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Prison Break

Prison Break is a drama about Michael Schofield, a gifted engineer who deliberately gets incarcerated in order to try and break his brother Lincoln out of prison. FOX 2005-2009

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/100

Episode 1 - Orientación

30 March 2012

Synopsis: Michael is in Sona, the worst of all Panamanian jails. After riots the year before, the guards pulled out of the prison. They guard the perimeter but inside the convicts are in charge. Bellick is treated like scum by the other inmates. While cleaning the toilets he meets a man who bribes him to run errands for him. Mahone is still suffering from withdrawal and is hoping Michael can break him out. T-Bag tries to ingratiate himself with Lechero, the man running the prison. Lechero sees Michael as a threat and sets him up to be killed by planting drugs on him. In Sona prisoners challenge each other to fights to the death in order to settle disputes. Michael tries to avoid fighting and Mahone steps in to kill his opponent. Lincoln tells Michael that he must break a man out of Sona or else Sarah and LJ will be killed.

The Good: It looks like the producers of Prison Break want Michael Scofield back behind bars, after spending season two on the run. They certainly do a thorough job of showing how difficult his task will be. Both the clerk at the Embassy and Lechero give us lectures on how Sona operates without guards. We then see prisoners killing each other in fights to the death in order to add to the horror of the prisoner’s conditions. Then we see a man trying to escape get gunned down and finally we see dead bodies being repeatedly shot to forestall anyone getting ideas about playing dead. The show certainly needed a different setting for Michael and company to operate and this they establish well.

As for the characters, T-Bag stands out from the pack as usual. His scene sucking up to Lechero (see Best Moment) is wonderfully written. Somehow he manages to ingratiate himself without seeming like the desperate liar that he is. While Mahone’s plea to Lechero that he must obey the rules is a clever way of avoiding Michael having to murder anyone. Lechero gives a confident and relaxed performance and his easier life with prostitutes and television will clearly drive jealousy and resentment from the prisoners as the season develops.

The Bad: Let’s deal with the detail before hitting the overall state of the show. First off T-Bag seems in pretty good shape considering Michael stabbed him in the arm not long ago (221).

It is difficult to tell what we are meant to think of Bellick and Mahone. They are both bad guys who abused their positions of authority. To see them both miserable should be justice in a way. But as they are the characters we know, one suspects we may end up having to view them as the good guys. At the moment though I think many will feel indifference to them. They are unlikeable but obviously destined to help Michael in some way. The lack of clarity just confuses ones perception of the show slightly.

The biggest problem with this episode though is that is confirms Prison Break as the new 24. And by that I don’t mean dramatic and intense, I mean predictable, formulaic and implausible. We have seen LJ and Sarah captured by the bad guys before. We have seen plenty of others kidnapped over the last two seasons. The routine of capture, coercion and escape is getting too familiar. Similarly each of the first two seasons of the show saw characters established who you knew would end up involved in Michael’s escape. So now we can safely assume that T-Bag, Bellick and Mahone will all end up helping Michael escape. This sense of routine and predictability is what the show doesn’t need. Prison Break is built on the suspense of Michael overcoming impossible odds. When the audience can see patterns in the plot that suspense is damaged. The one week deadline given to Michael to escape is also foolish. We know that Prison Break has been commissioned for a full season and so there is zero possibility that he will break out in a week. When the audience know something won’t happen that has no suspense either.

The Unknown: Who is James Whistler? Who has kidnapped Sarah and LJ? Who is the woman with the scar? What does the note mean?

Best Moment: T-Bag is watching Lechero. He clearly understands that a one handed American will struggle to survive here without friends. When an inmate accidentally spills his drink on Lechero, T-Bag makes his move. He approaches him and says “Surely it’s beneath a man of your status to be walking around like that, all sticky-like.” He gets down on one knee and offers his drinking water to clean his shoes “A humble sign of friendship from a stranger who has come into your house.” Lechero is amused and offers his foot. T-Bag spills the water on him and apologises, showing his prosthetic and saying he is but “half a man.” Lechero is impressed and asks his name. “You can just call me, friend.”

The Verdict: By putting walls around Michael again, I suspect the producers will solve some of the problems they faced in season two. Then with the open road to run on the show lost focus and attempted to explain a conspiracy that felt removed from our characters. Now with the focus on Sona perhaps the drama will be better and more focussed. However Prison Break’s formula is becoming more exposed and familiar and the more that happens the more the show will be damaged.

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