You think cooking is gonna change that, Emmitt?
- Clarence Montgomery, about racist comments made by E.B. Tiller
The most recent episode wasn’t very entertaining, and I’m fed up with the same plot day in and day out, so I won’t go into it much. I will say that it appears that the Warden is definitely the culprit behind the reappearance of the 63s, although I would love to be thrown a curveball and learn otherwise. Lucy’s fate is still in limbo and the rest of the characters haven’t evolved a lick. And we’ve learned a little bit more about the experiments run on inmates at Alcatraz, including a reverse Ludovico-style technique (Anthony Burgess, anyone? Or maybe Stanley Kubrick…) to torment Clarence with the murder of his girlfriend and essentially turn him into a killer, even though he was innocent.
What I like about this episode, though, was the appearance of a racial divide in Alcatraz. Seeing at the prison was closed in 1963, much of Alcatraz’s (or maybe all?) tenure as a prison was before the Civil Rights movement, and thus it would be expected that there would be segregation among the prisoners. While I hadn’t thought of that until now, I immediately recognized my oversight when the opening frame showed a black man. I immediately found myself saying, “Oh wow, our first black inmate… I wonder if there will be racial overtones.” Sure enough, there were.
The racial divide in Alcatraz was severe, with blacks and white occupying different cell blocks and rarely interacting. Come to think of it, in all of the previous scenes showing prisoners in the yard, I never saw a black inmate. Maybe this is because we don’t think this way in society today and discern people by color, or maybe it was a directorial decision that went unnoticed until now. Either way, I don’t have much to say except that I like the provocative nature of this episode, at least personally.
For the record, the segregation is historically accurate – click here for more (#33).
There were two racial themes in the episode: criminality and segregation. Clarence Montgomery was innocent of murdering his white girlfriend, but was sent to Alcatraz after being convicted otherwise. He feels this was simply a result of racial prejudice and presumption (and considering the times, I’d be willing to agree with him). Throughout the episode, the black inmates are mistreated and scorned due to the color of their skin, and Clarence realizes both the pettiness and the static nature of it all. He knows that it will not change, especially not overnight, so he’s resentful when the Warden tries to break the racial divide by having him cook (he was a chef before Alcatraz) for both the white and black inmates. This is a powerful scene, as the white inmates refuse to even touch the food, and one particularly nasty man shouts, “Go back to picking cotton!” not long before a brawl breaks out. Now I’m not claiming to know what racial segregation was like, but I’d be willing to bet that the show did a good job of illustrating the utter animosity of the white inmates toward the black ones. It was almost sickening to watch, and it was a fictional show… I could only imagine seeing something of this nature in person.
The thematic power of this episode made up for what it lacked in entertainment value, and thus I didn’t completely hate it. But there’s something to be said about the show’s fall back into monotony, especially after what I thought (or rather, hoped) was a breakout episode in The Ames Brothers (and again, before that, in Guy Hastings). My best evaluation of the show so far is that it has a few gems buried beneath a greater number of dull filler-episodes. While the allure of the appearance of another great episode and the thought of possibly learning what in the hell has been going on all season is enticing, my patience is getting stretched pretty thin. I’ll keep bending, but I really hope I don’t break.