Alcatraz: 102 “Ernest Cobb” Review
“Ernest Cobb”(Double Bill Premier – Season 1, Episode 2)
WARNING – FULL SPOILERS
After a clumsy start to the series with the “Pilot” episode, Alcatraz dusted itself off and had a second go at establishing an audience with the second half of the double-bill premiere. Ernest Cobb was a big improvement but still lacked the cutting edge you’d want from a show with the Bad Robot brand attached to it.
Now that we know what the show is about the second episode got straight to business with what seems to be the new layout. Each episode is going to tell the story of one inmate or guard in the present day whilst flashing back to their time on ‘the rock’. This could well be a winning formula if it’s done right. In this episode it was, Cobb was an entertaining, fresh take on a serial killer with psychotic tendencies. This type of character is what we want to see and what will keep us hooked each week.
Cobb’s back-story was quite interesting and seeing it intertwine with Sylvane’s in the prison was a nice touch, this is the kind of narrative element that could turn this show into a big success. Cobb’s character was intriguing and sadistic, an obsessive-compulsive sniper firing randomly into crowds makes for a good baddy. I particularly liked the self made scope in the prison and his quest to get some peace and quiet in the chaotic surroundings of Alcatraz.
The level of character development improved in this episode but it still seems too easy for Madsen. She’s a detective beyond her years but when she picked out the exact spot where Cobb was having his picnic it just felt ridiculously simple. Given the rigid landscape of San Francisco there must have been at least a dozen places Cobb could have taken the shots from, within 30 seconds Madsen picked out the exact spot and even found the casing for it in a pile of foliage. It’s a pity she wasn’t around when JFK got shot.
Soto is definitely the viewers voice in this show and he asked the questions that we were thinking about throughout this episode. Mainly how everyone else is so at ease with this scenario and how they all react to what’s going on without any after thought. I enjoyed how he was uneasy at the crime scene and at the sight of Lucy’s shooting, he’s still the joker in this show but questioning his place within the overall situation felt compelling and natural.
The story unfolded fairly well throughout the episode, the flashbacks gave Cobb’s persona justice and seeing this dynamic trio of pursuers hunt him down was enjoyable to watch. The climax atop an olden San Francisco building; this wasn’t anything special but closed the episode nicely enough. I was curious to see what Hauser would do when facing down Cobb with a gun, I wondered whether he would take the first opportunity to shoot but instead he tackled him before neutralizing Cobb’s right hand with a bullet. That’s 2 down 300 to go by my count. It appears Hauser wants to capture the inmates alive so he can collect them as if they were prisoner Pokémon.
Hauser’s involvement in the disappearance of the 63’s (as they seem to be called) still remains a mystery; from the pilot we know he was a young, nervous prison guard and now he’s a confident, brash agent. He knew that these men would reappear in the future so the big question is, how? The big reveal of this episode was seeing Lucy striding into Cobb’s cell in 1963, is she one of the 302? Does Hauser know? Only time will tell…
Although this was by no means a great episode it certainly shows progression from the pilot. What is going to be the key factor in this show is the 1960s characters and their individual stories. If they are unique, well developed and entangled with each other in a creative way then this will surely make Alcatraz one of the best shows of the year. At the moment we need to see a few more episodes to make an accurate call, chances are though we’ll see at least a couple of seasons given the profile of the people behind it.
After watching this episode it’s clear to see why the two were premiered back to back, the pilot felt like a stuttering engine on a brand new Ford Mustang, thankfully after the second episode it looked as if the wheels are starting to turn. Let’s hope over the next few weeks the show can really start moving through the gears and live up to its potential. For now though it’s time to discuss some theories as to where these characters have been for the last half a century – Time travel? Cryogenically frozen? Maybe they became the first to enrol in the Dharma Initiative…or maybe, just maybe, they’ve been dead all along…
Scene of the Episode – The opening scene of Cobb firing into the crowd at the fairground was brilliant. It felt genuinely terrifying for the characters involved, especially the girl trapped next to her murdered boyfriend on the Ferris wheel. It was a bit of a shock to see the show start this way but I’m glad it did, it makes the series unpredictable, more importantly it shows the audience that it isn’t afraid to present the criminal characters as the violent offenders that they are…or were…or are.
Reviewed by Rich Jepson, cult TV enthusiast and author of 24: Terrorism Through Television.