So with the return of PRISON BREAK for a nine episode run this month, it seemed like a good time to explore where this show has been and where it may go from its four season run. I got interested in the show around its first season, being a fan of shows like 24, which were ambitious for network TV. And this had a interesting premise: a show centered around a prison escape, that would cap off its season with said escape. The big question, like say the setup of 24, was simply: how the hell could you pull this off?
The setup is architect Michael Scofield (Wentworth Miller) gets sent to prison for attempting a bank robbery. The funny thing is, he surrendered himself and insisted on being sent to the local prison, Fox River, to serve out his sentence. The reason is to get in touch with his imprisoned brother Lincoln Burrows (Dominic Purcell), who is on death row for a high-profile murder that he claims he didn’t commit, and break him out. Luckily for both of them, Michael is one ingenious brother, planning an intricate escape plan through the tattoos on his body, and in enlisting the right people to pull this off…
Season One — So this is where it all starts, as Michael sets up the escape for him and Lincoln from Fox River Prison. While there, he makes allies in cellmate Sucre and C-Note, and some allies he’d rather not have, like mob boss Aburzzi and all around creepy T-Bag. He also takes an interest in one of the prison doctors, Sara, and finds himself needing her help in order to pull off this seemingly impossible escape. Add to that a longtime family friend, Rebecca, investigating the truth behind why Lincoln was framed, and you got an impressive amount of drama.
It’s not a surprise that when discussing the show as a whole, this is the season that stands out as it’s best. It’s great cliffhanger television, relying on the mystery and suspense of seeing Michael’s ramshackle crew try to put together all the steps needed to escape Fox River. It does get a bit dicey around the middle when they have to engineer a way to keep Lincoln from being executed and keep the plan in play to fill a 22 episode season (often a problem with shows like this), but once it gets to the last four episodes, it’s all good stuff. But they had to get out eventually, and the season finale finds the cons on the run (and T-Bag minus a hand) for their lives.
Season Two — We start off as the crew is now on the run, and looking for millions in hidden cash. On their trail is a determined FBI agent, Mahone, who is not all he appears to be as he hunts down the right escapees from the prison. Then there’s Sara, who finds herself in danger for not just her involvement in helping Michael escape, but by the shadowy conspiracy that framed Lincoln and wants the brothers stopped dead. There’s a lot of betrayals and twists this season, as the group gets chased, lose a few people, meet relatives like the brothers’ long lost dad, deal with a vengeful one handed T-Bag, all ending with freedom and for a few, ending up in a worse place than Fox River Prison.
This season was always meant to be a “fugitives on the run” season, and for the most part, it succeeds. Alliances shift constantly throughout the season, but it leads to a resolution of sorts to Lincoln’s setup, and what looks like a happy ending for Michael, Sara, and Lincoln. That whole thing falls apart though, as Michael finds himself by the season finale (along with a few of his escapee buddies) in a Panamanian prison that is truly terrifying. So now we got another prison to escape from…
Season Three — If you can point to where things started to go off the rails for the show, it was probably around this season. With Michael in the Sona prison in Panama, it’s up to Lincoln to bust him out. And he’s put on a clock, thanks to an agent of the conspiracy (called The Company) needing a prisoner extracted from there, and just to convince Michael to take the job, she’s kidnapped several of the brothers’ loved ones (like Sara), to do it. But Sona is not Fox River, and it’s not a place with the normal rules of any prison.
This season had a lot of stuff happen behind the scenes that hampered it, chief among them a season shortened by a Writer’s Strike, leading to a rushed end to the season. The series had trouble keeping things consistently interesting for a whole 22 episode season, so as much as having about 13 episodes would seem a boon, it does lead to some quick resolutions to things that get glossed over by the start of the next season. Then there was the decision to not have Sara around for the season (I won’t dredge up the details here, but you can look it up for yourself) by having her revealed to be dead in a gruesome fashion. However, despite the shrinking ratings, the show was able to come back for one more season.
Season Four — Well, first thing, Sara’s alive, which means the Company found a severed head with a significant likeness, and/or Lincoln needs glasses. But the brothers, our good escapees, and Mahone find themselves under custody by an Homeland Security agent who wants to bring the Company down. To do that, he needs to retrieve the archive for the Company’s shady dealings called Scylla, and that’s where our heroes come in. Not so much a prison break, but a not-prison break-in.
Really, at this point, things had gotten into a more serious version of The A-Team by this season (or a proto version of what happened to the Fast and Furious series, turning its main characters into some crackerjack team), and it felt like the writing was on the wall for the show to end. Not to say it didn’t have some surprising reveals involving Michael’s mom being a big player in the Company and a betrayal that threw the team into more trouble, but it seemed clear the show had gone way past believability (should I even mention the night long removal of ALL of Michael’s tattoos that he survives?). And it does end on a happy but tragic note, as our heroes find freedom, but only as Michael seems dead.
Michael’s fate actually is set up in season four as he learns about having a brain tumor, but we see how he died (not really, only in retrospect) in The Final Break, which was really an extra two episodes combined into a straight to DVD movie. Sara is sent to prison in Miami as retaliation for the convicts’ freedom, and it’s up to them to get her out. He supposedly dies electrocuting himself to help a pregnant Sara get out, and that’s really it. If the series finale was a bang of an ending, this feels like a whimper in more ways than one.
Since the show ended, it’s been fun to see actors from the show popping up all over the place, like Miller and Purcell as lovable bad guy buddies in The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow. And there was even a brief return of T-Bag on the short lived Breakout Kings (not that I was a fan of hat show, but when you are in the hospital like I was once for a good week, you tend to stumble onto stuff you don’t normally watch). With the revival of shows like 24 and The X-Files on Fox (being cancelled before with ratings that would make them monster hits on network TV now), it seemed to make sense that Prison Break would return, and somehow, here we are.
Of course, now this revival of Prison Break deals with Lincoln finding out Michael is very much alive, and imprisoned in a Middle Eastern country on the verge of collapse. How any of this makes sense is unclear so far (the first new episode sets up where a lot of our main characters are since the show ended than concerns itself with answering things), and what this will all add up to. Personally, I doubt we will get the freshness of season one, but even then at its best, the show could be good cliffhanger entertainment. That’s not a bad place to get to.
But what are your thoughts about Prison Break returning? Got some different opinions on the show? Lets discuss that below…