TV Diary | Alcatraz: “Cal Sweeney”
TV Diary | Alcatraz – Episode 1.04 – “Cal Sweeney” – Original Airdate: 1/30/12
Episode Grade: B
Without question, “Cal Sweeney” was Alcatraz’s most successful episode to date. It advanced the mythology of the show and raised some interesting questions while providing the most compelling inmate story yet. Case first, since it does a nice job of dovetailing into the mythology: Cal Sweeney (Eric Johnson, Rookie Blue) is the latest inmate to show up in present-day San Francisco. Seen in flashback running a contraband ring on The Rock, Sweeney has returned and begun hitting banks in order to rummage through safety-deposit boxes , using lonely-hearts bank tellers as marks in order to pull off his heists. He then tracks down the owners of the stolen items, gets them to tell the story of why the bank-housed items were important to them, and then murders them. Via flashbacks, we learn that Sweeney’s cell was tossed by Tiller as retribution for not cutting Tiller in on his operation and a small tin box – contents unknown – that was very important to Sweeney was stolen from the cell, thus providing the impetus behind his current-day actions. During the course of the investigation, Soto mentions that Sweeney had never killed anyone prior to the present-day spree, which could be an interesting development to keep in mind as Alcatraz progresses. All of the inmates we’ve seen thus far have been very violent in their present-day incarnations. While it’s true that both Ernest Cobb and Kit Nelson were brutal killers back in the day, that wasn’t true of either Jack Sylvain or Sweeney so, what gives? Could it be connected to the fact that both Sylvain and Sweeney – and not Cobb or Nelson – were in possession of the mysterious keys? Speaking of the keys, Madsen and Soto get the drop on Sweeney’s final target via his propensity for using the same florist when sending flowers to his marks and, in an inventive twist, Madsen actually breaks into the bank herself in order to smuggle Sweeney out in an attempt to keep local law enforcement in the dark about the nature of the 63s. She later learns that Sweeney is in possession of one of the mystery keys and tries to force Hauser to reveal the keys’ meaning after turning Sweeney over, but is unsuccessful. They’ve at least now broached the subject with Madsen serving as the audience’s voice in wondering what the keys’ purpose is. Whether Alcatraz follows up on that and keeps Madsen as determined as the viewers in her curiosity to uncover the keys’ importance remains to be seen. The keys also lead to one of the more intriguing dangling threads of the episode, told via flashback. During the flashes to Sweeney’s time at Alcatraz, we see him mentoring a younger inmate who, it turns out, was playing Sweeney all along in order to take over his contraband operation . In the episode’s final scene, Warden James takes Harlan to a secret room in the bowels of the prison, uses one of the mystery keys to open the door, and tells Harlan, “Your future just got a heckuva lot brighter, kid,” before shoving him into the room to some unseen person/being/something. Pretty solid cliffhanger that raises no small number of questions including: Who was in the room? Is this person/being/something responsible for the inmates’ return in 2012? What role does Harlan play in the overall conspiracy? Couple this with another flashback to a 1963 dinner attended by Warden James, Tiller, and Lucy Bannerjee  that does confirm that Dr. Beauregard  shares the non-aging effect of the 63s and Alcatraz is starting to show some encouraging forward momentum. The Alcatraz creative team would be wise to use “Cal Sweeney” as a template for future episodes – an engaging villain-of-the-week storyline that does have bearing on the overriding Alcatraz mystery while not being afraid to “embrace the weird,” as I’ve put it. Do that, and Alcatraz may yet develop into one of television’s more appealing sci-fi hours.
 The episode also establishes that Sweeney is hitting safe-deposit boxes instead of the banks’ vaults because the boxes themselves aren’t insured by the FDIC and, thus, stealing from them isn’t a federal crime. It’s a nice little touch that bodes well for the show’s future. Attention to detail like this is usually rewarded in the long run.
 Harlan (Steven Grayhm, Smallville), the younger inmate, rigged the search of Sweeney’s cell and framed Tiller for stealing the box all so Sweeney would take a run at Tiller and, as a result, leave the contraband operation for Harlan to run after Sweeney’s thrown in the hole for a month as punishment.
 Introduced in the final scene of “Kit Nelson” and, who I’ve speculated, may be Alcatraz’s Re-Animator.
 Referred here as Sangupta or, “Sanguppy,” as Beauregard derisively refers to her while dismissing her research.
*We got even more backstory on Soto this week. Along with apparently being abducted at a young age, he has what he termed a “complicated” relationship with his parents after getting himself kicked out of school instead of telling his parents that he wanted out. Surely, this is something the show will revisit down the line.
*Beyond being the best self-contained escapee storyline, I thought that the casting of Eric Johnson was impressive. Is it just me or does anyone else detect a bit of a blond, poor man’s Jon Hamm in Johnson? Put him in the right project and I think he really could surprise some people.
*I liked the Anton Chigurh-ish choice of a cattle gun for Sweeney’s dispatching of his victims.
*Hauser apparently has his own Lone Gunmen – a room of nerds whose sole purpose seems to be to analyze the mystery keys.
*I’ll admit – for most of the episode I really wanted to know, “WHAT’S IN THE BOX?!” that Sweeney seemed so attached to.
*”First time I’ve ever trailed someone so… you know… a little support would be nice.” “It’s TAILED.”
*”Four down and… a helluva lot more to go.”
*Episode embedded below via Hulu, as usual.