Belt yourself into the Barcalounger, because Fox is about to unleash back-to-back adrenaline boosts, as "Prison Break" finally returns with new episodes on Monday, March 20, to join the lineup with "24."
After a powerhouse launch that saw it go from zero to People's Choice winner for favorite new TV drama in only 13 episodes (its last original episode aired at the end of November), "Prison Break" has become one of the season's top guilty pleasures.
Apparently unencumbered by its far-fetched premise and even more preposterous plot twists than, say, "24," the creation of big-screen writer Paul Scheuring ("A Man Apart," "36K") follows the attempts of structural engineer Michael Scofield (Wentworth Miller) to save the life of his brother, Lincoln Burrows (Dominic Purcell) -- condemned for murdering the vice president's (Patricia Wettig) brother -- by having himself thrown in the same prison where Link is being held -- a prison Michael helped design.
With the blueprints encoded in a complex tattoo that covers much of his body, Michael has enlisted the help of his cellmate, Sucre (Amaury Nolasco), and a motley group of inmates, including mobster Abruzzi (Peter Stormare) and the wily Louisiana schemer called T-Bag (Robert Knepper).
"Prison Break" is filmed in a real prison, a recently closed maximum-security facility in Joliet, Ill., near Chicago, the same one used in "The Blues Brothers."
When we last left the bust-out band, an uncharacteristically quick repair foiled Michael's carefully laid plans and put Lincoln one step closer to the electric chair. The first new episode of the final nine is called "The Rat," so you may draw your own conclusions from that.
"I'm writing the season finale as we speak," Scheuring says. "I'm so excited I can barely write it. My fingers are sweating."
After such a whiz-bang beginning, expectations are running high for the big finish.
"I actually feel like we are delivering on that and more in this finale," Scheuring says. "And season two's not going to be a problem at all. It's just a continuation of the story. Getting outside the walls is just the beginning."
While many shows with an ongoing story line give the impression of winging it from time to time, Scheuring's background in the closed-end world of movie writing ensured that wasn't the case with "Prison Break."
"Before I even sat down to write the pilot outline," he says, "I had to know where all the stories go, because I come from the feature world and, for me, a story is only rewarding as the life-support system for the end. Stories are all about the end, so I had to follow every character's story out to the end.
"Once they're outside the walls, once they've gone to try to do what they plan to do, where does that end up? Where does the plan end up? In that sense, the first two seasons are pretty well thought out.
"After all, the show's called 'Prison Break.'"
On the other hand, guaranteeing a prison break isn't the same thing as guaranteeing a fully successful prison break. Scheuring predicts rough choices ahead for Michael, whose sole motivation is saving Link, who looks to be the victim of a conspiracy.
"People will be sacrificed," Scheuring says. "You'll see at the end of the season. A lot of people will go down. So there are ambiguous moral situations with him, but at the end of the day, his lodestar is, 'Get my brother out of prison, and I'll stop at nothing to do that.'"
While the plot may have been nailed down before cameras rolled, it's always impossible to predict the audience's reactions. Not only do viewers love the show, they've turned the brooding Miller into a sex symbol. At the same time, many have also embraced T-Bag, even though he's a thoroughgoing bastard who has his young favorites trail him around holding onto his inside-out pocket.
"It was disturbing," Scheuring says of T-Bag's popularity. "But so much of that character is his performance. I think that's a response to Rob Knepper more than it is just the character as written."
According to the wiry Knepper, the role was originally written for a 250-pounder with a gold tooth, so things evidently changed once he was brought in.
"I've always played T-Bag as lethal," he says. "Beware the little guy."
Knepper has put a lot of thought into playing T-Bag, even to the point of writing himself the occasional note.
"Here," he says, "hot off the press, hot tip for you. I'm going to read it to you exactly as I wrote it, because we had a little tequila. 'I'm not sure why, but I need to break out. I've gone too far, now I can't go back. Please, God, let me free.'
"He talks like that. T-Bag knows all these five-, six-, seven-syllable words, but he says things like, 'Please, God, let me free.'"
Regarding the pocket thing -- which Scheuring says came from reading inmates' writings -- Knepper says he drew on his parental instincts.
"When somebody pulls on T-Bag's pocket, that little boy is my boy. I don't use sexual things. I just think of it as somebody I'm going to take care of. Anybody crosses that person and crosses me, they will die for it.
"If anything, what I have to keep doing is pull away from the words and always find the most charming way to say them."
Charming or not, T-Bag may not survive the trip over the wall. Many may not survive.
"A lot of those guys are going to die," Scheuring says, "and maybe even a few of the women."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun