Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Stakes, Well Done

Spoilers for PRISON BREAK follow.

The show's about some guys trying to break out of prison.

Specifically busting loose are Michael, a canny structural engineer, his older brother, the convicted murderer Lincoln, and a motley crew of cons, from amiable short-timer Sucre to Mafia middle manager Abruzzi (Peter Stormare in fine, unhinged if unconvincingly Italian form).

While preposterous in the extreme, the show's proved to be consistently good, inventive television, thanks in part to rich characters and strong performances, but largely due to the risk-taking present in nearly every episode.

This is a show where the lead character loses toes to hedge shears in episode two. Michael callously cost Sucre his conjugal visits -- and very likely his girl -- in a test of trust. The stern but reasonable warden has a skeleton in his closet that prompts ethically gray decisions; one of the bad guys is a family man headed for a crisis of conscience.

The show's got, y'know, layers.

PRISON BREAK, which airs on Fox, is about to go underground for a few weeks until the World Series wraps, and presented this lollapalooza volley of parting shots:

  • Michael triggers a lockdown to buy time for a crucial step of his tunnel-creating plan.
  • Lockdown turns to riot.
  • Inmates breach the cellblock.
  • Nasty Dangerous White Supremacist discovers the tunnel.
  • Rookie corrections officer about to become a snack for NDWS discovers the tunnel too.
  • Prison doctor (and governor's daughter) barricades herself futilely in the infirmary.
  • Musclebound assassin corners Lincoln in a dark passageway.

    Michael's forced to make life and death choices: include the evil NDWS in the plan or let Abruzzi kill him? Rescue the doctor and risk revealing the plan? Sacrifice the corrections officer to keep the tunnel a secret?

    That was just part one.

    Part two solved some of these issues but introduced yet more wrinkles involving the knotty conspiracy behind Lincoln's conviction, and further put into jeopardy everything all the characters hold dear. Even one placid old prisoner's cat has gone missing.

    The story manages to convey real danger, rather than the rather chilly and remote stakes behind other new shows such as THRESHOLD and INVASION, which have so far failed to click with me.

    On PRISON BREAK, I have no idea what's going to happen, but I know the writers will pull no punches. I love that.

    Will I be back once baseball's over? Oh, yeah.
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