Prison Break is about to return for a fourth season in September 2008, after its truncated third season ended earlier this year. However, this television series might just be in need of a break of its own!
A recap is probably in order. Prison Break was the breakout series of 2005 for FOX Television, wherein a successful engineer named Michael Scofield (played by then newcomer Wentworth Miller) goes to jail to free his brother Lincoln Burrows (played by Dominic Purcell) who is wrongly accused of a crime because of a government conspiracy against their father. Having worked on the prison as an engineer, Scofield tattoos the blueprint on his torso and begins to plan the prison escape with his brother, after getting himself thrown into the same prison.
Although the plot was original enough for television, elements of the storyline were drenched in outrageous improbability and intense farcicality. However, audiences found themselves pardoning the implausible aspects of the show, mainly because ultimately Prison Break served up episodes that kept audiences largely entertained. It was all rather fascinating to see Scofield cogitate each week to come up with new ideas as he kept finding his pre-determined plans undermined by his antagonists. The end of every episode sunk a hook in deep enough to ensure the audience would return the following week. And we did. The series was, in a word, fun!
Season two, which was much anticipated and long awaited, started off in 2006 promisingly, as we tuned in to see Scofield escaping with his brother Burrows, tackling hardship and hurdles along the way as they try to get to Panama, where the brothers believe they can live in peace. The series started tottering about the fourth episode in, for the simple reason that whilst the story in season one was contained focus-wise on the brothers mainly, in the second season with six other prison escapees, six other storylines were forced to be conceived.
In addition to these additional subplots causing the series to turn unwieldy, one could sense that even the scriptwriters found the task of maintaining interest and equal focus on each of the storylines extremely unmanageable and what we got instead were extremely weak and diluted subplots that in return foundered the entire second season. In addition, the last few episodes, even the aspects pertaining to Scofield and Burrows and the government conspiracy, were given such lackluster attention that one could only describe season two of Prison Break as one big mess in the end. It was almost like watching a van laden with too many things wobble and go off the tracks due to the overload!
In a desperate attempt to save the series, and probably to reinstate the correlation between the series’ title and plot, season two ended with Scofield being captured in Panama and thrown back into a prison called Sona, supposedly one of the worst prisons in Panama.
Hence season three started off in 2007, with Scofield finding himself in this new, unfriendly, and nasty territory. Some of his antagonists from the first two seasons, Mahone (played by William Fictner), Bellick (played by Wade Williams), and T-Bag (played by Robert Knepper), through a series of inconceivable mishaps and trials, also find themselves in Sona.
And this was where, if you had watched Prison Break since its inception, you might have wondered if this was even the same series. If one could recall, Bellick was a cold, manipulative, conniving warden in season one. Here in season three, the writers have basically turned him into a sniffling idiot. By the final episode of this season we see him begging Mahone to let him move in with Mahone if they escape from Sona, because he has no family of his own. The Bellick we knew from season one wouldn’t have been caught dead contemplating such a debasing act. T-Bag, who was the complicated rapist/murderer/child genius/sexually abused victim in the first two seasons, was reduced in the third season to a low rung brown-noser who tries to get in good with the boss-man of Sona. T-Bag was a wild, rabid dog in the first two seasons, and he was fascinating to watch on screen. In this season he was the sickly and detached dog that you wished would just die already — the character, not the dog. The characterization arcs given to these supporting characters were so extreme and far reaching that a mere suspension of disbelief didn't work to connect the viewers to these characters any longer.