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

Wentworth Miller and Dominic Purcell, Prison Break

Even by Prison Break (Mondays, 8 pm/ET, Fox) standards, the plot twist that brought the fall mini-season to a close in November was a stunner. The seemingly saintly Whistler (Chris Vance), whom Michael Scofield (Wentworth Miller) had been trying to free from jail since the start of the season, appeared to be in cahoots with mysterious villain Susan (Jodi Lyn O'Keefe).

The Whistler bombshell, coupled with the shortage of new programming due to the writers' strike, makes Prison Break's Jan. 14 return all the more enticing. A five-episode run (possibly more if the strike is resolved soon) will give audiences their escapist fix well into February sweeps.

Amaury Nolasco, who plays the loyal Sucre, says this season has offered an entirely different dynamic for him. "I'd never had more than two lines with [Dominic Purcell] the first season," he says. "This year, it's like we have a whole Danny Glover and Mel Gibson thing going on. With Wentworth, I used to say it was like The Odd Couple. With Dom, it's more like Starsky and Hutch." Just a more menacing version: Linc and Sucre plan what Nolasco calls an "explosive" end to Susan.

A lot happens in the next five episodes. Pro­ducers insist that, unlike Season 1, viewers won't have to wait until May for the inmates to escape: There will be a breakout from Sona, the treacher­ous Panamanian penitentiary — and not everyone will get out alive. Plus, the morally compromised Michael crosses a line when he purposely takes someone's life.

"Nobody's indispensable. I wouldn't be surprised if they killed off me or Wentworth or Dominic one day," Nolasco teases. "I open the script every week and wonder whether Sucre's still alive."

Even with a successful escape, Sona will con­tinue to be a key setting, with new inmates calling the lawless fortress home. "Once they break out, there are some main characters left behind in Sona," Purcell says. "There are some pretty big shocks. But the stuff in Sona has been highly entertaining and fun to watch, so [the pro­ducers] want to keep that alive."

While Prison Break has mostly avoided romance for two seasons, as clues to Whistler's past come to light, Lincoln and Sofia (Danay Garcia) will be drawn closer — which Purcell hopes might lead to a much-needed release.

"There is the smoldering possibility of Lincoln finally getting laid," he says. "Linc has been in prison and then on the road, and he's not so much as looked at a chick. I've talked to the writers about it, and they say they're gonna get to it."

The season "keeps getting better and better," promises Robert Knepper, whose Machiavellian T-Bag has taken a low-key approach so far this season. That, however, will change as well.

"In the last few moments of the [Feb. 18] episode you'll be saying, 'He's baaack!'" Knepper notes. "It's quite a ride to get there."

The episode, he adds, "has an incredible cliff­-hanger. But as much as people say they want to know what happens, they don't really because they want to watch it."

But Nolasco has a more practical reason for keep­ing mum: "I wish I could tell you about it, but then they would kill me off."

Catch up with the Prison Break chase in our Online Video Guide.

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