube;" She-Steve Madsen gets caught from behind by the SK of the Week; Hauser scowls at the camera and the dwindling TV audience is left to wonder WTF. Of course you have. We all have. It's the same thing week after week. It's February and "Alcatraz" could be stuck in a "Groundhog Day" or the "Future is Now" time warp. Or it could just be bad writing.

I get the ironic twist at the end where McKee meets his, as his beginning of the end was on the YouTube and his end was in the Tube, the BART underwater passage, something Jules Verne would find Marvel-ous, but we find comical.

Will all of the Dirty "Alcatraz" Dozen have special OP skills? McKee's a master chemist, Cobb's a sniper, Paxton's a mad bomber. As the series runs, it would not be surprising if each was picked for their skills on a mission impossible.


What was McKee's mission? Or did he pick that train and spot because he was a prisoner of his bullied past? Some of passengers had Golden Gate Warrior jackets, so McKee hates all jocks for his loss of manhood ?

Does She-Steve like to be grabbed from behind?

Do the "Born Reckless" lyrics play to the blowback scenario ?

How does this episode contribute to the arc of the show?

Why gas?

And what the hell is that smell ?

EscapedPrisoner said...

Playing off of Sandman, I suspect the mastermind is an escaped prisoner, who worked to get his fellow inmates out of Alcatraz. guessing time travel more than cryogenics, but both are still plausible. In real life, several Alcatraz escapees were never found but presumed dead in the SF Bay, maybe the escaped prisoner will catch a ride on a submarine passing by.

I also believe the mastermind has attempted to reverse Dr. Sengupta's work to erase the memories of the inmates she treated, e.g. he was on her list and escaped / morally opposed to modifying brains / natural selection et al.

EscapedPrisoner said...

Various historical escape info:



Andrea said...

One reason I love your theories - your mind always manages to go where mine does not! Haven't thought of the Nikki being a plant but now that I read it, it makes perfect sense. I've been trying to figure out Dr. Beauregard in general, considering I still haven't gotten a handle on what his methods seem to be - or what his connection is.

darq said...

I have had this mental image of Tommy Madsen as Spartacus leading a revolt or escape from Episode 1.

The more the season plays out, the more I think this season is really about Tommy Madsen and how he knew what he knew when he knew it. If that makes any sense! XD

I love the idea of Nikki being Nikki B. for Beauregard! The way Rebecca reacted to hearing Dr. Beuaregard's name from Sylvane could be simple curiousity, but I could also easily read some puzzlement from it too. Like... "Beauregard... I know a Beauregard" kind of surprise.... That would be an interesting twist.

Tweb said...

One item that bothered me with this episode was how the phosgene gas on the train seemed to have such little affect on the pax that were breathing it for a period of time? any insights?

lennyg said...

Thx for sharing, Jo. I really liked the section on Dr. B. I'm trying to get my head around how these guys hit the ground running in 2012. McKee actually worked a couple jobs. But he didn't know about smartphones yet he knew how to stop a subway train o_O ? Oh and afo Submarine and an Island :-) The show keeps getting better every week!

sportsattitudes said...

Continue to love all the theories from both yourself and the readers. Great job. Look forward to it each week. Still trying to get my head around everything going on...like all of us...but the main thing is I am enjoying the show so very much. Renewal should be just a formality from what I can tell.

Just Thinking said...

Your ideas really expand the story possibilities Jo!

The one thing I have been watching is the "missions" of the returnees. Some are clear-like get a key. Some seem more loose- like blow up whatever team member comes after you, or shoot whatever team member opens the window shade, with the general idea being to weaken the team. I don't see how Lucy or Hauser could have been specific targets in those cases.

But with McKee- I really don't see a purpose. I suppose he might have been after someone in particular at the pool, as that seemed to be an exclusive club- but was any victim singled out for our attention? Or, maybe he was meant to attack the team again, when they came after him. This time it was Rebecca who was in danger, but it seems that was more a writing decision than an intent by McKee.

I can see where from a story point of view he was useful in interacting with Lucy, and maybe making us think about tunnels and Jules Verne links, but why did the Prisoner Puppetmasters send him back?