Dominic Purcell and Wentworth Miller, <EM>Prison Break</EM> Dominic Purcell and Wentworth Miller, Prison Break

When your show is called Prison Break, the first season finale sort of writes itself. But now, a season later, what can you do for an encore? Not so tough, says the show's creator and executive pro­ducer, Paul Scheuring — just toss out the formula. Again. "The era of the running man is over," he declares about the finale (airing tonight at 8 pm/ET, on Fox).

Meanwhile, brothers Michael Scofield (Wentworth Miller) and Lincoln Burrows (Dominic Purcell) still have to complete the final step of Michael's latest plan: Get to Panama and sail off into the sunset with a bag of millions. But first they will have to contend with a few old friends. "This thing catapults head over heels going into the third season," says Robert Knepper, who plays the slithery T-Bag. "Characters who you wouldn't think are going to be together will come together."

Agent Alexander Mahone (William Fichtner), his misdeeds having been uncovered by the FBI, finds himself a fugitive from the law. He realizes that if he can co-opt Michael's plan, he'll get the money and the escape. But, of course, T-Bag is not one to let $5 million slip away without a fight.

So this year's finale? One boat. One bag of cash. And a bunch of very des­perate men.

It's classic Prison Break: Leave the audience feeling unsure — and perhaps even a little guilty — about who to root for. The show has always toyed with its ideas of villainy: The heroes of the series, Lincoln and Michael, are both convicted felons. Capt. Brad Bellick (Wade Williams) represents both the law and corruption. Even FBI agent Mahone and Secret Service agent Paul Kellerman (Paul Adelstein) have been both tortured and torturers. So who's the bad guy?

For the cast, that uncertainty is all part of the fun of doing Prison Break. "I like that there's some peril," says Adelstein. "There's a cliff-hanger to Kellerman's story line in the finale, and I think there will be some passionate discussion about exactly what happened. It's not really ambiguous, but it's still open to various interpretations."

This season has been especially twisty for Mahone, who has served as Michael's chief antagonist even as his motivations remain entirely human: to protect his life, career and family. Says Fichtner, "I can't honestly say the season ended up the way I thought it would, because I had no idea how it would end. I just wanted it to be ever-changing. And it was."

So does Mahone get a cliff-hanger like Kellerman? "He takes a bit of a skydive, but I wouldn't say it is a cliff-hanger," Fichtner says. "He'll fall off the cliff one way or the other."

Knepper is equally cagey about how T-Bag ends up. "If we get to a part where we're not running, there are only three places you can go: some faraway land where you can sip mai tais on the beach, or prison, or you can die and go to heaven. My last scene will be a great send-off for my character into one of those three places."

And with Prison Break officially renewed by Fox — see this recent Q&A for details — much of the finale lays the groundwork for Season 3. In fact, Scheuring says he knows exactly what will happen by this time next year: "I think we know the end games for all the characters. In the long run, nobody's safe — a lot of these people are going to fall by the wayside."

The big government conspiracy will continue to be a focus, but otherwise Scheuring promises that the future of Prison Break will be unlike anything in its past. Teases Scheuring: "As different in tone as Season 2 was from Season 1, Season 3 will be from Season 2."

Prison Break's Paul Adelstein — who was recently made part of the Grey's Anatomy spin-off — reflects on his breakout year in the April 2 issue of TV Guide. Click here to subscribe.

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