For many fans, the third season was a pale retread of the first (and still best) season. It seems fitting, then, that the fourth season begins with a premise that feels like a pale retread of the second season. There are enough variations to keep the show interesting, but as one character eventually puts it, âweâre a long way from where we all beganâ.
The end of the third season left quite a bit unresolved, thanks to the effects of the writersâ strike. I canât reconcile the notion that this is where the story would have evolved had the third season continued to its intended length. Even setting aside the change of heart regarding Sara Tancredi, too much of the third season status quo is erased. This premiere feels like a producerâs concession to a network, and if the final product is any indication, those concessions were fairly substantial.
That said, the writers did about as good a job as one could hope under those circumstances. The dirty job of adjusting the premise was completed within the first hour, setting up the key conflict without straying too far from the established continuity. The Companyâs activities make relative sense, and itâs possible that this aspect of the third season plot never changed substantially. Iâm not sure that it makes sense for Whistlerâs importance to amount to something so basic, but the show has required greater leaps of faith.
For example, there is the much-discussed return of Sara in this episode, which is one of the most bald-faced retcons Iâve seen in a very long time. The producers and writers never bothered to pretend that the issue would be handled creatively; everything they âhintedâ in the initial press interviews in the spring was directly used in the final script to explain her return. Oddly enough, as ridiculous as it seems, it didnât bother me all that much in the episode itself. This is âPrison Breakâ, after all!
I was more annoyed by the off-screen resolution to the Sona plot thread. I understand the financial issues that undoubtedly emerged; the move from Texas to Los Angeles was all about saving money on locations. That said, the writers handled the situation badly by coming up with a ridiculous work-around. After all Michael had to do to escape Sona in the third season, three supporting characters escape more or less unscathed when the prison burns down after a riot? Talk about undercutting an entire seasonâs rationale!
On the other hand, I like the idea of Michael leading a âblack opsâ team against the Company, underwritten by a questionable agent at Homeland Security. It puts a conclusion to the series within reach, since one can reasonably imagine how this scenario could play out in Michaelâs favor. It all feels designed to wrap everything up in one last thrilling season, and if thatâs the idea, then Iâm for it.
This is especially true when it appears that I will finally get my wish: Michael and Mahone working together. The writers spent too much time in the second season setting them up as equally damaged geniuses to ignore the potential. Adding Sara into the mix on a permanent basis is another smart move. I have no issue with Sucre and Lincoln joining the squad, but Iâm deeply tired of Bellick. The less said about the new guy, the better.
As far as the rest of the cast goes, Michael Rappaport should be fine as Michaelâs boss, and after a disappointing third season, T-Bag might actually have a substantial plot arc. Heâs always been best as Michaelâs adversary (and occasional worrisome ally). Iâm a bit more concerned with the new Company assassin. Kellerman was great in the first season, and Mahone was inspired. Susan was less than perfect in the third season, however, and that trend threatens to continue. Right now, the assassin is clever, but heâs still a blank slate with little personality.
I donât believe that this season will bring the series back to its first