Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 1, 2009)
With its fourth season, Prison Break comes to an end. I always thought it was odd that the series continued after its protagonists made it out of the pokey, but it still entertained and I suspect it would’ve kept going for many more years had the ratings not declined.
Along with a special direct-to-video movie, Season Four marks the end. I’ll check out all 22 shows in the order broadcast. The plot synopses come straight from tv.com; thanks for them for their good work.
Scylla/Breaking and Entering: “Michael has trailed Gretchen, Whistler and Mahone to LA. Chaos reigns in Sona while T-Bag, Bellick and Sucre go missing. Lincoln and L.J. continue to stay with Sofia. Michael, Lincoln and the others get a new team member, Roland, and work to copy the data card. Wyatt continues his quest to find the brothers. T-Bag makes his way north.”
Season Four starts with a double-length episode. The show feels a bit busy at times, largely because it packs so much story into a short period of time. That’s inevitable, though, as the program needs to wrap up Season Three and launch the main plot of Season Four. The episode gets the year off to a good start.
Shut Down: “Michael attempts to track the cardholder and avoid going back to prison.
Wyatt finds new information regarding Sara's whereabouts. T-Bag uses a new identity to make a new life for himself.”
After the slam-bang of the big season opening show, one might expect the second episode to let up the pace. Instead, “Shut Down” keeps things moving at a pretty relentless rate. I don’t think Season Four can keep this going without the risk of wearing out the viewer, but at least for the first couple of shows, it gives us a charge and gets things going well.
Eagles and Angels: “Michael and the others track another cardholder to a consulate. T-Bag arrives in LA and runs into Michael and Lincoln. Wyatt also makes it to LA, in an effort to locate Sara. Bruce's body is discovered.”
Much of the fun from Prison Break resolves around the unending series of puzzles; we want to see how the characters will resolve the many dilemmas. Usually this means lots of brainpower from Michael, but so far Season Four has pushed T-Bag into the decoder role. T-Bag has long been arguably the series' most entertaining personality, so it becomes fun to see him dropped into a situation where he has to think on his feet. That part of “Eagles” works the best, though the continuing saga of Michael and the guys also keeps us going, especially when they enter into an improbable undercover assignment.
Safe and Sound: “Self locates another card, hidden in a safe within a secure federal building.
Mahone continues his quest for revenge. T-Bag's new life may be in jeopardy.”
With a few notable exceptions like T-Bag, I’ve never found most of the Prison Break characters to be particularly interesting. However, the series manages to compensate with its twisty, tense stories. It’s that side of things that makes “Safe” a good episode. Sure, we’ve seen plenty of similar nail-biters in the past, but the conceit still works.
By the way, in a series populated with many hot women, GATE secretary Trishanne may be the sexiest of the bunch. Hoo boy, what a babe! I’d forgotten that I saw Shannon Lucio in the atrocious Spring Break Shark Attack, where she was just as hot but also in a bikini.
Blow Out: “The entire operation may be in jeopardy when Mahone gets into trouble with the law. Gretchen's sister receives a surprise visitor. The Company may be onto Self. T-Bag continues to raise suspicions at Gate.”
About one-fourth of the way into Season Four, Prison Break features an actual prison break! Well, it’s actually more of an “incarceration break”, but still, it adds a nice twist to the year. That’s the best aspect of “Blow Out”, as it provides a good change from the usual story for the season.
Five the Hard Way: “Lincoln, Sara, Sucre and Roland travel to Las Vegas in order to retrieve the next card. Gretchen recruits T-Bag. Wyatt has plans for Self.”
The most interesting development here comes from the fact it finally puts T-Bag back with Michael and the guys. That creates some new concerns and gives the series a good little jolt. It also manages a fun twist in the way it allows the guys to download the next card, so it’s another enjoyable show.
The Price: “Lincoln works to retrieve the final card, which is being held by the General. Michael and Self are forced to work with Gretchen. Meanwhile, Roland continues to be berated for losing the transcribing device in Las Vegas.”
Given that Michael plans 95 percent of the gang’s schemes, it’s good to see Lincoln get the chance to show some brainpower. That side of things offers a neat change of pace, and the episode also provides plenty of interesting plot machinations. It moves the story along well.
Greatness Achieved: “Michael, Lincoln, Sucre and Bellick tunnel into the Company's headquarters. Gretchen meets with the General. Michael's condition continues to deteriorate. The police question T-Bag regarding Andy's disappearance. Wyatt propositions Sara while Mahone awaits his shot at his son's killer.”
Of the many subplots found in Season Four, I’m least found of the one that relates to Michael’s medical condition. Prison Break throws so many twists at us that we don’t need one that feels lifted from a soap opera. That side of things becomes more prominent in “Achieved”, and that harms the episode a bit. Still, it includes enough intrigue and tension to work most of the time.
The Legend: “Sara is left with no choice but to take Michael to the hospital as his condition rapidly worsens. Sucre and Lincoln are faced with unknown territory as they are left in charge of the operation. Agent Self makes a surprising ally.”
“Legend” moves things along acceptably well, though it also pushes Michael’s condition to the forefront. Since I still don’t care for that plot device, I’m hopefully the series will dispense with it soon. Otherwise, the show does reasonably well for itself. It feels a bit like a placeholder episode, but it’s decent.
Quiet Riot: “Michael risks his life by breaking into the Company headquarters along with the others. Gretchen tries to get the last card with a meeting with the general. Trishanne's days may be numbered.”
Another reason I don’t like the Michael illness subplot: because it leads us to believe brain surgery is about as serious as having tonsils removed. “Riot” also misfires a bit because it wants us to believe it might achieve some closure in regard to Scylla. Since much of the season remains, we know that nothing remotely final will occur here, so the break-in attempt becomes an obvious red herring. We still get some excitement, but the episode isn’t one of the best.
Selfless: “Sara takes a hostage in a bid to secure Scylla. Michael and Lincoln finally meet the General while one of their members switches allegiance.”
The events that occur here should end the season, as we reach the culmination of the year’s main story. Of course, on this show, when one door closes, about 100 open. Instead of the resolution “Selfless” would seem to offer, instead it takes us down a few entirely new paths. And it does so well, as it creates a good semi-climax that transitions into new territory.
Deal or No Deal: “The General works to regain Scylla. T-Bag gets a new partner. Michael and Lincoln have an important meeting.”
With all the events of the prior show, “Deal” essentially acts as a “table setting” episode. It needs to escort us more fully into the stories that will take us through the rest of the season. This means a fair amount of exposition, but since we already know most of the participants so well, it also manages to throw in a lot of action and intrigue. That allows the show to entertain while it expands on plot points.
Just Business: “Gretchen and Self wind up with Scylla (and a buyer). Michael battles with the Company for Scylla. Mahone asks some familiar faces for help. T-Bag continues to hold a couple of innocents hostage.”
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I still think the “sick Michael” subplot is the weakest aspect of Season Four. The series has been so clever in the past that it shouldn’t need to resort to such a cheap technique. Nonetheless, I like enough of the other elements found here to mean that “Business” continues to the story in a positive manner.
Going Under: “Michael receives medical attention. Charles Westmoreland helps uncover the real secrets of Scylla. Lincoln and Sucre do everything in their power to retrieve Scylla before it's gone forever.”
Hey – Michael finally goes under the knife! That’s good since a) it theoretically means we won’t have to see any more of his interminable nose bleeds, and b) it allows the other characters a chance to shine on their own. I like the rare stories that give the others demonstrate some smarts. “Under” uses an unusual technique to keep Michael part of the show, but it gives us enough of the others to become an interesting program.
The Sunshine State: “Lincoln and his team travel to Miami looking for Scylla. Michael learns some shocking secrets about his past while Sara searches for him.”
It’s a good thing that Prison Break moves at such a relentless pace; otherwise the viewer might get a chance to realize how nonsensical and absurd so much of the material is. “State” starts to tip toward the ridiculous side of the street, as all the double, triple and sextuple dealing and various deus ex machinations become a bit much at times. I still enjoy the series and think it’s fun, but it’s on the verge of getting too nutty.
The Mother Lode: “Michael and Sara journey to Miami while Lincoln meets with his mother. T-Bag and Self's mission to locate Scylla takes a dramatic turn. The General comes under pressure.”
With so little time left in Season Four, I feel that the series should be building momentum. However, “Lode” doesn’t present as much tension and drama as I’d expect. Maybe I just have high expectations, but the show seems to spin its wheels somewhat. This is a decent episode but not a memorable one.
Vs: “Michael and Lincoln come to blows over Scylla as Christina sets the wheels in motion for her plan. Meanwhile, Sara receives life-changing news. The General becomes increasingly paranoid.”
Over the last few episodes, we’ve gotten a competition between Lincoln and Michael. That should give the rush to end the season some real drive, but instead, it just muddies the waters. And those waters don’t need to be any murkier, as the shows are becoming confusing enough as it stands. Hopefully matters will make more sense soon.
SOB: “A wary Michael meets with Christina. The General arrives in Miami. T-Bag must prove himself to the Company.”
Despite some soap opera elements – and a story that continues to be borderline impenetrable – “SOB” works pretty well. A lot of the credit goes to Kathleen Quinlan’s performance as the slimy Christina; she nicely evokes what Michael would be if he were pure, concentrated evil. Quinlan adds a lot to these last shows.
Cowboys and Indians: “Michael must make a choice as chaos reigns at the energy conference.”
Matters heat up pretty well here. We get a little more of a feel for Christina, and various situations require some of the old Michael Scofield MacGyver ingenuity. The show moves things along nicely and gets up revved up for the final programs.
Rates of Exchange: “Familiar faces turn up as Michael tries to take down the Company.”
“Familiar faces” is an understatement. It starts to feel like old home week as characters from the series’ past come out of the woodworks. Some succeed, some feel a little convenient. The episode does build momentum for the finale, though, so it usually fares well. I’m happy to see a little of “old school” T-Bag in any case; he’s a long way from Cole Pfieffer here.
Killing Your Number: “Michael makes one final attempt to get Scylla and destroy the Company.”
And so it comes to this. Prison Break effectively concludes with… a pretty good episode, though not one of the most involving. The number of twists just becomes overwhelming and tough to keep track of after a while. We still get some neat thrills and excitement, but I can’t say it’s the most satisfying finish.
Maybe some of that ambivalence comes from the episode’s epilogue. The show finishes with views of the characters four years after this program’s events. Most of these are just fine, but one of them seems like a kick in the teeth for the viewers. After all we’ve been through with these characters for four seasons, it doesn’t feel right to put one of them where they do. Maybe they thought this was a daring, edgy choice – and it is – but it doesn’t satisfy.
Despite that misstep, I like Season Four. Of course, the series long ago became ludicrous, but like the soap opera it is, we don’t really care. It’s fun enough to allow us to suspend disbelief and simply go along for the wild ride.