Alcatraz recap: An Inmate's Chemical Romance
Spurned physical attraction fuels a con's penchant for fatal chemical reactions
Last night’s episode of Alcatraz was one of my favorites thus far. The inmate of the week was genuinely creepy yet psychologically sympathetic. His present day massacres were horrifically memorable, and the part of me that always loved the grisly openings of The X-Files appreciated that. Also, Soto got to flirt with that cute doctor while she conducted an autopsy, so that was fun.
The only drawback: Aside from a bit more talk about memories, blood work and dreams, most of which we’d heard before, there was very little revealed about the overall mystery. Nevertheless, a solidly entertaining hour.
The episode began with the perpetually surly Emerson Hauser refusing Dr. Beauregard’s suggestion that he read to the comatose Dr. Lucy Banerjee/Sengupta. Without saying it, Sam Neill’s face conveyed Hauser’s distaste for that “New Age touchy-feely crap,” a common sentiment in grouchy old men everywhere.
This week’s inmate started his killing spree in one of San Francisco’s thumping clubs, where he was working as bartender, (It was a nice visual change of pace — I hope we see more of the variety of SF life in upcoming episodes. A Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory massacre, perhaps?)
A gaggle of impolite bros informed the inmate-bartender (who we later learned was named Johnny McKee) that their buddy had just got engaged, therefore they needed to get him drunk and laid. McKee responded with an oblique Jules Verne quote — as so many former convicts and bartenders are wont to do — but the bro was having none of it.
“What a loser!” he cried out as he returned to the table, at which point we knew this guy was somehow going to die, and also that we shouldn’t feel too terribly bad about it, since he was rude and pro-cheating anyway.
Sure enough, Mr. McKee smashed some yellow berries into their drinks. Seconds after they gulped them down, every dude at the table was retching, collapsing, and, well, dying. Moral of the story: When someone quotes Jules Verne to you in a public setting, just nod politely.
Doc Soto — who was up late playing some sort of online game that I imagine Leeroy Jenkins might enjoy — saw a viral video of the club massacre and knew McKee was behind it when he caught a glimpse of the former Alcatraz inmate in the clip. 1) Sharp eye, Soto! 2) There are viral videos of snuff? Gross.
As Soto, Hauser and Madsen dug into his case, we learned that McKee taught chemistry at a junior college until he was thrown in the slammer. His final mass-killing (until now) was at his 15-year high school reunion, where he put fatal chemicals in the sprinklers and turned them on, claiming “justifiable homicide” in court since the football team had bullied him in high school. That — coupled with the earlier scene at the bar — made it clear that McKee kills in response to what he sees as oppressive behavior.
In a flashback to Alcatraz in the ‘60s, Cullen — one of the top dogs behind bars — asked McKee to poison the prison’s librarian for a rather inconsequential reason. When McKee demurred, Cullen implied that refusing his request would prove fatal. Smiling to himself, McKee observed that, “Every schoolyard has its bully.” Cullen clearly didn’t know that you’re supposed to be nice to the local poison expert, (the local Poison expert, however, is another matter entirely. Don’t worry about insulting that guy).
NEXT: McKee’s ‘death pool’ and the return of Jack Sylvane
Back in the present day, McKee was continuing to have an absurdly easy time finding work, (We already learned he acquired his bartending job simply by making a great martini). After a 30-second interview at a private pool, he was hired as a towel boy. Apparently San Fran is the place to go for work in this economy, according to Alcatraz. Especially if you’re an ex-con.
Unsurprisingly, being a whipping boy for the privileged did not suit McKee. After one guy hurled a towel at his head (why was every random person in this episode a complete a-hole?) he lashed back in a big way.
The next time we saw McKee, he was quietly straightening towels while nearly 10 bodies floated motionless in the pool. The way the massacre was revealed, and the pleased look on McKee’s face, was incredibly unsettling and sinister. It was the creepiest poolside “incident” I’ve encountered since Let the Right One In — which, coincidentally, is another gory story about the dangers of bullying.
Looking for a clue to locate McKee, Madsen was allowed to interview Jack Sylvane (whose cell had been next to McKee’s) under Hauser’s watchful eye.
Madsen sweetened the deal by giving Sylvane back the framed picture of his wife, and Sylvane grudgingly recounted a story McKee had told him (via flashback) about egg creams, hand-holding and a kiss he had shared with a girl named Ginny (who we previously saw horribly burned in a photograph from McKee’s possessions).
Sylvane said that McKee carried a “killing jar” where he would poison bugs for laughs using nightshade, a poisonous plant available on the Rock, (nightshade, much like wolf’s bane, is a fake-sounding plant that actually exists).
Before their session ended, Madsen tried to get a few basic questions straightened out. Sylvane remembered Madsen from the cemetery but insisted he had no idea how he had jumped ahead 50 years. When Hauser menacingly tried to thwart that vein of conversation, Sylvane asked, “Is he [the security guard present] gonna give me a Beauregard again?” Hauser halted the conversation the second Sylvane started talking about “the hole beneath the hole, under the strip cells” on Alcatraz, but at least Madsen now has reason to start poking around the rest of the island.
Side note: It seems like a very big oversight to allow poisonous plants to grow on a prison island. But I suppose there aren’t too many horticulturalists in the Big House.
Using the nightshade clue and Hauser’s ability to speak Chinese, the team learned that McKee had purchased some poison in Chinatown and they traced it back to a science lab that McKee had just been working in, (They also learned Hauser has a “murky qi,” which was a hilarious offhand inclusion). A confusing chemical formula was written across the blackboard, but the recurrence of the phrase “the future is now” caught their attention.
Referring back to an article in McKee’s possessions with that headline, they realized he was going to target the East Bay subway tunnel — in essence, a “killing jar for people.” After hearing “killing jar” 10 times in one hour, I now can’t get that Siouxsie and the Banshees song out of my head. Not that I’m complaining.
Some cross-cutting proved their hunch was right. Not only had McKee commandeered a subway and brought it to a screeching halt underwater, but it was filled with his favorite type of victims: sports fans!
NEXT: Movie Night in prison and Dr. Sengupta ‘helps’ McKee
Back in the ‘60s, the prisoners were settling in for a screening of a Mamie Van Doren Western called Born Reckless. Seated beside Cullen and behind the librarian, McKee had a poison-tipped shiv at the ready, but he didn’t kill the librarian as Cullen had demanded.
While the librarian — oblivious to the danger he’d been in — raved about Van Doren’s “melons,” the guards discovered that Cullen had been watching a different film that evening: The Big Sleep.
“It could be anyone,” McKee mused about Cullen’s murder. “Nobody likes a bully.” And if that isn’t an effective anti-bullying PSA, I don’t know what is.
Back in the underwater subway tunnel — which was much cleaner than the actual platforms of the New York subway system — Hauser, Madsen and the good folk of the SFTA raced to stop McKee’s already-in-progress poisoning of the passengers. Taking an axe to the car’s window, Hauser managed to free the choking sports fans trapped inside while Madsen chased down McKee.
After fightin’ and scrappin’ on the subway tracks with Madsen, McKee rolled into the electrified third rail and got himself zapped (although he was apparently still breathing, so we’ll probably see him in future episodes). Hey, that could work as a different PSA on the dangers of subway tracks! What a socially-conscious show this is turning into.
With McKee apprehended, only one thing was left — wrapping up the psychological motivation. While I’ve thought some of the previous explanations of inmate psychology a bit too glib, the story behind McKee’s trauma was convincing and cringe-worthy.
In another flashback, Dr. Lucy Sengupta promised to help McKee, but only if he would be honest with her. After he evaded questions and came on to her, Lucy cut the “good doctor” routine and hit him with the straight truth about his trauma. Apparently, the wholesome tale about egg creams and holding hands with Ginny didn’t end there.
After Ginny kissed him and removed all of his clothes in the school’s stadium, the floodlights were flipped on by the football team. They had been in cahoots the entire time, just waiting to humiliate him. If that wasn’t bad enough, they also lobbed a cherry bomb at his manhood, which Sengupta said blew away his testicles (I can’t even write that without clenching my teeth and shifting about uncomfortably in my chair).
Although Sengupta didn’t mince words when confronting McKee with the truth, she did offer him an out. “I can help you with that memory,” she promised him. “I can make it go away.”
Although Beauregard and Sengupta don’t seem to be working together back in the ‘60s, it seems increasingly likely that the returned ‘63s are somehow a product of both of their techniques, even if she hadn’t intended it.
In 2012, Sylvane told Hauser that “he no longer dreams.” Given the established link between dreams and memories (McKee dreamed of Ginny’s burned face and Lucy promised to rid him of that memory), it seems likely that Lucy’s memory-adjusting therapy — in addition to Beauregard’s blood work — is partly responsible for what the inmates have become.
Worth noting: McKee had no idea what the Internet is, so he hadn’t been prepped. He also didn’t seem to be operating under orders, unlike some of the other returning inmates.
Hauser ended up reading Ovid’s Metamorphoses to Lucy, which undoubtedly has a symbolic implication. You know, transformation tales n’ stuff.
What did you think of last night’s episode? Did you enjoy the sinister overtones as much as I did? Do you think we’re any closer to understanding the larger enigma?