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Prison Broken?

Prison Break - one of American TV's best-loved and most entertaining guilty-pleasures of the 00s - set itself an intriguing structural challenge: the first season would be mostly set in a maximum security prison, and be all about attempted release from said constraint; the second season is about escaped convicts unleashed and on the run. In brief: control vs. chaos, or perhaps, formal versus free verse. If season one was poetry, season two of Prison Break is prose. The tone is different, and dissipated.

One thinks of the difference between the films The Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal - where, similarly, the issue was of order and escapade. Visions of Dr. Lecter strolling about sun-stroked Italy wearing a hat and carrying a Herald Tribune like a retired Interior Decorator from Des Moines was a let-down, to be sure. So too, the squalid squabbles of the "Fox River 8" once set out in the vast landscape that is America. But, thankfully, thematic and poetic elements survive, not least the mythic underbelly of the whole show - such as Pandora's Box (another PB). Now, as T-Bag (Robert Knepper, pictured) says, "the hat is over the wall" - Situation Normal all fuzzed up. Michael couldn't have counted on - his pretty expertise never even considered - the ramifications of his original mission (shades of neo-con non-planning in Iraq).

He does begin to reflect (in a Catholic confessional) on his guilt, responsibility, and other childhood matters, as we begin to understand how his origins as a gifted wunderkind stem partly from terrible childhood experiences (mirroring the religious "dark night of the soul" episodes in the middle of the first season). There has always been a Crime & Punishment element to the series - a sympathy for villains with complex inner lives - and it is good to see this continue.

The second season has yet to jump the shark (I am at episode 12) - but if the writers continue to use the cheap eye-trick of FBI agents ringing on one door only to cut wide and later learn it was a house across town (trope stolen from TSOTL) I will put it in a basket. Also, not since John Webster has so much murder been allied to such narrative excess - surely, not all the characters need to be killed off at such metronomic intervals?

The violence levels on the show have risen - and one wonders whether Fox is encouraging the repeated use of torture as a commentary on the anti-Geneva Convention activities associated with extraordinary rendition, or a way of dulling our minds to its horrors. The "water-boarding" treatment of one of the main characters in Episodes 11 and 12 was particularly harrowing - cruel and inhuman. It is disappointing to note that The Emmy Award nominations for this year have entirely overlooked the show. Season 3 airs mid-September ...
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