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What I Watched Last Night

If you were wondering what all that cheering was about Monday night, it was the sound of overjoyed wardens of Turkish prisons thankful for Fox-TV's third season of Prison Break. That's because Monday's night's season opener shifted the show's inside-prison environs to Panama and the fictional Penitenciaria Federal de Sona That's Sona Federal Penitentiary to us gringos.

Break is one of those shows I never got around to seeing during its first two seasons because of its miserable 7 p.m. Monday time slot, so I always forgot it was on. It's a serial show like Lost and Rescue Me, so if you don't catch it from the beginning, you won't be able to follow a damn thing.

During the first season, Michael Scofield (Wentworth Miller) sent himself to prison specifically to spring his Death Row inmate brother Lincoln Burrows (Dominic Purcell), who had been framed for whacking the brother of the Vice President of the United States. A few other inmates went along for the ride, so the whole bunch spent the second season being hunted by FBI Special Agent Alexander Mahone (the somewhat creepy but always enjoyable William Fichtner). Lincoln was cleared of the charges, but now Scofield's stuck in a Panamanian prison. And so is Agent Mahone. I'm not sure why (and it's a new season so I probably don't need to) they're both there and how they got there, but there they are, and they really don't think much of each other.

Anyway, Sona Federal Penitentiary looks like something out of the aftermath of The Apocalypse ("what goes in never goes out . . . unless its dead") because the inmates took over the place in a riot, which scared the bejeezus out of the keepers and the government so much they gave the inmates the run of the place. The inmates aren't as freaky-looking as the folks populating Mel Gibson's Road Warrior/Mad Max movies; they're just plain inmate scary-looking. The government guards the perimeter and drives up once a week or so to bury whatever dead inmates periodically get dragged out for disposal after lying dead in the middle of the prison yard. Meanwhile, outside the fence, a screaming Panamanian woman keeps the guards in the tower company with her prolonged daily shout-out for her imprisoned husband. Why the guards haven't shot her yet is beyond me, but sometimes TV demands that you suspend your disbelief.

As prisons go, Sona actually seems to be an improvement - and to some extent an oddly content, even colorful improvement - over our own penal system. The inmates mill about the yard freely without shanking each other, and go about their business barbecuing chicken and sitting at patio tables with quaintly colorful umbrellas that look like they should have "Cinzano" silk-screened all over them.

Overseeing the whole affair is drug kingpin Lechero (a very imposing Robert Wisdom) and his toadie, who looks like Morgan Freeman at the tail end of a year-long meth binge. As it works out for all CEOs, Lechero lives comfortably with a big-screen TV, a plush sofa, and an incredibly hot local nun who doubles as his hooker. He's a self-professed devotee of meditation, which makes him less ruthless than he probably could be, especially when it comes to new inmates who are so scared of him that they piss all over themselves and his dirt floor when hauled in by Crazy Meth Freeman for a face-to-face "initiation" session.

"Instead of destroying ourselves, we have thrived," Lechero proclaims. Sona is a "breeding ground for international crime, but there's not one gang. There's just me . . . (to) maintain order." That order includes a system where, if you have a beef for any reason real or imagined with another inmate, you present him with a chicken foot tied to a strip of leather. Once served with the chicken foot, you must fight mano-a-mano until one of you is dead. The only rule is no weapons. "Without rules, we are nothing but savages," Lechero proclaims again.

I'm starting to get the idea this guy knows a thing or two about running a wildly successful penal system.

Meanwhile, Scofield spends most of his time wandering purposelessly around the prison yard because Lincoln has managed to convince some suit to transfer him the following day to another prison somewhere else. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that this ain't gonna happen, so Scofield gets served the chicken foot after his Big Scary Cellmate accuses him of stealing his stash of coke. Although Scofield does a fine job of administering a Class-A ass-kicking on Big Scary Cellmate, it takes Agent Mahone to save him from certain death after someone tosses a shank to Big Scary Cellmate.

"You're my get out of jail free card," Mahone tells Scofield.

It doesn't take a genius to figure out that Scofield is going to spend the whole season being practically everyone's get out of jail free card, beginning with a mysterious inmate named James Whistler. As it happens, Lincoln tells Scofield that he has a week to spring Whistler or else Lincoln's son will end up dead, presumably at the hands of The Company, a band of government employees who like a good conspiracy.

Foreshadowing the upcoming season is a greasy, James Woods-y American sleazeball with a fake hand named Theodore, and a gringo "lawyer of sorts" with funky teeth named Elliott Pike (who you know is a Company man of some sort) who promises to assist Scofield "in every way possible way once you get past that wall," and a henpecked American inmate who doesn't take direction from his fellow inmates very well, so he tends to tell everyone to "bite me."

Inmates running the asylum. How cool is that?

*

See what else Buckner and the Beachwood TV desk have been watching.



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Posted on September 19, 2007


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