Thursday, June 18, 2009

Review Day: Prison Break Season 4

There are no major spoilers in this review.

The second season of Prison Break ended in a way that needlessly prolonged the show, but also allowed it to get back to the basics that made the first season so intense. In my review of the third season, I mentioned that I was generally happy with where the show went and how it set things up for the fourth, and final, season.

"Prison Break" is just the branding -- this time around, the characters spend more time breaking INTO things than out, but the end result is still implausibly exciting. Every episode is filled with convoluted double crosses and power plays, and more testosterone than Jack and Locke see in a year. This constant struggle for the main characters to succeed could easily be frustrating if handled wrong (see the last hour of Back to the Future II where Marty McFly continuously fails to get the sports almanac back), but it works here because the main character is written intelligently, and devises plans that actually work before the rug is pulled out from under him again. Sometimes the MacGuyver aspects of the show are the most enjoyable parts to watch.

The casting is just strong enough to support the plot, and characters are generally written out of the story as they become irrelevant -- it sometimes felt like major characters in previous seasons were kept around even when they didn't have much to do. Several episodes also feature guest appearances by Shannon Lucio's chest.

The main casting problem is Dominic Purcell, who plays Lincoln Burrows. Almost every line he recites comes out laughably bad like he's in a high school rewrite of a Steven Seagal flick, and this is exacerbated by the fact that he's given much more leadership than in previous seasons. The silent, stoic act was great in the beginning when he just had to brood in a jail cell, but he'll never get an Emmy for his work here. On the other hand, Shannon Lucio's chest might.

The writers knew going in that this would be the final season, which allowed them to craft a strong story arc that ties up everything from the previous seasons. This season goes deeper into the conspiracy-laden "Company", and explores a bit more of Michael and Lincoln's family history. The finale seemed a little too eager to bring in familiar faces, but ended the show the way it should have ended, and even gives each of the major players a little epilogue.

If you've watched Prison Break at all, this season is a strong closer. It's nice to see a show able to go out on its own terms without leaving everyone's fates hanging for eternity in cancellation, or requiring characters to fall through glass coffee tables to speed along the character development. After you're done watching, it won't even take up much shelf space, since the brilliant DVD engineers have finally figured out how to craft a sturdy 6-disc holder that only takes up the space of a single movie box.

Final Season Grade: B
Final Series Grade: B+

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