Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Let's Go Back to Prison

I love my brother, but if he were ever imprisoned for a crime he didn't commit, I wouldn't study the prison, encode its blueprints in a full-body tattoo, then hold up a bank to get arrested and incarcerated in the same joint to break him out from the inside. Hey, that's just me. Sorry, Kyle.

Prison Break creator Paul Scheuring has a different take on brotherly love -- a definitively more unconditional one. When the series began, smoldering protagonist Michael Scofield accomplished the impossible by freeing his brother from Death Row and breaking him out of prison, then, in the second season, the Brothers Fugitive and a motley crew of prison misfits toured the world in pursuit of their respective redemptions. Critics wondered how a show dubbed Prison Break could exist if its heroes weren't in prison, but season three answers that challenge . . .

. . . by throwing Michael right back in jail. This time, everybody's favorite furrowed-brow jail bait is in the world's worst prison, nestled in the world's persistently damp forehead, Panama, as the previous seasons' conspiratorial subplots reach a startlingly contrived fruition. Near as I can tell, Lincoln was framed for the murder of the Vice President's brother so Michael would develop the MacGuyver-like skills needed to break out of jail, which the government would manipulate him to employ again to bust out some guy from this impossible facility in Panama.

That Scheuring hasn't written himself into a corner with this elaborate The Fugitive-meets-The X-Files brand of storytelling is a prison break in itself, but more commendable is my dedication to Scofield's adventure through the apparently easily corrupted legal system. The implication that he and his brother have always lived a life of tumultuous vigilantism is the only thread keeping the series' context together, that their birthright is a rollercoaster ride of luck, chance, and justice.

Season three promises to challenge these limits more than ever, since this Panama prison is a lunatics-run-the-asylum scenario, where conflicts are settled with to-the-death gladiator brawls and the guards dare not venture past the perimeter, if only to collect the ever-increasing dead. Aside from the surreal passage of time (all three seasons capture just a little over a month's worth of imprisoned peril, and the characters' ability to cope can only be explained via acute bipolar disorder), my only critique of this season's premiere is its departure from the finale's otherworldly last moments, during which a dark, rainy sky kept the specifics of Michael's madhouse hidden in shadow. In this episode, the sunlight streaming into the prison's courtyard is a thin but tangible connection to reality. Perpetual darkness would've preserved that horror flick/parallel dimension vibe and made Scofield's escape that much more sweet.

Still, I'm in it for the long haul, now, just like Scheuring's chummy chain gang. It's okay. I don't expect my brother to break me out, either.

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