(This review includes spoilers!)
After the escape from Fox River in the season one finale, Prison Break thematically transformed itself into The Fugitive. Separately and together, Michael and Lincoln, Sucre, C-Note, Abruzzi, T-Bag, Tweener and Haywire run long and hard all over the U.S., Mexico and Panama, with the FBI and agents of the Company in pursuit. Some die, some get away, and some are recaptured, and who was on which side kept changing in intriguing ways as the season progressed.
Except for the frustrating ending and some deeply convoluted plotting that practically pretzeled in on itself, this is an excellent season. There is a lot of Michael and Linc running together, which is fun. But there isn't nearly enough of Michael's love affair with Sara Tancredi.
Sara experiences serious trauma in season two: the death of her father at the hands of the Company, running for her life, torture (more about that in the "Best episodes" section below), and arrest and trial for aiding in the escape from Fox River. I loved how Michael kept sending her coded messages (so romantic!) via origami cranes in the mail, as well as the recorded message he and Linc sent to the media. In episode ten, "Rendezvous", Michael and Sara have an uncomfortable reunion and she even asks him if all of this outwitting the authorities and figuring out how to rescue Linc gives him a high, which is quite perceptive of her. In episode eleven, "Bolshoi Booze" (one of my favorite episode titles ever), Michael admits to Linc that too many people had died as a result of Michael's determination to get Linc out of prison.
The best thing about season two is the addition of William Fichtner to the cast as FBI agent Alex Mahone, who leads the pursuit of the Fox River Eight with all of the cleverness and fervor of Tommy Lee Jones chasing Harrison Ford in The Fugitive. (I really ought to review The Fugitive one of these days.) An adversary as smart as Michael, Mahone is so clever that he figures out the meaning of Michael's tattoos, and stays one step behind the brothers for episode after episode. An addiction to painkillers and the fact that he is being blackmailed by the Company makes Mahone a wonderfully complex and sympathetic character -- so much so that Mahone even manages to upstage Wentworth Miller's Michael Scofield. Well, no. Okay, maybe just a little bit.
Season two also strongly features Special Agent Kellerman (Paul Adelstein), who like Mahone, goes through a lot of upheaval and change as a character -- again, more about that in the "Best episodes" section. Brad Bellick (Wade Williams) is also a lot of fun this season, as he experiences a well-deserved reversal of fortune. Fired from his job as a C.O. at Fox River and seething with resentment, Bellick decides to find the Fox River Eight himself and cash in, which gets him arrested and convicted for a murder which was actually committed by T-Bag. Bellick winds up behind bars in Fox River, and reaps a karmic reward for all of the past nastiness he previously heaped on inmates as well as the guards under his command.
Although recovery and possession of Westmoreland's millions is a huge seasonal plot point, nearly all of the escapees and their pursuers are ultimately motivated by love of family, which is quite believable. Another smart move was immediately killing off Veronica Donovan (Robin Tunney) in the second season premiere. Yes, she was a sympathetic character, but her story was a complete drag on season one and what could they have done with her? Run off with the brothers? Work the legal system against Mahone?
What doesn't work
When nearly the entire cast was in Fox River, the series was at its strongest because the story was centralized. In season two, the characters and the stories are too separate and dispersed, and there just isn't enough of my beloved Michael Scofield being brilliant and working his way out of trouble.
What they probably should have done was kill off or write out some of the escapees sooner, like they did with Veronica during the premiere. I was happy that Abruzzi died in a hail of bullets in the fourth episode because he was totally unlikable and un-fun, and it was his own evil that brought about his end. And it was truly sad that Mahone was forced to kill Tweener, who had never killed anyone. It was especially ironic that if Tweener had snitched just one more time instead of remaining loyal to his buddies, it might have saved his pathetic life.
But even though Rockmond Dunbar is an excellent and likable actor and C-Note was probably the most virtuous and principled character in the series (other than Michael), I found it frustrating that C-Note's insistence on reuniting with his wife and daughter put them in such terrible danger -- especially since his daughter had a serious medical condition and needed ready access to a doctor and maintenance drugs. Way too much time was spent on C-Note's story, although at least it ended happily.
The writers made a brief attempt to explain T-Bag with a flashback to his childhood as a brilliant, sexually abused child, which explained his obsession with trying to create a family of his own at gunpoint, but it was a waste of time to try to make T-Bag sympathetic. I will admit that the unsuccessful reattachment of his hand without anesthetic and his torture at the hands of Bellick and Geary were cringeworthy, though. T-Bag symbolically chewed off his own paw to escape, probably this season's Most Obvious Symbolism, if you could say that the hand represented T-Bag's evil and guilt.
"Manhunt": The opener that introduced Alex Mahone and masterfully set up the season.
"Bolshoi Booze": In which Sara is tortured by Kellerman. In season one, Michael rescued Sara during the prison riot. Here, she rescues herself and leaves Kellerman with a very large scar to remember her by.
"The Killing Box": In which Kellerman changes sides, Michael and Linc are captured but escape again, and Bellick ends up in Fox River genpop with Avocado as his cellmate.
"Chicago": A delightful episode in which reluctant allies Michael, Linc, Sara and Kellerman all take a train trip together. My shippy heart was happy that they finally gave Michael and Sara a love scene in, of all places, the ladies room. C-Note foils a robbery that ends endearingly when all of the other hostages cover for him. And sadly, Haywire commits suicide, with Mahone's reluctant encouragement. Gold acting stars for Silas Weir Mitchell (Haywire) as well as William Fichtner (Mahone) for that particular sequence.
"Sweet Caroline": In which Mahone captures Sara, Bill Kim (Reggie Lee) captures Michael, Bellick and T-Bag wrestle for the money, and the President makes the ultimate, unbeatable chess move.
"Fin del Camino": Where Sara goes on trial in Chicago after sacrificing herself so that Michael could escape. In Panama, much of the cast fights over Westmoreland's money.
"Sona": In which Kellerman comes full circle and tells the truth about everything on the witness stand at Sara's trial in Chicago, exonerating Sara as well as Linc. This was by far my favorite twist in the entire second season. In Panama, Michael manages to frame Mahone, and the villainous T-Bag is finally caught.
At this point, Michael, Linc and Sara should have literally sailed off into the sunset with a whole lot of money, and lived happily ever after. Instead, the ratings success of Prison Break and the renewal for a third season necessitated the creation of a new set of trials. Sara is forced to kill despicable Company man Bill Kim, and Michael confesses to the crime in order to protect her (that rescuer syndrome of his). The coincidence factor of Michael winding up in a Panamanian prison is somewhat alleviated by the fact that the mysterious white-haired "General" from the Company wants Michael in Sona for mysterious reasons of his own.
Miscellaneous bits, mostly about guest stars
-- John Billingsley, who played the small but key role as the President's brother Terrence Steadman in season one, was replaced in the role by Jeff Perry in season two. Perry is currently playing the villainous chief of staff Cyrus Beene on Scandal. I was somewhat confused about the recorded phone call between brother and sister; was it about them having an incestuous relationship?
-- Gracey, the little daughter of T-Bag's captive "wife" Susan, was played by Danielle Campbell, who is now all grown up and currently playing Davina Claire on The Originals. And in two episodes, Kaley Cuoco of The Big Bang Theory played a teenager who asked Haywire to buy her some beer, and was ultimately the reason he got caught.
-- One of my favorite scenes in the season was in "Subdivision" when Haywire (Silas Weir Mitchell) breaks into a Dairy Queen and practically immerses himself in soft serve ice cream and syrup. Laugh out loud funny.
-- Sucre nearly dies horribly in "Dead Fall" in a Sometimes a Great Notion way (trapped under a tree trunk as the water is rising).
-- Aldo Burrows, Michael and Linc's father, was set up in a big way but his story sort of fizzled out. I'm not sure why they introduced the character in the first place.
-- The website europeangoldfinch.net no longer exists. I wonder if it ever did, or if they even bought the domain name? These days, when a TV series mentions a website, they always buy the domain name and set it up. Maybe not then.
-- Westmoreland's money wound up dumped in the water near Michael's sailboat in Panama. Did it float away, or is it still waiting there?
-- Did cayenne pepper magically heal the bullet wound in Linc's leg?
What made season one of Prison Break so exciting to watch was Michael's cleverness and courage in getting himself and his brother out of Fox River. While season two is also enjoyable non-stop action and suspense, it isn't quite at the same level as season one. So I get why they decided to put Michael back in prison for season three. Although guys, let me tell you: lightning never strikes twice.
Season verdict: three out of four origami cranes. When the second season originally aired, I wrote a much briefer and slightly less enthusiastic review. Maybe season two is better when revisited,
Billie Doux loves good television, especially science fiction, and spends way too much time writing about it.
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