Let's get the resurrection of Dr. Sara Tancredi out of the way first. For months, it's been known that actress Sarah Wayne Callies is reprising her role on “Prison Break," even though her character was decapitated in the third season.
Remember the head in the box that made Lincoln Burrows (Dominic Purcell) recoil? Well, in tonight's two-hour premiere, fans will learn, among other things, that it was dark in the garage, and a revolted Lincoln didn't exactly stare at the severed head. More important, viewers will see Sara alive and not so well but reunited with her love, Michael Scofield (Wentworth Miller).
"It's certainly an exciting thing to find that one is not decapitated after all," Callies joked. Michael and Sara's impossible love -- chronicled on the Web and featured on YouTube -- still eludes happily-ever-after in the fourth season, but they are as together as “MiSa” can be.
"Frankly, I think the fans convinced the writers to make sure that she came back," Callies said. "I think it teaches us that those old ideas of what makes a guy's show and what makes a girl's show don't work so much anymore because it's not just the women who are interested in relationships and it's not just the guys who are interested in things blowing up and being chased."
Miller said he was pleased that producers chose not to delay Sara's return for a few episodes. But that would have been out of character for a series that stands out for its fast, intense, often logic-bending storytelling and its self-reinvention every year. The Fox drama has had a steady following but lost more than 1 million viewers last season.
"You're really betting on the ingenuity of the writers," said Marcy Ross, Fox executive vice president of current programming. "But it is so challenging: Why would a network pick it up? Other than the fact that we really like it and there's a core fan base that we want to keep speaking to."
Only seven months have passed since Michael robbed a bank to get himself incarcerated at Fox River State Penitentiary near Chicago, so that he could break out his brother, Lincoln, who was to be executed. They escaped with the help of six prisoners and spent all of the second season far-flung through Texas and the world. Last season, a few of them landed in a Panamanian jail until Michael, again, was able to break out, motivated by his desire to avenge Sara's murder.
"Sometimes you have to fight to find what's relatable and human about this character's experience because it's so extreme," Miller said. "But that fight is important because a show like 'Prison Break' takes a lot of risks, a lot of suspension of disbelief is required, and if the characters stop being like real people, then it's nothing more than car crashes and gunfights."
This season, Michael, Lincoln and Sara stop running and fight the Company, the covert entity behind the conspiracy that Michael and Lincoln's father tried to unravel and is responsible for setting up Lincoln, faking Sara's death and killing many, including the U.S. president, in its efforts to control the economy. Renegade Homeland Security Agent Don Self (Michael Rappaport) enlists the brothers and their ex-con pals to help him bring down the Company in exchange for their freedom. (They are fugitives, remember?)
"We wanted the feel of the yard in the first season where all the guys all wanted to kill each other but they all wanted the same thing," said executive producer Matt Olmstead. "So we really wiped the slate clean after we came back from the strike. We didn't pick things up moments later. We let a month pass so that there could be an evolution of a 'Ronin' group of ex-cons who do the only thing they know how to do at this point because they can't go home again."
The A-Team, as Miller call them, bands together in L.A.
"It's nice to sit at the same table rubbing elbows with people that have tried to kill me and whom I've done my best to leave behind," he said.
"We were shooting a scene this season where one of the other characters had a gun aimed at my forehead and I could swear that we'd shot that scene three or four times," he added. "And it really reminded me of how far the character had come. I don't think that even if he could go back to his old life, he'd be able to. Michael's hands are filthy at this point. I'm not even sure redemption is possible, but as an actor, it's been a lot of fun to play in that gray area."
Fans, Miller said, should find the way Sara is re-introduced "entirely plausible." "I think we've gotten away with a lot worse," he said and laughed.
"One of the most glaring things would be Michael getting two toes whacked off at the very top of the show and never limping," Miller said, laughing. "In fact, we've seen him sprint across football fields. And, you know, that was a concession I had to make for the story because, realistically, if you lose two toes it affects your balance in a critical and permanent way. But considering what the physical requirements for the role would be, I had to make Michael almost superhuman."
To that end, in tonight's episode, Michael endures the laser-removal of an intricate tattoo, which covers his entire torso and arms, in one sitting.
But with any luck, it could resurface next year.