Prison Break: Season Four

Sigh.

(This review includes spoilers!)

What happens

Michael, Linc, Alex Mahone, Fernando Sucre and Brad Bellick are arrested for various things and blackmailed/recruited by Homeland Security agent Don Self (Michael Rapaport) to carry out a covert mission against the shadowy organization called the Company in return for their eventual freedom and exoneration. The mission is to locate and steal an object called Scylla that contains crucial technological data that would change the world. Dr. Sara Tancredi, who is miraculously not dead after all, joins the team in order to help Michael fulfill the mission.

What works

The producers of this show had a serious problem to solve. They had a stable of terrific actors playing great characters, but the series structure, the actual breaking out of prison thing, obviously couldn't continue. What could they do?

Actually, a covert Dirty Dozen meets Mission: Impossible sort of thing might have worked if it had been executed well; it was a bold move. But unfortunately, the massive series reset in the premiere is an exposition-filled mess. (I wrote a review of the first two episodes when they initially aired together, called "I Can't Believe They Changed the Whole Thing".)

They immediately corrected a major misstep by resurrecting Sara Tancredi. She had managed to escape, and Gretchen used a cadaver to fake Sara's death. Linc didn't actually pick up the head and look at it carefully, now did he? This revelation would have had more of an emotional impact if it had been in season three, but hey, it was still nice to see Michael and Sara spend quality time in a hotel room together. At last.


The move to Los Angeles and later to Miami made the show look shiny and new after the grimy, sweaty third season in Sona. The locations looked great and everyone got a haircut and clean clothes. Pretty people looking pretty again, and yay for that.

All of the best characters came back. Linc, of course, who wisely left Sofia and LJ off screen back in Panama. Whistler was killed off in the premiere, and Sona conveniently burned down (off camera) so that the odd couple of Sucre and Bellick could travel north together and join the team. And of course, they kept William Fichtner as Alex Mahone because they weren't completely stupid. Mahone was always my second favorite character, after Michael.

T-Bag also finds his way to Los Angeles and masquerades as a super salesman using one of Whistler's identities, discovering along the way that he likes wearing suits and working in an office. During the first half of the season, Robert Knepper manages to carry T-Bag's plotline alone, mostly with just Whistler's bird book as a prop. During the second half of the season when the story changes, T-Bag spends a lot of time allied with the equally psychotic and perverse Gretchen, and every scene they did together made me smile -- especially when they turned on each other. T-Bag once again flirts with the possibility of goodness (with Gretchen's sister and daughter, as well as the "Bible salesman") before again embracing his badness. I'm glad they didn't try to reform T-Bag. He's just too evil, and it would never have worked.

The best story thread in season four centers on the murder of Mahone's son by a Company assassin called Wyatt (Cress Williams, in an excellent performance). Wyatt is so deadpan, controlled and heartless that he projects genuine menace, and Mahone's pursuit and revenge on Wyatt in "Greatness Achieved" is intense. "Safe and Sound" also features a strong performance by William Fichtner and Callie Thorne as Mahone's ex-wife Pam talking about their marriage and the death of their son.

What doesn't work

In season four, the writers apparently forgot that the characters, particularly Michael, were the core strength of the series. I always prefer arc to episodic, but making our guys a covert team with an episodic structure and highlighting their various talents, strengths and interrelationships might have worked. Instead, the season's focus is on the Company, the General (Leon Russom), and the all-important McGuffin called Scylla.


I was reminded recently that a hero is only as good as his or her villain. While Wyatt is frightening, he is only one agent of the Company, his arc is over in episode nine, and the General is supposed to be the season's Big Bad. But the General is more annoying and distracting than scary, and honestly, we never really find out what the Company's goals are, or why an evil company would be hiding such information on Scylla in the first place. The brothers should have posted the entire contents of Scylla on the internet when they had the chance, and sent a link to every major newspaper. The end. But no.

After the heist, the season goes from bad to worse as Scylla changes hands with increasing rapidity and the lead villain changes from the General to Michael's mother, Christina Scofield. At that point, I could almost physically feel my suspension of belief fading away. Was Christina their original plan, or was it a fix? Guys, this only works if you have a character like Irina Derevko waiting in the wings. Kathleen Quinlan did her best with the role, but she was no Lena Olin. Plus they gave her way too much eye makeup for an evil genius.

I was especially incensed when Christina asked Michael why he'd never thought about the fact that Linc was a dumb petty criminal and Michael himself a genius, and guess what? Linc was adopted! Come on. If the show hadn't jumped the shark already, it would have happened right then. I found myself completely outraged that they would even try to create such an artificial and unbelievable reason for conflict between the brothers.

So. A bad villain, followed by a worse villain. A structure that emphasized an uninteresting main plotline instead of the characters. Could they do anything to make it worse?

Yes, they could. They gave Michael a brain tumor.

I almost cannot adequately express how much I hated this particular plot development. I'm sure it was supposed to be tragic and poignant, but it wasn't. I kept wishing it would go away, but it didn't. It got even worse when he had magical advanced brain surgery that didn't leave scars. Much like removing Michael's tattoos in the premiere. Did I mention that they removed all of Michael's tattoos in the premiere?

Not to mention that after resurrecting Sara Tancredi, they did practically nothing with her as a character. During the first half of the season, she mostly hung around in the background and there were scenes with Sara and Michael on the docks longing to sail away together. She was a medical doctor, and they almost never used her skill set. I wonder why?

Season four started out as the Dirty Dozen crossed with Mission: Impossible, and then it took an extreme left turn into Alias. None of it worked. I'll admit that I enjoyed watching the characters I had grown to love go through their paces enough to finish the season, but that wasn't enough. Frankly, season four made me want to go back and watch the first two seasons again... and then stop.

Best episodes

"Blow Out": Featuring a fun racetrack sting, followed by character bonding when Mahone is arrested.

"Greatness Achieved": Where Mahone finally gets his revenge on Wyatt, and wow, remind me to never piss off Mahone. Brad Bellick sacrifices his life for the team, which is mildly touching but way out of character.

"Quiet Riot" "Selfless" and "Deal or No Deal": In which the team finally pulls off the big heist but are ultimately betrayed, and Michael's illness becomes a serious liability for the team.

"Rates of Exchange" and "Killing Your Number": Although the second half of the season is terrible, the last couple of episodes are still exciting. There are many double crosses, lots of characters pulling guns on each other, Michael and Mahone outwitting everyone, the General is defeated, and Sara is forced to kill Christina. Sucre, C-Note and Paul Kellerman return to the series to save the day with actual government action, which made me realize how much I missed Kellerman.

The final scenes wind up pretty much everything (except for a series finale TV movie, which I will review separately). Everyone is exonerated but T-Bag, who goes back to prison where he belongs. Michael and the pregnant Sara are finally together and free... except that Michael's nosebleeds come back. Insert ominous music here.

The last few minutes of "Killing Your Number" take place four years later. Linc, Sofia and LJ have that much mentioned scuba shop, Sucre and Maricruz are raising their daughter, C-Note has a regular old job with UPS, the odious Don Self lives on vegetatively in a nursing home, the General gets the electric chair, and Paul Kellerman is a congressman, which I found delightful. My dear Alex Mahone ends up with Felicia Lang, which is lovely considering their relationship goes back to season two.

But then it concludes with Sara and her young son (also named Michael), Linc, Sucre and Mahone, visiting Michael's grave and leaving flowers and an origami crane. They killed off Michael. So wrong. So very wrong.


(Again, there is a ninety-minute series finale TV movie that concludes the series. I'm reviewing it separately because I felt that it didn't belong here.)

Bits and pieces:

-- Roland the obnoxious and traitorous computer geek wasn't a success as a character, and was written out early in a particularly sad way.

-- Gretchen was also written out mid-way, and it was implied that she went to prison. The revelation of her real relationship with the General made me gag. It's too bad that she wasn't able to talk Linc into the bedroom. That might have been fun.

-- I loved that they gave T-Bag an extended scene with an actual teabag in "Safe and Sound." Could that be considered acting your way out of a paper teabag? T-Bag also continued his adorable series-long habit of calling Michael "Pretty."

-- Mark Pellegrino and Titus Welliver guest starred as characters in the same plot thread, but not in the same episode. William Mapother came in near the end as a dastardly federal agent.

-- Michael continued to show a fondness for weaponizing cleaning products.

-- This means nothing, really, just an observation, but several of the cast and continuing characters in season four had startlingly blue eyes: Michael, Mahone, Gretchen, the General, Lisa.

-- "Bruce Liberace. No relation." Laugh out loud.

To conclude

Even though it had its moments, this final season is a hot mess. One out of four origami cranes,

Billie
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Billie Doux loves good television, especially science fiction, and spends way too much time writing about it.

2 comments:

Logan Cox said...

Excellent Season reviews, Billie.

You reminded me why I like (and dislike) Prison Break. I really should watch it again. Though, I might just skip this and The Final Break if I do. I mean, I will definitely be skipping the Final Break. I might watch Season 4 just for the Mahone storyline, which I also thought was one of the season's stronger points.

Billie Doux said...

Thanks so much, Logan. Even though I complained a lot, mostly in this particular review, I really did enjoy the rewatch and it was fun reviewing seasons instead of individual episodes for a change.