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Hard time: waiting for 'Break' to return

Reprinted from late editionsof yesterday's Globe.

Monday night, ''Prison Break" had its ''fall finale."

Um, fall finale? That's a euphemism for Fox's poor planning, which is forcing the network to delay the next episode of its jailhouse drama until March to clear room for ''24." Of course, the three-month ''Break" break makes some sense for Fox, which also needs to find space for ''American Idol" in January.

But for fans, this ''Prison" leave is nothing but a bummer, an interruption in the momentum of the season's most addictive new show. It's an artificial pause in a suspense arc that has been awesome in both its intricacy and forward flow. Like its hero, Michael Scofield (Wentworth Miller), ''Prison Break" has moved ahead with extraordinarily entertaining foresight and cleverness. This winter hibernation thing only puts the brakes on that steady drive. It has no creative value, and indeed it may disperse viewers who drop the story's threads in the coming months. The TV wastebasket is filled with good shows mishandled.

Monday night's hour was another stretch of the show's compelling roller coaster ride -- although ''Chutes and Ladders" might be a more accurate amusement metaphor, since there was plenty of crawling through ducts as the prisoners began their escape.

Plans had gone awry, not just because mobster John Abruzzi was injured and moved out of Fox River Penitentiary, but because Lincoln was put into confinement until his execution. But our Michael always has an alternate plan up his sleeve, this time literally. He uses a razor to dig out a pill he hid under the skin on his arm -- a bloody process that leaves even the toughie Sucre writhing in disgust. Using the prison priest as an unknowing delivery man, Michael gets the pill to Lincoln in a rosary.

Is the pill for Lincoln to kill himself? Nope. As Michael said to C-Note early in the episode, ''If you think I'm going to leave my brother behind, you have massively underestimated me." The pill makes Lincoln sick enough to land in the infirmary, where he can use the floor vent to join the escapees on their way out of the building.

But then plan B goes awry, too, when a new piece of piping comes between Michael and Lincoln, and a guard is alerted by their noise. Are the boys about to be busted?

Meanwhile, on the outside, Veronica learns that Terrence Steadman, the man Lincoln is accused of killing, is still alive. Alas, Agent Hale is shot by Agent Kellerman before he can give Veronica a list of names -- a moment that didn't make sense, since he could easily have handed it to her.

There were no mind-bending twists Monday night, the kind that will leave fans longing for the show's return and talking about it until then. Short seasons can work well; HBO has made an art of them, tying together 12 or 13 episodes before taking a break. But unplanned gaps can be disorienting. If the show's popularity derails, someone at Fox may need to spend a week or two in solitary confinement.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at

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