Prison Break returned on Monday from its holiday hiatus and reasserted itself as no mere hick relative to the serialized juggernaut 24 — it’s a berserk week-to-week thrill ride in its own right. Having shown in its second season that fleeing the joint isn’t all it’s cracked up to be — didn’t new Justice Department statistics reveal that inmates are living longer than us poor saps on the outside? — the writers have tossed every cliffhanging, B-movie trope into the mix, as if to indicate their own exhilarating freedom from the genre restrictions of a seasonlong maximum-security bust-out. So far in this on-the-lam season there’s been treasure-hunting (when the gang looked for all that buried D.B. Cooper money), hostage-taking, killed-off characters, amputation, drug addiction, plus a cat-and-mouse between our blueprint-tattooed, soft-spoken hero Scofield (Wentworth Miller) and hidden-secrets law-enforcement tracker Mahone (the awesomely creepy William Fichtner, who enlivens anything he’s in). Of course, now that sadistic ex–prison guard Bellick is a resident of Fox River Penitentiary himself, we can revel in the exploitation drama of revenge. Oh, and don’t forget the character reversals.
After Secret Service Agent Paul Kellerman (Paul Adelstein) daringly rescued Scofield from the authorities, our hero asked his nemesis, a conspiracy henchman portrayed as evil until this season, “Why are you helping us?”
Because a bad guy turning good (and vice versa) is the lifeblood of a melodrama like this, Scofield! Now shut up and go do some moral pouting over the mess you’ve gotten everyone into by trying to save your brother from the chair! Maybe you’ll go rotten in season three, your nerves turned by all that tat ink. Serves you right.
Meanwhile, I’m wondering when the gigantic ants or a robot enforcer from the future will turn up. I’ve even forgotten what the nationwide conspiracy is anymore, and I don’t care. I know what each episode’s stakes are, and that’s fine by me: They’ve been peril-ridden hours well spent.