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No shackles on ‘Prison Break’ finale

It's not often that a major network drama has concluded its first season by allowing its title to become completely irrelevant. But that's exactly what happened to FOX's “Prison Break,” when the inmates broke out of the prison before the first season even concluded.

The second-to-last episode fulfilled the destiny implied by the show's title, as Michael Scofield's elaborate escape plan was finally put into effect, and the group he'd assembled to make it possible fled over one of the prison's walls. Instantly, most of show's conventions have become irrelevant, from Scofield's full-torso prison blueprint tattoo to the impending threat of his brother Lincoln's execution.

That had the potential to be disastrous for “Prison Break's” future, starting with the first season finale. They're outside; now what?

But as the final episode showed, the break-out has created a new level of excitement and intrigue that will play out next season.

Breaking free from shacklesThe finale was captivating and had more action and adventure than many of the 21 episodes that preceded it, and those weren't exactly boring.

Impressively, the series didn't let its stars stay behind bars for two or three or six seasons. Encouraged by high ratings, the network could have ordered producers to push the premise well past its breaking point, dragging the series into ruin and following the unfortunate path that too many shows have taken before it. Some shows are shackled by their premises, and “Prison Break” had the potential to be one of those.

Then again, “Prison Break” did push up the edges of plausible deniability more than once during its first season. As Michael Scofield worked to break his brother and himself out before Lincoln's assassination, the obstacles placed in his path grew increasingly more ridiculous. Delaying the inevitable by dragging Lincoln to the electric chair but then staying the execution again, for example, would have been difficult to believe, and the last thing “Prison Break” needs is more transparent plot devices.

The necessity of those plot devices was due in no small part to the prison's confined spaces and limited resources. Now, though, with the whole country at their disposal, the writers have a lot more to work with, and many more possibilities to test Michael's ingenuity and creativity under extreme pressure.

Much of that pressure will come from the people who are now desperate to find the escaped inmates, including Warden Pope and Captain Bellick. “Those piles of crap doing what they just did, they just signed their death warrant. Every last one of them,” Bellick said. If he was unapologetically ruthless before, he's going to be even more mercilessly focused on his objective now.

Pope has different motivation; he befriended Scofield but realized he'd been betrayed and used, and now he wants revenge, or at least justice.

But who needs enemies when you have a van full of crazy killer convict friends? As they work to protect themselves and their own interests, they'll step all over each other. Driving toward an air strip, for example, T-Bag immediately handcuffed himself to Scofield and then swallowed the key, in order to protect himself from Abruzzi, whose throat he'd previously slit. That part of the road trip from hell ended shockingly when Abruzzi freed Scofield by chopping off T-Bag's hand with an axe.

More conspiracy theories, fewer prison barsRegrettably, the second season will likely also include more of the ridiculous conspiracy that gave the plot its reason for existence. The weakness of the storyline associated with the staged assassination of the vice president's brother is matched only by the weakness of the characters, who are all one-note walking clichés. It's lazy writing and acting, and needs to be pushed to the periphery where it can fuel the story but stay off our screens.

But there was development here, primarily with the elevation of the vice president to the presidency. She had her boss assassinated in order to prove her loyalty to the mysterious company that is behind everything. Her competence has come into question both from her colleagues and from her brother, who she stashed away in Montana. At the end of the finale, Lincoln's former girlfriend and current lawyer Veronica Donovan discovered him there, however, so he may become an ally to help her uncover the conspiracy that left him literally toothless (his teeth were planted on a corpse in order to fake his death).

In its last two episodes of the first season, “Prison Break” also killed off a number of major characters, from prisoners (such as the sage old man Charles Westmoreland) to peripheral characters (the President of the United States, who only appeared for a few moments this season). Some of them, like Westmoreland, will be missed, but others, such as now-dead lawyer Nick Savrinn, were unquestionably dispensable. That a series can dump its dead weight so early is commendable.

The exit of those characters clears the way for new people to join the cast, of course, but also for an increased focus on those we like best. As the prisoners ran from the prison, a few were left behind, like the newly handless T-Bag and snitch Tweener, but they'll undoubtedly be back, more likely than not because they have scores to settle with other escaped prisoners.

Some may be caught, others will probably die, but if this finale is any indication, season two will definitely be an adventure worth watching.

As we left the five remaining inmates — Michael Scofield, Lincoln Burrows, John Abruzzi, Fernando Sucre, and Benjamin “C-Note” Franklin — they were standing on a runway being pursued by dozens of police cars, their getaway jet taking off over their heads. “What do we do now?” Scofield's former cellmate Sucre asked.

“We run,” Scofield said, and they took off running through a field. As they ran, it became clear that getting the prisoners outside of the prison was the big break the show needed.

is a writer and teacher who publishes reality blurred, a daily summary of reality TV news.

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