Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Case Study No. 1221: Johnny McKee (library aide) and Chester Grindle

ALCATRAZ - Sneak Peek: "Johnny McKee"
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[Brad Turner (director of the TV show "Alcatraz") speaks directly to the camera]
BRAD TURNER: This episode is about yet another prisoner from Alcatraz who's found, and his specialty is to poison people.
[various scenes from the episode are shown, then cut to Sam Neil ("Emerson Hauser") speaking directly to the camera]
SAM NEIL: He's psychotic, he's dangerous and he kills people in deeply unpleasant ways.
[more scenes from the episode are shown, then cut to Sarah Jones ("Det. Rebecca Madsen") speaking directly to the camera]
SARAH JONES: There's a method to his madness. He also gets very experimental about the poisons that he uses as well.
[more scenes from the episode are shown, then cut back to Neil]
SAM NEIL: He's the sorta guy you don't wanna run into in a bar ... Don't let him buy you a drink, because it'll probably be your last.
[more scenes from the episode are shown]
SAM NEIL: Consider this a warning ...



"Johnny McKee"
S1 / E7
Aired February 20, 2012

Every new series has its growing pains, struggling to shrug off the less-successful elements of its pilot while still building on the bits that worked from the get-go, but you can usually tell when a series has hit the point where the producers have finally figured out the formula they were looking for all along. Maybe it's a bit optimistic to say so, but it certainly seems like "Johnny McKee" might be that episode for Alcatraz.

First and foremost, things kicked off this evening neither with a flashback nor a look into one of the returning '63s but, rather, with Hauser visiting Lucy in Dr. Beauregard's facilities. It's not the most eventful visit as far as Hauser's concerned, as her condition remains unchanged despite Beauregard's best efforts to rouse her, but it was a scene that started out intriguing and became even more so by the end of the episode. Apparently, Lucy isn't waking up because her mind believes that the dreams she's dreaming are better than whatever awaits her in the real world, a fact which leads Beauregard to suggest that the sound of Hauser's voice might help bring her back. "She needs a reason, sir," says the doctor. "Love is a good one." Perhaps so, but the mere idea causes Hauser to hem, haw, and ultimately head out of the infirmary, leading Beauregard to ask, "What are you afraid of, Emerson?" The question goes unanswered, but as we learn later, it does not go unconsidered.

Okay, now it's time to check in on our '63 of the week. When we first see Johnny McKee, he's behind the bar of some trendy-looking Chinatown nightclub, doling out drinks with a side of Jules Verne, but when a mouthy patron comes up and gives him a bit of lip, he's straight over to whip up a poisonous concoction. Cue the first flashback of the evening, where we're witness to McKee being asked by fellow inmate Mikey Cullen to off the prison librarian, a "squirrely mug" who's screwing up the status quo by distributing shivs in the spines of certain library books. McKee's not particularly interested, but when Cullen growls, "You don't want to say 'no' to me," McKee shrugs and says, "I guess every schoolyard's got a bully." True enough. When we jump back to the present, we discover for the first time—but not the last—that McKee's gift for chemistry provides him with a perfect method for dispatching any bullies that cross his path. As the mouthy patron and his pals endure the effects of what's become their final beverage, McKee calmly folds his apron, sets it on the bar, and strolls off to find another job.

Back at Alcatraz HQ, we discover that the gang has got a search engine set up to troll YouTube for the sudden appearance of videos that might relate to '63s, then scan them with video-recognition software to identify any Alcatraz inmates and guards contained therein. Lo and behold, some quick-moving soul with an iPhone has captured the last moments of McKee's victims as well as a shot of the man behind their demise, calling it "Freaky Deaths at Club." (By the way, I question if even Hauser's seemingly lengthy reach can do away with every single appearance of a video that's gone viral, but I admire that the show is at least attempting to address that they're trying to keep the '63s and their crimes under wraps.)

Of McKee's present-day activities, the shot of him folding towels in front of a swimming pool filled with dead bodies was pretty damned creepy, but by the time the subway car situation came to pass, all of my interest was on the crime he was committing in the past. Maybe I'm the only one, but despite his comment about schoolyard bullies to Cullen in their initial encounter, I still figured that the librarian was going to be the one to go down. (Truth be told, I was hoping for a future episode entitled "Mikey Cullen," but somehow I'm guessing that's probably not going to happen now.) As such, it had already proved to be the most successful flashback for me even before we got the concluding scene with Dr. Sangupta getting the secret of Ginny Winters out of him ... which, as you may have already guessed, I also didn't see coming. Wow ...

The use of Jack Sylvane in the episode was also well done, not only by tying him into McKee's tale by having him be privy to the Ginny Winters story, but also by giving Madsen a few minutes with him, thereby opening her to later asking Hauser such very important questions as, "Exactly where is Sylvane being imprisoned, anyway? And who the hell is this Beauregard guy he mentioned?" And let's not forget those great last lines from Sylvane: "Your name's Madsen, right? You got the same eyes ... "

Things wrapped up with a nice bit of book-ending, as Hauser returned to Lucy's bedside and begrudgingly sat down to read to her. Turns out that Beauregard was just pulling his leg about his reading material, though: Instead of The Carpetbaggers, he's actually reading Ovid's Metamorphoses, which makes him a far better man than I am, as I had to look it up to even know what it was. (I've always been more of a Harold Robbins guy.) As Lucy continues to dream, however, we now know from Jack Sylvane that the '63s are not dreaming. Not anymore, anyway. Coincidence? Surely not.

This proved to be the best blend of both past and present and procedural and mythology since Alcatraz began. Now let's see if the show can keep it up.



["Alcatraz, Recreation Yard - 1960" appears on screen, as Johnny McKee reluctantly approaches fellow inmate Mikey Cullen]
MIKEY CULLEN: [introducing himself] Mikey Cullen.
JOHNNY MCKEE: I know who you are.
MIKEY CULLEN: I guess a loss of anonymity is the price you pay when people are scared of you.
[Johnny says nothing]
MIKEY CULLEN: I need a favor ... Squirrely mug jumpin' kings over there needs killin'.
[Johnny looks across the yard at Chester Grindle (played by Byron Noble), a smallish man with a receding hairline, who is playing checkers with another inmate]
JOHNNY MCKEE: Grindle the librarian? Why do you want to kill him?
MIKEY CULLEN: Selling pig stickers outta the library. I got my own guy selling shivs.
JOHNNY MCKEE: This place is lousy with murderers. Why me?
MIKEY CULLEN: Poison gets the job done quiet.
JOHNNY MCKEE: [pause] If I say no?
MIKEY CULLEN: You don't wanna say no to me ...
JOHNNY MCKEE: [looks away] I guess every schoolyard's got a bully ...
MIKEY CULLEN: Yeah, well, this ain't no schoolyard, McKee ... Get the job done, or it'll be you who needs killin'.


["Alcatraz, Library - 1960" appears on screen, as Grindle is reshelving books, when Johnny (also working in the library) walks up next to him]
JOHNNY MCKEE: I'm looking for a book. Uh, something sharp and to the point ... You get my drift?
CHESTER GRINDLE: You're a subtle bastard, huh? Maybe you landed this work detail just to get a sticker.
JOHNNY MCKEE: You got me.
CHESTER GRINDLE: Waddaya you got for me?
[Johnny pulls out an adult magazine from underneath his shirt and hands it to him, so Grindle leaves and returns holding a book with the shiv hidden inside the spine]
CHESTER GRINDLE: Sharpest sticker I got.
JOHNNY MCKEE: [pause] You going to movie night? It's a Western. "Born Reckless", with Mamie van Doren.
[Grindle doesn't look up, continuing to sort books]
CHESTER GRINDLE: I prefer to read.
JOHNNY MCKEE: It's a shame, I hear there's a flash of melon.
[he looks up longingly]
CHESTER GRINDLE: You just sweetened the deal, now, didn't ya? You bet I'll be there.


[the prisoners are gathering to watch the movie, when Johnny (holding the book with the hidden shiv) sees Grindle enter the room]
JOHNNY MCKEE: Hey, Grindle.
[he slaps the chair directly in front of him]
JOHNNY MCKEE: Saved you a good one.
[he sits down, as Cullen enters and takes the seat next to Johnny]
["Alcatraz, Chapel - 1960" appears on screen, as the prisoners begin chanting "Show! Show! Show!" for the movie to start ... This causes the warden to stand up at the front of the room]
EDWIN JAMES: Why do we all love a Western? In other company, I'd say it's the time-honored tradition of watching good triumph over evil. But here ... Amongst these decrepit masses, well, the thought just don't seem to apply. Heck, you lags don't know if you're on horseback or foot, if you're defecating or going blind.
[cut to a shot of Johnny with his arms crossed, then back to the warden]
EDWIN JAMES: Either way, you'll be stompin' and cloppin', and it won't for a moment concern you why ...
[he takes a piece of paper out of his pocket and begins reading]
EDWIN JAMES: "Born Reckless. Starring Mamie van Doren."
[he puts the paper back in his pocket, then holds up a finger]
EDWIN JAMES: Don't smoke.
[he signals for the lights to go out, then the crowd cheers as the movie begins]
MIKEY CULLEN: [whispers] Tick tock, McKee.
JOHNNY MCKEE: Just waiting for Mamie's grand finale ...


[as the movie draws to its conclusion, Johnny leans forward and slips out the shiv (covered with a poison he's concocted from nightshade growing around the prison yard]
GUARD: Movie's over! On your feet, let's go.
[the lights come back on, and the prisoners start filing out, when Johnny addresses Grindle]
JOHNNY MCKEE: You glad you came?
[Grindle remains motionless, so Johnny leans forward and taps him on the shoulder]
JOHNNY MCKEE: Hey, Grindle ...
[Grindle, apparently fine, turns and smiles]
CHESTER GRINDLE: Best melons I've seen in years ...
JOHNNY MCKEE: [smiles] The only melons you've seen in years.
[they get up to leave, as the guard notices that Cullen is still sitting down]
GUARD: Hey, Cullen ... Come on, let's move it.
[he pokes him with his nightstick, only to realize that Cullen is lifeless and foaming at the mouth]
GUARD: The hell?
[he checks for a pulse]
GUARD: He's dead ... Line up! Line up for count! No one leaves!
[everyone stops and line up against the wall]
CHESTER GRINDLE: [whispers to Johnny] Who you think had the stones to kill Cullen?
JOHNNY MCKEE: Could be anyone ... Nobody likes a bully.


[Johnny is in the infirmary, being interrogated by the warden and Dr. Singh Gupta]
SINGH GUPTA: You enjoy the movie last night?
JOHNNY MCKEE: Well, who doesn't enjoy a good Western?
EDWIN JAMES: [quietly] Michael Cullen, perhaps ... Looks as if that movie was his last.
SINGH GUPTA: Doctor Beauregard said he was poisoned. Wonder who could've managed such a feat in a room of forty people.
JOHNNY MCKEE: It's a real brain-twister.
SINGH GUPTA: You're very angry, Mister McKee. Try to hide it, but I can see it.
JOHNNY MCKEE: [feigning interest] Oooh, something good's coming, I can tell ...
JOHNNY MCKEE: Okay, okay. I'll cooperate.
SINGH GUPTA: Tell me about the girl.
JOHNNY MCKEE: What girl?
SINGH GUPTA: Virginia Winters.
JOHNNY MCKEE: I don't know who that is.
JOHNNY MCKEE: Or maybe, uh ... Yeah, I remember somebody with that name from school.
SINGH GUPTA: Was she your girlfriend?
JOHNNY MCKEE: No ... Just the prettiest girl in class.
SINGH GUPTA: But you had a date?
JOHNNY MCKEE: Egg cream is all. The local malt shop.
SINGH GUPTA: And then what happened?
JOHNNY MCKEE: Nothing happened.
EDWIN JAMES: Ding, ding, ding.
JOHNNY MCKEE: You can ding from here to Kingdome Come. I'm telling you, nothing else happened.
SINGH GUPTA: So, after the egg creams, she didn't take you to the roof of the gym, where it was nice and dark? And she didn't kiss you and get your clothes off, and the lights didn't pop on, and the football team wasn't there, and they didn't laugh and throw firecrackers at you, and one of those cherry bombs didn't hit you in your privates and take your testicles, leaving you as half a man ...
[Johnny stares blankly, showing no emotion]
SINGH GUPTA: And you haven't spent your whole life looking for revenge?
[he says nothing]
SINGH GUPTA: I can help you with that memory, Mister McKee. I can make it go away. But first, you have to tell me the truth.
[she holds up a photo of a young woman with half her face burned off]
SINGH GUPTA: Who is this girl?
JOHNNY MCKEE: She, um ... She did all those things, as you said.
SINGH GUPTA: [quietly] And what did you do to her?
JOHNNY MCKEE: [pause] I burned her ... With acid.
[he starts to choke up]
JOHNNY MCKEE: You asked me what I, uh, dream about? I dream about her face.
SINGH GUPTA: [quietly] Okay, Johnny. Now I can help you.
[she turns and walks away]

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