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‘Prison Break’ finds freedom outside of walls

This season’s cross-country chase has improved the story and characters. By Andy Dehnart
/ Source: contributor

Note: This article contains spoilers from the fall finale.

A few weeks before the fall finale of “Prison Break’s” second season, former prison doctor Sara Tancredi asked former inmate Michael Scofield, “Do you think there’s a part of you that enjoys this? I mean escaping from prison, and being on the run, and the danger, and the fear, and the rush, all that. It feels to me like chasing a high.”

To answer her question, being on the run was definitely a high for the Fox drama, which dramatically reinvented itself for its second season.

After spending 22 episodes trying to escape from prison, and half a season trying to elude capture, Michael Scofield and his framed-for-murder brother Lincoln Burrows found themselves once again in custody, and then in a situation where they were being allowed to again escape and run free.

Fox and the show’s producers did the same thing to their series by actually letting the prisoners in a show called “Prison Break” to leave their prison after just one season. Keeping them locked up for a few seasons, at least, would have seemed to be the logical, sensible network television choice.

However, inside the walls of the prison, the prisoners were mostly treading water. In the closed environment of the prison, there was a limit to the situations the inmates could find themselves in as they attempted to escape, just as there were a limited number of people to interact with. Although the show lost its gritty realism and blue- and gray-toned aesthetic outside the prison’s walls, the world has opened up endless possibilities.

C-Note has a soul? Who knew?
Eluding capture also presented Scofield with an infinite number of problems to solve, and the presence of friends and foes around the country has helped to develop previously one-dimensional characters into dynamic presences. C-Note’s desperation to reunite his family and return to normalcy has humanized him, for example, making him more than just the brutish, demanding prisoner he was when his character was first introduced.

Other characters, too, have been freed from their shackles, both literal and metaphoric. Having been fired for his misconduct, prison guard Brad Bellick spent this season pursuing the men who he blamed for ruining his career and life. As the second season reached its midpoint, he found himself in the general population of the same prison where he used to work, an intriguing turn that was the result of being framed for the murder of one of his fellow guards by one of his former inmates.

Despite being away from the hostile prison environment for the majority of these 13 episodes, the show still managed to be graphic and violent, whether former Secret Service agent Kellerman was trying to drown Tancredi in a bathtub, or T-Bag (the vile murderer and rapist) was having his hand sewn back on by a veterinarian, or tearing it off in order to escape capture.

Others, such as Tancredi’s governor father and Lincoln’s and Michael’s lawyer/friend Veronica Donovan, were surprisingly and violently killed off.

Holes big enough to drive a Hummer throughWhat didn’t change were the show’s trademark plot holes, which require a pretty significant but still enjoyable suspension of disbelief. The “Fox River Eight” were, we were told, national news all season long, yet hardly any member of the public the fugitives interacted with seemed to recognize them — until those innocent citizens conveniently noticed a TV or newspaper with the fugitives’ faces and names on it.

The geography of the United States was compressed, as characters met and then drifted away from each other, only to meet in another state the very next episode. Others crossed the country in mere minutes.

Other characters appeared from nowhere miraculously, such as Lincoln and Michael’s father, who even announced his reason for being dropped into the story. “I came back so we can fix this,” he said last week, not-so-subtly confirming his role, although he then died his way out of the story to ensure that things wouldn’t be fixed.

, the lame conspiracy to frame Lincoln for the murder of the Vice-President’s not-exactly-dead brother has returned to be the weakest part of the series, as it is mostly used as little more than a plot device. Its players are so flat and cliché that they’re laughable.

A new Secret Service Agent, William Kim, is now the one responsible for making absurd, reason-less pronouncements about whatever unilateral action needs to be taken to prevent whatever absurd secret his faceless bosses are hiding. Reggie Lee plays Kim as superficially as possible, his face contorted into a half-smile, half-nauseated expression that conveys just how much his section of the script stinks.

Best new characterFBI agent Alex Mahone, however, had the most potential as a character, and in particular as a foil to Michael Scofield.

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Although he sometimes magically appeared wherever the convicts happened to be, apparently possessing the power of teleportation, he was apparently intellectually matched with Scofield, at least in his ability to analyze and interpret his surroundings. Like Scofield, he was also haunted by his past, and as played by William Fichtner, always seemed to be on the edge of a nervous breakdown.

Watching the two face off would have been thrilling, but alas, in recent episodes, Mahone was been kept at bay by Kim for because the writers apparently needed more meaningless lines for Kim to say. More tragically, Mahone was shot by Kellerman as this episode concluded.

Ironically, his (presumed) death may be what the conspiracy needs to break out from being a shamelessly thin backstory. After shooting Mahone, Kellerman told Scofield and Burrows, “President Reynolds ruined your life, she ruined my life. You want to take the bitch down? You just found your inside man.”

It was perhaps the most rational moment and twist this entire half-season, and finally offers payoff for having tolerated Kellerman’s presence these 35 episodes. Any alliance — between the ruthless former Secret Service agent, the man framed for murdering the Vice President’s brother, and his intellectually gifted, morally conflicted brother — will probably be short-lived, but it’s once again a sensible right-turn for a series that is not content to let itself wither away in a tiny little cell.

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