My introduction to Prison Break was stumbling across the first of the two-part 'riot' episodes from the first season. I marked it down as one of those really enjoyable low-budget cult movies you sometimes stay up too late to watch late at night, but was delighted to find it was a television series, when the episode ended. I looked it up, and have never, to this day, been as gripped or felt as tense watching any piece of television. The first season is a masterpiece.
The second was a very pleasant surprise, as the writers thought out of the box to give us a season full of twists and turns, sparing no character if the plot required their disposal and continuing the sense of terror committed by and closing in on characters viewers had grown to love.
The third season is where it starts going wrong. Affected by a writer's strike, the seeds of one of the more ridiculous conspiracy storylines in modern television is born, and the nightmare vision at the end of the second season fails to materialize into anything much more than a dull, repetitive few episodes I'd sooner forget. But the third season had nothing on the fourth for absurdity. One can only imagine what the writers must have been smoking to conceive of such silly storylines that betrayed all notions of gritty realism that first got me hooked at the start. It's like watching a different show.
'The Final Break' offers some comfort but by then it's too late. Latter seasons of this show betray the former, and undermine its place as a great television show. I'll always recommend the first two seasons, but this is a show with a finite lifespan, stretched beyond breaking point for the sake of network renewals.