Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 17, 2008)
Prison Break seemed like a show that could last no more than one or two seasons, as the nature of the plot didn’t appear to lend itself toward an extended story. However, the series has made it to its fourth season and doesn’t look like it’ll quit anytime soon. With this new DVD release, we take a look at the series’ strike-shortened third year. I’ll check out all 13 shows in the order broadcast. The plot synopses come straight from the set’s packaging.
Orientacion: “While Lincoln (Dominic Purcell) scrambles to free his brother, Michael (Wentworth Miller), T-Bag (Robert Knepper), Bellick (Wade Williams) and Mahone (William Fichtner) do their best to adapt to life in Sona, a hellish Panamanian prison where the rules are simple: fight or die.”
Season One launched with a bang due to the sheer nuttiness of the series’ premise, and Season Two got off to a good start since it actually followed the convicts’ attempted path to freedom. Season Three finds many main characters back behind bars again, so it can’t quite avoid a feeling of déjà vu. Sure, it’s a different setting, but I don’t know if it’s different enough to make Season Three worthwhile. That’ll be a “wait and see” situation, I suppose. “Orientacion” starts the year on a decent note, but I can’t say it makes me especially optimistic for Season Three.
Fire/Water: “As Lincoln tracks down a mysterious lead, Michael and Mahone go underground in search of James Whistler (Chris Vance), the most wanted man in Sona and just maybe their ticket out of there.”
Much of the fun during Season One stemmed from the way it unfolded Michael’s intricately plotted escape plan. While Season Three throws us back into the pokey, it alters things because it forces Michael to improvise much more often. The moments during which Michael schemes offer some good entertainment here, but the rest feels more muddled. Whistler becomes the big hot potato, and the show starts to develop intrigue in that area. Hopefully these threads will eventually bear fruit, but so far they seem lackluster.
Call Waiting: “Michael needs T-Bag’s help to contact Sara, and Whistler forges an uneasy alliance with Mahone as Lincoln continues to hunt for Sara and LJ (Marshall Allman).”
Mahone became one of my favorite Prison Break characters in S2, mostly due to his super-cop skills. Unfortunately, Mahone has been much less interesting in S3. His junkie antics may prove intriguing at some point, but right now even an actor as fine as Fichtner can’t make Mahone’s material worthwhile. At least the Michael/Sara side of things takes a turn to the better and shows some potential.
Good Fences: “Michael makes a power play to set his plan into action. Meanwhile, hiding a horrible secret, Lincoln recruits the help of the prison’s gravedigger.”
“Fences” starts with the demise of a major character, though not one we don’t see coming, especially since it’s been patently obvious the actor in question hasn’t appeared this year. That means the death packs less of a punch that otherwise might’ve been the case; indeed, the person’s passing feels more like a cheap plot twist than anything integral to the season’s story. Some of the episode’s other patterns become more interesting, at least, so “Fences” manages to overcome its tacky beginning.
Interference: “With the escape deadline fast approaching, Sucre (Amaury Nolasco) makes a special delivery, and a new inmate name Tyge (Dominic Keating) keeps an eye on Michael and Whistler.”
The series works best when it puts its participants in tight spots, and “Interference” offers much material in that vein. I like it when we see Michael scramble to survive and escape, so this episode’s efforts down that path work well. Add in that mysterious new inmate and “Interference” offers a good show.
Photo Finish: “Michael demands proof that Sara is still alive, and after a murder in the prison yard, Whistler must prove his own innocence or face the wrath of Lechero (Robert Wisdom).”
As the move toward another escape nears, we find the inevitable complications layered on top of complications. Sometimes I think the series should be renamed “Plot Complications”, as it reeks of them so much of the time. That said, “Finish” does execute these expected twists with panache and cleverness. Though we know various snags are coming, we don’t anticipate the specifics, so the episode spins us well.
Vamonos: “While Lincoln closes in on Susan (Jodi Lyn O’Keefe) and LJ, Michael and Whistler come to blows after a glaring problem foils their escape attempt.”
I thought this episode might actually include the escape from Sona and the rest of the season would cover the prisoners’ flight. Without spoiling too much, let’s say I was wrong, as Michael and company remain firmly ensconced in the prison. At least “Vamonos” throws out enough new drama to make it worthwhile.
Bang & Burn: “Susan orders Whistler to kill Michael and acts on orders to carry out a ‘bang and burn’ at Sona. Meanwhile, Lechero’s power slips away, but he reveals a hidden secret.”
After so much plotting, it’s about time we finally get some action. “Burn” delivers some real drama via its titular breakout attempt. Toss in a few more of the usual plot twists and this adds to one of the more eventful episodes.
Boxed In: “With Mahone back in Sona and Michael in solitary confinement, General Zavala (Castulo Guerra) will do whatever it takes to uncover the truth. Meanwhile, Bellick prepares for a fight to the death.”
Given all the secrecy that covers Michael’s actions, the series gives him the most radical twist of all here: he cooperates with authorities and tells them the truth! Of course, this doesn’t solve all his problems, but at least it creates an interesting turn of affairs. “Boxed In” turns up the heat well.
Dirt Nap: “Michael receives a mysterious visitor, and as the escape plan grows, Sammy (Laurence Mason) usurps control of Sona, placing a hefty price on Michael’s head.”
While Bellick hasn’t gotten a lot to do in Season Three, he receives a bit more importance here. The show uses him in a clever way and creates some fun situations. Other parts of the episode seem less inventive – such as how Michael deals with second banana Sammy – but the show still moves along the plot reasonably well.
Under and Out: “As heavy rains accelerate the escape plan, alliances are forged among the inmates, but when the lights go out, it’s every man for himself.”
When a series comes this close to the end of the season, you expect to find an episode that exists largely to set the table for the finale. That’s what “Under” does as it preps us for what we assume will be a big bang boom of a conclusion. And it succeeds in that regard, as it steams – finally! – toward the escape attempt.
Hell or High Water: “While Sucre faces an identity crisis, the escapees head for the beach and out to sea, but not everyone makes it out of Sona.”
It took 12 episodes, but Prison Break finally gives us a prison break! And it’s a pretty good one, as it takes some interesting turns. It’s a bit of a surprise to see that the season doesn’t end with the escape, but I expect some good intrigue in the finale to finish off the year with a bang.
The Art of the Deal: “With a storm brewing inside the prison, Michael and Lincoln trade Whistler for LJ and Sofia (Danay Garcia), but the exchange doesn’t go quite as planned.”
Since Seasons One and Two of Prison Break ended with cliffhangers, will it come as any surprise to learn that S3 does the same? Of course not, though I think the year finishes on a less dramatic note. After all, S1 finished with the logical conclusion to that year, and S2 came at us with a startling method of re-imprisoning our lead.
In contrast, the end of S3 feels more like an act break. Yes, the escape creates some kind of conclusion to the arc, but it’s not the same kind of clean snap found at the finishes of the first two years. It’s a subtle distinction but it exists, possibly due to the influence of the writers’ strike. S3 ran a good eight or nine episodes shorter than usual, so it’s possible it would’ve wrapped up a little more neatly if it’d gone the distance.
Whatever the case, S3 does finish on a positive note. It creates the usual array of interesting twists, and it leaves us curious to see what happens next. Of the series’ first three seasons, S3 is probably the weakest link, but Prison Break remains involving, and I do look forward to S4.