‘Alcatraz’ widens its mystery

I’ve got my fingers crossed.

Tonight’s “Alcatraz” — the Fox show about how 300 prisoners and guards disappeared from the island prison in 1963, only to reappear in the present without aging a day — took the show in a new direction, and that’s a good thing.

As intriguing as the first few weeks of the show have been, “Alcatraz” threatened to turn into “returning prisoner of the week.” A guy shows up in modern-day San Francisco, commits a crime, the team of investigators recognize him as one of the former prisoners, they track him, catch him and throw him in a creepy modern-day version of the prison, out in the woods somewhere.

In tonight’s episode, “Guy Hastings,” the first returning guard shows up. Hastings is a good guy but initially seems as bad as the escaped prisoners, roughing up and kidnapping investigator Rebecca’s (Sarah Jones) beloved Uncle Ray (the equally beloved character actor Robert Forster).

Thanks to the change-up and an expanded role in the story for Rebecca’s grandfather, an Alcatraz returnee who’s up to something, the episode felt pretty fresh.

And the series benefits immeasurably from the presence of Forster, a veteran of B-movies and cult classics like “Jackie Brown.” It’s startling to see how Forster has aged — gracefully certainly — but his appealing mug and gravelly voice are reassuring as anything on TV right now.

The show has apparently been doing pretty well in the ratings and the producers have recently promised that future episodes will continue to mix things up, deviating from the prisoner of the week stories.

“Alcatraz” still has me hooked.

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