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For better or worse, television has never really set a benchmark for what necessitates a revival or remake of a former hit series, and so projects like Fuller House, Star Trek: Discovery and the in-development S.W.A.T. reboot pilot can co-exist within the medium without everything imploding. Fox is hoping to cash in on this perma-nostalgia by taking viewers back into the high-stakes and low-feasibility world of Prison Break for a limited fifth season, and while its problems can be glaring, this is a down and dirty return to the balls-out, conspiracy-driven insanity of Michael and Lincoln's glory days.
Rather than stemming from an obsession-worthy narrative painstakingly conceived by creator Paul Scheuring in the years since the series first went off the air, Prison Break's new adventure was inspired by stars Wentworth Miller and Dominic Purcell working together again on The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow. But Scheuring was down, and that's when he crafted this war-torn jigsaw puzzle of a story that pushes its serialization almost to a fault, in that viewers are following along without much of a clue as to why anything is happening. But even though knowledge is power, so is Lincoln with a hammer.
In a somewhat conflicting fashion for a show that intentionally keeps secrets from viewers and characters, the first episode of Prison Break's return is rife with on-the-nose exposition, and is thus the hardest episode to get through of the four screened for critics. Which is also a weird feeling, since the premiere is when we're at our most excited to reconnect with everyone. Seven years after the events of the former series finale, Linc is back to his old tricks and screwing over other criminals. Sara (Sarah Wayne Callies) has gotten remarried to a too understanding chap named Jacob, played by the disarmingly affable Mark Feuerstein, and they're raising Michael Scofield, Jr. (Christian Michael Cooper).
Of anyone else, though -- and there are plenty of other characters, both new and returning -- the most important update comes from Robert Knepper's disturbingly enjoyable T-Bag. Upon being released from prison, he's presented with evidence that Michael, or someone who looks remarkably like Michael, is inexplicably still alive, apparently never having perished from either self-sacrifice or any brain tumors. Understandably, this sets into motion a rescue attempt that takes Linc and more around the world to a dilapidated and ill-run prison in danger of being taken over by an enemy threat. You'll have to watch for yourself to see what that threat is, why this prison is where Possible Michael is imprisoned, and what Linc does to alleviate that situation. Don't expect quick answers, though.
While the first episode is uneven, there are definitely fun and exciting moments, such as Linc's first big melee and Wentworth Miller's first appearance. And thankfully, everything really picks up steam from that point on, as an expectedly endless number of obstacles gets in the way of all our main characters, and those obstacles take on various forms. The prison and its inhabitants are trouble for Is-It-Michael and his few friendlies, while Linc and his company are facing another batch of angry folks, and there are also some armed and dangerous villains who would like to have a word with Sara. And that word is "die."
As fans know, Prison Break is a show that embraces big twists and pre-credit cliffhangers, so to go any deeper into the story would be like a guard telling an inmate his or her jail cell has a trick bar that you can slip through. Although in this case, watching Prison Break's long-awaited comeback is a much more fun journey than attempting to escape a legitimate lockup. And a lot of that fun comes from the big returns from stellar actors like Rockmond Dunbar as C-Note, Amaury Nolasco as Sucre and Paul Adelstein as the slimeball Paul Kellerman. But nobody is as fun to watch as Robert Knepper's T-Bag, and one can only hope everyone gets bigger roles in the back half of the season, since another fault early on is a lack of shared screentime with all the familiar faces. That's fixable, though.
Taking another objective step back, it's hard to produce an argument that another season of Prison Break was absolutely necessary, especially given the amount of narrative footwork that had to be done to upend the rather solid way things wrapped up back in 2009. However, 2017 is also giving us more Twin Peaks and more Curb Your Enthusiasm, so it's easier to just sit back and enjoy the explosive ride than worry about such arguments. Plus, after seeing all the badass brawls and jaw-dropping shocks that happen in the early part of the season, I'd have to be behind bars to stop from watching everything else that happens. I need answers as badly as Linc does.