16. Prison Break: Season 4 (2008 – 2009)

It’s Got: Scylla, Michael Rapaport leading an Ocean’s 11 style heist, Mahone out for revenge.

I’ll give props to the rest of Prison Break before starting in on Season 4, because I think it’s more consistent than people give it credit for. The first season sustains the tension amazingly well over 22 episodes. The second season has an outstanding primary story as escapee Michael Scofield has to stay a step ahead of FBI Agent Alex Mahone, a character so brilliantly written and acted, he almost feels like he doesn’t belong on a show like this. The third season… honestly, it’s almost worth watching, just because it’s fascinating to see how thoroughly the first episode of Season 4 undoes everything that happens. Even the 2017 revival was better than it had any right to be.

Ranking this (at the time) final season over the others may seem like a bit much, but it’s very simple for me: I enjoyed this season the most. As intense and colorful as Prison Break always was, it alternated between showing characters in prison and characters on the run. Not always the most pleasant thing to come back to week after week. By Season 4, the characters who were still alive (and a couple who weren’t but came back anyway) had proven their ingenuity and resilience time and time again. So a rogue government agent rounded everyone up and offered them pardons if they could take down the conspiracy that put them all on the run in the first place. It’s a natural extension of what the characters do, but now they get a good night’s sleep between episodes.

It’s the same show as before, with the same characters I came to enjoy so much. But it’s just the tiniest bit more tongue in cheek than the first three seasons, and that won me over in a big way. I don’t care that the show is a long way from the titular prison break, and I don’t think these people having to work together to pull off a series of thefts is any more ridiculous than the earlier seasons. DO YOU LIKE HOW DEFENSIVE I’M GETTING? I’ve had to defend my love for the fourth season before.

There’s some surprisingly juicy stuff for a few of the major characters this year too. Wentworth Miller, normally a man of about two facial expressions (smug and stressed) steps up his game in Season 4 as a man haunted by all the collateral damage he’s wracked up. I couldn’t believe how much I was taken in by the T-Bag story this season, as this irredeemable monster discovers that he desperately wants to be redeemed. And William Fichtner pretty much just has to show up, and I’ll be interested in whatever he’s up to. He’s given a personal enemy to trade wits with in a subplot that doesn’t necessarily last as long as you expect, but concludes in an enormously satisfying way.

Overall, Season 4 combines pretty much everything I enjoyed about the show. There’s the weekly satisfaction of seeing a clever plan get pulled off, a staple of Season 1, the wide open environment of Season 2, and most of the best characters from both years. The season is cleverly structured, giving us a lot of fun and diverse episodic heists that all contribute to a much bigger break-in to come. Even when the season goes off the deep end near the end, there’s still so many insane double crosses and big shootouts I can’t help but enjoy it.

Prison Break S4 is entertaining and willfully preposterous in the same way as something like the latter Fast and the Furious movies, but I never really see it being embraced for what it became. Oh well, I enjoyed it.

*SPOILER*

If I Had to Nitpick…: The character of Michael’s mother emerges as a villain late in the season. I don’t have a problems with the character as written. Soap opera-y twists have been a part of the show from the beginning and her presence made things deliciously complicated for everyone. But I thought Kathleen Quinlan played her in a very “arch” way that didn’t fit in with the series.

And all season, I’d thought I’d wanted for Kellerman to be alive and well, following his ambiguous fate in Season 2. But he only turned up long enough to resolve this huge mess in one fell swoop, and his ultimate fate in the epilogue was farfetched even for Prison Break.

*END SPOILER*

Notable Episodes: “Quiet Riot” and “Selfless,” a two part episode detailing a masterful break-in and escape, is unbelievably entertaining. “Just Business” is so damn chaotic and exciting. “Cowboys and Indians,” the second to last episode of the series, has one of the BEST cliffhangers I’ve ever seen, bar none.

#17 | THE LIST | #15

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