Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Danny's FINAL BREAK: A Review of PRISON BREAK's DVD epilogue, and MORE!

Well, the saga of Danny's Right Ankle continues, as today I went for my first, post-MRI visit to the foot doctor to continue my treatment. Well, to start my treatment, really. I actually wasn't even sure what I had in store for me when I went to the doctor's office today, but within minutes I was lying down and getting hit with a cortizone shot to help strengthen the damaged tissue in my ankle. Hmm, can cortizone cause 'roid rage? I hope not! Anyways, I have a couple of physical therapy sessions lined up, and I'll see how things go from there. Work today was a bit of a challenge though - it might have been partly psychological, but even after the weird sensation in my ankle died down, I felt a little odd throughout the day.

But, enough about me. Let's talk about the world of entertainment, so I can distract myself from all this ankle stuff.

- As an FYI, one big gap in my TV viewing is typically HBO series. I don't shell out the extra cash to subscribe to HBO, but I do try to catch up on series that spark my interest via DVD. Thanks to the magic of DVD, I've become a huge fan over the years of such great series as CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM and FLIGHT OF THE CONCHORDS. Recently, I've raved about the hilarity of Eastbound and Down, maybe the funniest and best show I've seen all year. I also recently purchased Season 2 of Flight of the Conchords, finally out after a long gap following the season (series?) finale several months back. So far, I'm lovin' it. I don't think the songs are really as catchy or as memorable so far as those in S1, but to me, the songs are kind of a bonus and the real meat of the show is the comedy. And in that regard, each episode I've watched so far (about 5), has had at least a couple of moments that have had me rolling in laughter.

- Also, I know that at least a couple of my friends will be pleased to know that, thanks to a recent sale at Best Buy, I gave in and purchased Season 1 of TRUE BLOOD on Blu-Ray. Given that HBO shows are typically expensive home video purchases, and given that Best Buy was offering Season 1 on Blu-Ray in particular for a very low price, I decided it was time to purchase my first-ever TV season on Blu. So I haven't sunk my teeth into it yet (pun intended), but I will soon see for myself what all of this True Blood buzz is all about. For those who won't stop raving about it to me, I can only hope that it lives up to the hype.

- And no, I've still never watched a single episode of Buffy or Angel. And I gave up on Dollhouse after three episodes, soon after which it apparently got good. One of these days ...


- If you're a regular reader of the blog, you know that one of my favorite shows of the last few years has been PRISON BREAK. Even when some gave up on it during Season 2, I stuck with the show, and found it to be consistently fun and entertaining. And while Season 4 did have its ups and downs, the show rallied late in the season and produced an amazing series of final episodes, leading up to a slam-bang finale that absolutely kicked ass. I won't go into a lot of detail here, because I wrote up a huge tribute to the episode and the show after the Season 4 finale aired a couple of months ago. Of course, as most fans know, that epic series finale was not quite the end for Michael Scofield and company. FOX had two more episodes in the can, which served as a prequel of sorts to the finale, which featured an epilogue that jumped forward in time, leaving us to wonder what exactly led to the revelations of those final scenes.

Well, instead of airing those two bonus episodes, FOX stitched them together and released them as a DVD-only "movie" called The Final Break. Now, this strategy is becoming increasingly popular of late, and shows like 24 and Battlestar Galactica have done this as well as a means to turn an otherwise-ordinary couple of episodes into a special "event" that will get the show's hardcore fans to shell out some extra dough at the local Best Buy or Target or via iTunes, etc. Personally, I feel that if you have the gall to charge $20 or more for one of these things, then you'd better have a product that delivers and feels like a true movie event. In the case of The Final Break, the fact that this was a standalone home video product upped my expectations, so in the end, I have to say that I came away a bit underwhelmed. Suffice it to say, I'm glad I was able to borrow the DVD from my brother's roommate. If I had actually paid full price for it, I definitely would not have gotten my money's worth.

That's not to totally rag on The Final Break. If this had simply aired on free TV, I probably would have praised the episodes as a nice epilogue of sorts to Prison Break - a way to take the show back to its roots, so to speak, one last time before the end. These eps aren't spectacular, and I wouldn't put them on the same level as the A-level series finale, but they are fun. In particular, it's great to revisit one of TV's best casts of heroes and villains one last time.

The plot takes place immediately following the main events of the Season 4 finale, but before that episode's final scenes which jumped ahead into the future. At this point, we join with Michael and Sarah in what should be their moment of ultimate triumph. They've dismantled the company, gotten The General and T-Bag locked away, and have been exonerated of all past crimes ... or so they thought. It turns out that Sarah's shooting of Michael's villainous mother in Season 4 was more problematic than anticipated - because no direct ties were ever established between his mother and the Company, it's as if Sarah just killed an ordinary civilian. So of course, just as Michael and Sarah get married and begin to celebrate with Lincoln and Sucre, the cops swoop in and charge Sarah with murder. This being Prison Break, Sarah ends up in the women's section of the same prison where The General and T-Bag are being held. Not only that, but longtime villain and PB femme fatale Gretchen also happens to be in the same jail.

Now, again, if this were anyone else, the smart thing to do might be to fight the case in court with the hopes of getting Sarah's sentance overturned. But not only is that possibility looking bleak, there's also the small problem that The General has placed a hit out on Sarah, and every con in the joint is looking to collect. So while Sarah navigates the inside of a rough n' tumble women's prison, Michael and co. plot one final breakout.

There's lots more going on too. There's the return of Gretchen and her uneasy alliance with Sarah. There's the great WILLIAM FICHTNER as Alex Mahone, who is once again torn between his loyalties to Michael and an outside interest - in this case the FBI, who's willing to give him his old job back in exchange for ratting out Scofield. Meanwhile, Sarah encounters a T-Bag-esque prison-gang leader played by Lori Petty, who Sarah turns to for protection but ultimately makes an enemy of. And of course, T-Bag himself is, as always, plotting in the background and trying to figure out how best to exploit the situation at hand.

As I said, it's great just to see all of PB's memorable characters back in action. After a long absence on the show, seeing Jodi Lynn O'Keefe back as Gretchen is a lot of fun, as to me she became one of the most badass and compelling villains on TV. Sure, all indications seemed to be that she was dead, but if Prison Break has shown us anything, it's that dead doesn't always mean dead.

That said, a lot of the character arcs feel like retreads of what we've already seen many times on the show. I mean, there's the obligatory scene of everyone recognizing that there's no reason for Sucre to still be putting his neck on the line for Michael, but Sucre reassuring everyone that he's in for the long-haul. Mahone's true motivations seemed more ambiguous than ever -- at this point, he should be firmly in Michael and Lincoln's corner, so why tease us that he might turn on them? It'd be one thing if there was a compelling reason for him to betray the brothers, but did he really want his FBI job back that badly? At this point, you'd think he'd want to get out of the law enforcement biz. Similarly, there was such a degree of finality to the General's storyline in Season 4 that it was a bit anticlimactic to have him back scheming from the confines of prison.

The other thing is that, in some ways, The Final Break condensed a season's worth of plot lines into 90 minutes. Typically, we'd see Michael methodically plan his break-in detail by detail. To see him rush into this situation so quickly did seem a bit out of character and forced. You couldn't help but wonder what a whole season of Sarah in a women's prison might have been like. With time to explore Lori Petty's character and some of the other new additions, they could have been more memorable. As it is, it seems like a lot of new plot elements were introduced without proper time to explore them. Bottom line: The Final Break feels a bit rushed - the scale feels more like an ultra-condensed TV season and less like a standalone movie.

Again though, I mostly enjoyed the movie. There are a couple of memorable scenes, some fun action, and some classic character moments. T-Bag gets in some vintage lines that will have longtime PB fans smiling. Similarly, Wentworth Miller as Michael Scofield lends his usual charisma and sense of timing to the mix. Scofield has long been one of TV's best action heroes, and Miller knows how to cooly deliver a badass line just right, for maximum eyebrow-raising effect. Miller gets in some nice moments in this one, but he also shows his range. Season 4 viewers already know Scofield's ultimate, tragic fate, so as that moment draws closer, there is some genuine emotion and sadness as we say prepare to say goodbye to Michael alongside his friends and family. When I saw that Season 4 finale, I commended the show for daring to go with the rare tragic TV ending. The reality that we're not going to get a storybook ending is hammered home in The Final Break, and like I said, it makes for some touching moments.

Of course, this is Prison Break, and this is Michael Scofield, the ultimate escape artist we're talking about here ... So would I be all that surprised if one day we finally do get to see that ultimate showdown between Michael and T-Bag that The Final Break teases? No, it's possible, afterall, we never did see a body ...

As it stands, The Final Break is a long way from being any kind of ultimate Prison Break adventure. But it is a nice chance to revisit one of the best and most badass TV shows of the last several years.

My Grade: B

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