Wednesday, March 07, 2007

"You must feel like you're walking underwater" - Prison Break

This week's Prison Break, the aptly-titled ‘Sweet Caroline’, was the first episode of its current season to deliver the qualities that made the show fantastic entertainment back in its inaugural season. This was thanks to several things, but the primary reason was that it was actually tense. Thinking back to first season offerings like ‘Riots, Drills and the Devil’, ‘End of the Tunnel’ and the season finale ‘Flight’, the show wasn’t just mindlessly entertaining – it was (on occasion) edge-of-your seat, nail-biting stuff that kept you guessing to the last second. This quality had all but disappeared as quickly as the airing of the sophomore season’s opener. So it was nice to find myself, in the last five minutes of ‘Sweet Caroline’, right back on the edge of that seat with no idea of what to expect.

Most of the stuff that came before was equally satisfying. Mahone caught up with Sarah, but the two ended up having an impromptu ‘whose-drug-experience-was-worse’ debating session. The writing was ludicrous (beyond taking drugs, in what way are these characters similar?), but the scenes were saved by William Fitchner, excelling this episode as an ever frantic and drug-addled Mahone. T-Bag arrived in Chicago, but lost his bag of Westmoreland's cash in a (probably unintentionally) amusing ‘chase’ sequence around an airport baggage reclaim. Bellick caught up with Sucre in Mexico, but the two ended up hatching a plan to go find the newly up for grabs $5 million. Sadly, Kellerman was wasted this week – his Oswald-style assassination attempt was foiled by, uh…security detail standing in front of Reynolds. Considering he had just shot an agent to get his vantage point, it was more than a little ludicrous that he wouldn’t just disregard another life for the sake of killing Reynolds; implying that he didn’t have it in him to pull the trigger would have been much more effective.

What made ‘Sweet Caroline’ truly satisfying was the return of Caroline Reynolds. Patricia Wettig never really got a chance to shine in the show’s first season, but here she did superb work, exposing Reynolds as a sad, tired woman with gallons of blood on her hands and too many regrets to count. The expression on Wettig’s face when listening to a recording of her dead brother was heartbreaking; her request to hear how he died was equally poignant. Most shocking, however, was the reveal of Reynolds and Steadman’s incestuous relationship. This twist rang surprisingly true – but it wasn’t dwelt upon. Instead it just hung in the air for the rest of the episode.

The tense finale I referred to was Reynolds’ decision of whether to grant the brothers their pardon or give in to the might of ‘The Company’, which apparently even she has no influence over. In the end, she chose to screw over both parties and announced her resignation, throwing in a highly malignant form of cancer just for the Battlestar Galactica fans out there. On paper it doesn’t sound like a hugely tense moment, but the episode held a surprising emotional grasp over me and has set up for what should be an unpredictable final three hours of Prison Break’s second season. Just to clarify, I don't think the show is returning to form - 'Sweet Caroline' just had one of those reliable episode conceits that not even Prison Break could mess up.


Todd VanDerWerff said...

These last couple of episodes have been pretty good examples of Prison Break doing what it does best -- stupid suspense. It's not enough to get me to keep watching the show into a third season (and I still don't know how this show will even WORK in a third season), but it's been enjoyable. Good junk food TV.

And I presume you've heard that a prominent cast member has been cast in the Grey's Anatomy spinoff, essentially ending all suspense in their storyarc?

Joey said...

I didn't know actually! But I'm happy for Adelstein. I've made no secret of the fact that I'm in love with him, and he'll probably get much more of a chance to shine in the Grey's spin-off if he gets regular status. And his death on PB (I'm assuming he'll die, considering all the horrible things he's done) could be a great moment. Too bad it killed the tension, but I'm not too heartbroken.

Anonymous said...

patricia wettig's characters holly and caroline were in a real threat this week! i was so surprised!