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Prison Break: An Epitaph

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Monday, May 18, 2009
Prison Break wrapped up its fourth and final season on Friday. Here's what happened for those of you who tuned out long ago from one of television's most entertaining (and definitely its most ridiculous) action shows.

Prison Break is over. Three seasons after Michael Scofield (Wentworth Miller) successfully broke his falsely accused brother Lincoln Burrows (Dominic Purcell) out of Fox River Penitentiary, and two seasons after creators originally intended the show to end, it’s done. Well, mostly. Word is that they’ve cooked up one more two-hour special that takes place between the end of the last episode and it’s “4 Years Later” epilogue. But for all intents and purposes, the show wrapped up on Friday night.


Some people have complained that the show lost its momentum in the second season, as the characters got out of prison and separated. Others thought it jumped the shark in the third season, when most of the characters ended up in another prison, this time in Panama. “It got completely ridiculous!” they shout. I submit that the show was always completely ridiculous and that they’re remembering season one through rose-colored glasses. Look, I’ll admit that the twist at the end of season two that put them back in prison was over-the-top silly, but that was the point where I decided to mostly stop worrying about the logic of the show and just enjoy the twisty thrills it provided on a week-to-week basis. Clearly they had to come up with something when Fox renewed the show past the second season, so they completely embraced the pulp fiction/1940s movie serial-style action that was always bubbling under the surface. Prison Break always packed in the thrills and suspense, and they always knew when to ratchet up the action. This kept the show as an exciting guilty pleasure even when it bent over backwards with the twists.
  
Season four found the remaining ex-cons banding together against the Company, the shadowy conglomerate behind, well, pretty much everything in the show, starting with framing Lincoln for the murder of the Vice President’s brother and sending him to death row as their patsy. The Company had a thing called Scylla, a special device which contained all of their secrets, and most of the season was taken up by Michael and his allies plotting to break into Company headquarters and steal it. Once they acquired it, the double-crosses and betrayals intensified as factions from all over the world attempted to acquire the device. As the finale opened, Michael was in possession of Scylla, but was trapped with an impossible choice. The Company’s leader, General Krantz, had Michael’s pregnant girlfriend Sara, while Michael’s long-lost and very evil mother (Kathleen Quinlan) had his brother Lincoln, who had been shot and was slowly bleeding to death. Both hostage-takers wanted the device, so Michael had to figure out a way to save both people while still holding onto it.


This setup provided a final two-hour jolt of thrills as Michael and Mahone (the excellent William Fitchner) scrambled to save their friends and themselves. As a bonus, the show brought back Sucre (Amaury Nolasco) and C-Note (Rockmond Dunbar) to give Michael a final chance to get Scylla into the right hands. What was really surprising, though, was the return of Kellerman (Paul Adelstein), the evil Secret Service agent last seen eating a bullet at the end of season two. Whatever. Like I said, Prison Break is all about the action—you just roll with the insanity of the plot twists. In the end, Michael managed to give Scylla to a representative of the UN and gain immunity for all of his friends. As a final topper, the selfish T-Bag (Robert Knepper) ended up right back in Fox River while the General got arrested and received the death penalty for his years of evil conspiracies. Michael and Sara took a walk on the beach together, happy at last. Until Michael got a nosebleed, cueing the return of his degenerative brain condition from earlier in the season. Cut to four years later, and the various characters assemble to take a walk to a small beachside graveyard, where Michael’s son lays flowers on top of his grave.


As a longtime fan of the show, I can understand the writers desire to go for the bittersweet ending instead of the straight-up happy ending. And even though I just got finished saying I could roll with every plot twist, no matter how ridiculous, I have to say that this ending was at least mildly annoying. Kellerman’s return from off-screen suicide was a bit of a bummer. Not so much because he was back, but because his character’s story arc ended really nicely at the end of the second season. But heck, Sara had her head cut off in season three, only to have actress Sarah Wayne Callies agree to return for season four. So in season four it turned out that Sara had actually escaped from her Company tormentors, and the head that Lincoln saw inside of a box was just from a different girl who resembled Sara.


That’s the kind of stuff that Prison Break asks us to buy. But Michael’s invented brain condition was supposedly completely fixed by the Company’s surgeons, who did the same surgery on Michael’s mother. His mom was alive and well for 20 years after this surgery, but Michael had a relapse only weeks after his surgery? Even I found that last twist a bit tough to swallow. Still, at least the character died happy (we assume), and every other character in the show got proper closure. So I salute Prison Break for providing four seasons of ridiculous but exciting action and suspense. Now I’ll just have to get my fix from TV’s other strong action shows; namely 24 (still strong going into season eight), Burn Notice (possibly the most entertaining show on TV), and Leverage (TNT actually managed to come up with a reasonable substitute for Mission Impossible. TNT! I know, I was shocked, too).

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