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Will season four be Prison Break‘s last? Why aren’t Michael and Sara so happy together? And what’s up with Whistler, T-Bag, Mahone and Michael Rapaport‘s new character? PB producer Zack Estrin was kind enough to clue me in on the answers to these questions and more…

Word is, Prison Break‘s new season is not picking back up where we left off.
True. The [writers] strike shortened season three, so everything that was supposed to happen in our back nine [episodes] last year is now essentially condensed into a two-hour premiere. The task for our two-hour premiere was to wrap up [the old storylines], but also
to launch a brand new season four. We did not want to get bogged down in answering old
questions. So we scrapped some of the things we had planned
for our back nine, wrapped up what was important and launched the new year. We had to kill a few babies, but we’re moving on.

It’s probably for the best.

I think so too. You know, this season is probably our
biggest challenge so far, because it’s the most different from all of
our other seasons. The guys are in the prison, they break out and then break in. The only thing harder than breaking out is breaking in. The guys are like Dirty Dozen kind of
guys. We’ve brought them together to go to task.

Robertknepper_prisonbreak_s3_240When you say "the guys," who exactly are you talking about?
The guys you know and love and hate will all be back
together again in some way, shape or form. Not all of them are together at
the outset, but they certainly will be as the season goes on. And, as always, there are [concrete] reasons to [reunite] them.
T-Bag (Robert Knepper, pictured left) is always the hardest to justify — because, you
know, why keep this guy around? — But he ends up with a very [important storyline]. I
don’t know if you remember that Whistler had a book in season three,
a bird book–

Yes, he dropped it during the escape from Sona and T-Bag found it.

Right. Well, we’re going back to some old-school, season one storytelling with
the book. Just as Michael’s tattoos were a [road map] that first year, the book has this season’s mysteries in it: riddles, clues,
puzzles. Our guys will need to get a hold of that book in order to
complete their tasks for season four and, as you said, T-Bag is the keeper of
that book. How they find him, and what happens when they do, becomes an
integral part of the plot.

Chrisvance
So that’s one old storyline that you’re actually picking up. How about letting us in on what was really going on with some of the other maybe bad guys? Whistler?

That picks up too. Obviously Whistler (Chris Vance, pictured right) was a bit of a mystery in season three, but you will find out exactly what he was up to. His real agenda will be revealed, as well as why the Company wanted him out of Sona.
And maybe he had his own agenda, maybe he wasn’t just motivated by what the Company wanted from him.

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And how about Mahone? At the end of last year, we found out that he had something going with the Company too.

The cool thing about Mahone (William Fichtner, pictured left) is that he always had his own interest
at heart. Not in a selfish way, but as far as his family goes and just
wanting to get out of things. So I think that his reason for teaming up with those
guys is complicated. We don’t necessarily know what he was up to at the end of last
season. His involvement with them doesn’t definitely mean he’s doing a bad thing.

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I hear that two characters that I’m pretty positive are despicable — T-Bag and Gretchen
(Jodi Lyn O’Keefe, pictured right)— may be teaming up?
Yes! We’re kind of hoping for "the most twisted duo on television"
award. You know, they are probably two of the more f–ked up
characters on television and to get them together will be a
lot of fun, I think. And it’ll be interesting just exactly how they’re going to
work together.

Brilliant. So, that’s not going to just be a one-episode sort of thing?

It’s a story that will grow over the course of
the season because in the beginning, as with most of our seasons, everybody is very separate and has their own agendas, but slowly we find out that all these agendas
end up intertwining. People who hate each other need each other, there are unholy alliances. It’s a long-standing Prison Break tradition. We have this running joke that Michael Scofield
will always have to hate the person who he’s side by side with. The continuing saga of, dammit, I can’t believe I have to work with this disgusting person!

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Speaking of Michael, I have to ask you about Sara
(Sarah Wayne Callies, pictured left) of course. Their relationship has been this sort of unrequited love over the seasons. Will they finally be
together this year?

As you said, that relationship has been built on not being able to be together. And once they have the ability to be with each other, it changes the dynamic
a lot. But we all have this investment like, omigod
these two have to get together! So, I can tell you they will get together, but once they do, you will realize that they don’t know each other very well. Part of
what drove this love was the mystery and, all of a sudden, you have to ask if the reality
is as good as what the fantasy was.

And because there’s no actual prison this year, a lot of the themes we’re
playing with represent being constrained in other ways. We’re really trying to create a lot of emotional
prisons for these characters. As far as Michael and Sara are concerned, will they be able to
break through what they are dealing with? Sara went
through a lot in the time that we did not see her and what she had to do to
find Michael again is kind of a mystery this season. You know, what
did she endure? What did she witness? She has her own
demons this season as opposed to Michael having them from the past. She
has her own secrets as well. You can put the two of them together, but they
still have to, in essence, find each other again.

Sounds heavy.
Yeah, there’s stuff to be dealt with. But this year, there will be a lot more joy for these two than we’ve had in the past, which I think people are looking forward
to. They might actually smile.

No!
Yes, there might be some smiles believe it or not.

Some comedy, perhaps?
Maybe a little dry humor, maybe a little Gallows humor. An Ichabod
Crane joke somewhere in there. But, I mean, it’s a fascinating
relationship. And I don’t think we want to make the [Moonlighting] David and Maddie
mistake. This relationship works on certain levels
and not on others. We don’t want to all of a sudden make them this
tag team. She has her own set of issues to deal with.

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Moving on to new characters, how does Michael Rapaport
(pictured right) fit into everything?
He works for homeland security. Bringing this group together is actually his idea. He has his own ideas
about the Company and how they’ve got their fingers in everything. He realizes that you never know who in the government could be
involved with them, so he can’t have the FBI or CIA getting involved
in trying to bring them down. He knows that Michael, Linc and [the other cons] have proven capable, so he gives them the means necessary to do the job. He says, we’ll create a cover story about what happened
to you and then we’ll bring these a–holes down. He’s kind of their
handler for the season, an ally who they haven’t had. Every other season, they’ve kind of been on their own, so this is
a chance for them to have an ally with some resources.

Is it a friendly relationship? Do the guys like this character?

It’s actually an interesting relationship because he’s
their boss in a way, and his butt is on the line too, because what
they’re doing is secret — no one can know about it. Even the homeland
security people are in the dark, so he’s in jeopardy. And if The
Company finds out what he’s up to, there are problems for him there as well. It’s a bit of a mysterious relationship. And, you know, on Prison
Break
, the guys are always wondering who they can trust and who they
can’t.

Final question: FOX is promoting this season as “The Final Confrontation.” Does
that mean that you guys are looking to wrap things up this year?

Part of me feels like every season everybody says, well we can’t go on, there’s no more story to tell. As a creative team, the writers and the actors always kind of get
together towards the end of a season and [discuss that]. I think that if there are no more interesting stories to tell, then we’ll end it. We already know
exactly how the show will end, and how many episodes we need to steer
towards that end and I think that we’ll all know when the feeling is
right.

So it really could come to a close after this year.

You know, we write every year as if it’s our last because this is
not CSI, this is not Law & Order. You can’t keep going forever. So every
season, we’re prepared to wrap up the emotional stories and have this great climax that we’ve planned since
season one. We obviously don’t want to turn into a hack show where all of a
sudden we aren’t being true to what the original [ideas were], just because the opportunity [to continue] is there. We — actors and writers
alike —  like to feel like we’re telling something that is really
compelling and if it ceases to be compelling, why keep telling it?