Prison Break


The Husband:

Well, here it is – the final part of the batshit crazy story that was Fox’s Prison Break. This is it. There will be no comic book continuation. There will be no more episodes. There will be no more TV movies. It’s over. And I’ve finally been able to get my hands on a legal copy of this straight-to-DVD movie. I emphasize the legality of it because, while this 90-minute feature has already aired in other countries such as Israel and the UK (during our honeymoon in Spain, my wife and I were baffled to experience the enormous popularity of this show in Europe, and were amazed to find that people completely unrelated to the show’s production were even making highly popular music videos as an homage to the program), it never aired in the United States. Why? Because much like the unaired Dollhouse finale (which sounds more and more insane the more I hear about this), the money was put up to make this episode, but Fox never had it in their contract that they had to give up two hours of their summer schedule to air a wrap-up of what had become a low-rated show. But the American DVD comes out tomorrow, so consider this a legal review for a legal product. I’m particular about these kinds of things.

I will say this – this was not the movie I was expecting. And that’s fine. I like to be surprised. Last we checked in on the Fox River gang five years in the future, where all the good guys were having good lives, and all the bad guys were either dead, in prison or in the electric chair. But there was a catch – while Sara gave birth to Michael Scofield’s son, the final episode ends on Michael’s grave, sitting near a Costa Rican beach. What the hell happened?

I assumed in my last review the following:

There’s a final straight-to-DVD Prison Break film coming out this summer, so it’s pretty clear that Michael isn’t actually dead but is thought to be for some ridiculous reason or another. Maybe he’s hiding from everyone he affected during his stint in and after Fox River, a plan that backfired so many times and involved so many others that Michael and Lincoln have basically directly or indirectly caused the death of hundreds of people. That’d be a pretty big weight on my conscience.

So, clearly, I expected the movie to take place post-coda, where Michael’s presumed faked suicide would play out and we’d get one final middle finger to the system and the dreaded Company.

So color me surprised when the movie picked the story up mere weeks after the dissolution of the Company and the exoneration of all the main characters. Just as Michael and a pregnant Sara are getting married, the Feds come in with an arrest warrant. But this time, it’s for one Sara Tancredi. Why? Remember when she fatally shot Michael and Lincoln’s mother (Kathleen Quinlan), who was one of the leaders of the Company? Yeah, that’s being seen as murder, considering it’s hard to prove that the Company exists. And so her and her pregnant belly are thrown into the women’s side of a maximum security prison in Florida, and Michael makes it his mission to do one final prison break to save the woman he loves.

Man, why do I feel this compulsive need to escape from stuff?

Man, why do I feel this compulsive need to escape from stuff?

But things are, of course, more complicated than that. In the men’s section of the prison, General Krantz, now horribly scarred from that nasty acid burn during the final bit of season four, wants nothing more than to see Sara dead, and so he puts a bounty on her head. And who’s in there with Krantz but the deliciously evil T-Bag himself. When it becomes quite clear to Sara that she is as good as dead (her food is poisoned within the first couple days), she decides that she needs protection (even the guards want to beat the shit out of her for her participation in the Fox River breakout), and the only way to do that is to join the prison gang known as the Family, led by Daddy (Tank Girl’s Lori Petty, who has made a career out of highly bizarre, very mush-mouthed and oddly brilliant performances). But oh no! It’s even more complicated than that, because who’s in the women’s prison also? Susan B. Anthony/Gretchen Morgan, who has done her share of fucking everything up for the Fox River gang starting with all that season 3 nonsense. But is it finally her time to make up for all her misdeeds? And will T-Bag ever really change, or is his unpredictability becoming entirely predictable? And will Mahone, desperate to return to working at the FBI, turn on his foes-turned-friends?

Yes, it’s a little cheap that they would decide to end the show with yet another prison break, but it’s also somewhat warm and familiar. It’s great to bring the show back to its bare essentials, and only this time the tables are turned, with Michael, Linc and the gang on the outside and Sara on the inside. And revisiting prison politics (Daddy is without question the film’s best character, echoing the menace of Peter Stormare’s Abruzzi from s1 and s2 but giving it an eerie kind ness) brings to focus some of s1’s best qualities. (The knife fight in the shower room has one of the most shocking moments I can remember on Prison Break.) And while the breakout itself does leave a little to be desired from a technical standpoint – even from the beginning, the show was always extremely clever about how far they were willing to go to get its audience to suspend their disbelief – its emotional content is only matched by the Fox River breakout process.

And while I do not want to spoil anything, we do get a definite answer of what led to Michael Scofield’s tombstone just a few years down the line. But I’ll leave you Prison Break fans to discover what happened, because while it may not completely shock anybody, it makes perfect sense in the grand scheme of things.

So check it out starting tomorrow from Netflix or whatever service you use, and I hope you enjoy what closure it’s able to bring to those such as myself who already miss that crazy show.

The Husband:

I think my unbridled enjoyment of this out-of-control, batshit-crazy action/adventure/thriller show is well documented. And by well documented, I actually just mean I did a write-up back in December. Just one. Here.

I think that pretty much sums up my feelings for the entire run of the series save for the final six episodes that closed out both the fourth season and, thanks to Fox’s swinging axe, the entire series. With this series, it all comes down to whether or not one is willing to suspend their disbelief week-after-week and realize that, while the show technically takes place in the real world (i.e. non-fantasy), it’s so absolutely ridiculous that it seems to exist in a sort of Bizarro World. As I’ve never had a problem separating common sense from viewing a television show, a movie or a play, this series seemed destined to become a DVR favorite for me, and even if I missed giant portions of the show (such as my scheduling snafu that forced me to miss s3), this is one of those programs that actually works better on DVD, so you can marathon the shit out of its particular brand of madness.

Well, we could always team up with MacGruber at some point, right?

Well, we could always team up with MacGruber at some point, right?

But where does s4, now that it’s closed shop, fall in with the rest of the seasons? I break it down thusly.

Season 1: Incredible network television

Season 2: Good caper, but spread a little thin

Season 3: Underrated and damn exciting, thanks especially to its strike-shortened season

Season 4: Okay caper, spread way too thin

I think s4 could have really benefited from a few more storylines that shifted its major characters away from all the Scylla drama – you know, that file that everybody wanted because it could cause a global conflict thanks to its information on how to build…wait a minute, it doesn’t matter what the hell it does, because it is the perfect example of a MacGuffin – and maybe have started on something a little more emotional and character-focused. Because even during s4’s fall season, there were about 50 major characters all vying for the same prize, and once Gretchen/Susan went off on her merry way, we were left with men staring at each other with increasing intensity. Thank God for the introduction of Michael and Lincoln’s thought-dead mother, who is not only not-dead but is sort of a domestic terrorist and complete criminal mastermind. (Why they chose Oscar-nominee Kathleen Quinlan to play this character I’ll never know, as her attempt at dastard mustache-twirling evilness came off more silly than menacing.) As she attempted to frame her sons once again (turns out she was heavily involved in earlier series conspiracies all thanks to that glorious enigma known as The Company, she puts the emotional hammer down hard by revealing that Lincoln was adopted and was actually birthed by an idiotic, violent drug addict – which, to be fair, explains a lot about the dichotomy between Lincoln and Michael – and proceeds to torment the now-pregnant Sara Tancredi. And as the various character bump into each other (now in Miami, yet another location in this mini-globe trotting adventure), nobody knows who to trust anymore. Along this line, I could have definitely done without the Lincoln/Michael rivalry, as each wanted different things in terms of what to do with Scylla and/or who to give it to and why.

Finally broken out . . . but not quickly enough to escape Fox's axe.

Finally broken out . . . but not quickly enough to escape Fox's axe.

But while I wasn’t 100% invested in four of the six spring episodes, the final two-hour episode was designed almost solely for fans. With the wonderful returns of Sucre and C-Note, finding out the ultimate way to reward the two “brothers” who busted them out of jail in the first place, a piece of the s1 wonder (and the subtler bits from s2) came roaring back. And, as an added bonus, Paul Adelstein took a break from being a sex-addicted pediatrician on Private Practice to revive his role as the bad-turned-good agent Paul Kellerman and pretty much deus ex machina the shit out of this wonky show. As Michael and Sara finally discover that their relationship can continue with baby attached, the future looks bright, as Kellerman allows all the remaining Fox River inmates to strike an immunity deal and be done with this nonsense once and for all. All the inmates, of course, except for the vicious child molester Theodore “T-Bag” Bagwell, who the brothers decide to send back to jail, where four years later (thank you, Prison Break coda) he is once again a leader among criminals within the walls of a penitentiary, but only that. No out-in-public sniveling coward.

But what else happened during the immensely satisfying coda?

  • The ever-changing-sides Mahone is now clean and off his anti-psychotic drugs and is in a relationship with his former FBI partner (who did, unfortunately, trick him into police custody earlier this season.)
  • Sucre and C-Note are ecstatic to be with their respective families, no longer on the run from the PoPo.
  • Bellick is still dead.
  • General Krantz is put to death in the electric chair after being implicated in countless domestic terrorist activities.
  • Kellerman is now a congressman, albeit a controversial one thanks to his checkered agent past.
  • Donald Self, during a terrifying escape from the evil members of The Company that involved him breaking his leg in a near-Cronenberg level of grossness and then being poisoned while recovering at the hospital, is now a vegetable at an assisted living home, running over, in his head, his treachery that led to the murder of his innocent family.
  • Linc and Sofia are living, deeply in love, back in Central America, the setting of season 3.
  • Sara loves her son, Michael Jr.
  • Michael is dead.

Wait. What? As the remaining good guys visit a seaside cemetery, we find that this is indeed true. Michael finally succumbed to his brain condition that put him in the operating room at the end of s4’s fall season. Is this the way you’re going to send out your main character? By putting the ever-present origami crane that defined the first season on his headstone, and then walking away?

There’s a final straight-to-DVD Prison Break film coming out this summer, so it’s pretty clear that Michael isn’t actually dead but is thought to be for some ridiculous reason or another. Maybe he’s hiding from everyone he affected during his stint in and after Fox River, a plan that backfired so many times and involved so many others that Michael and Lincoln have basically directly or indirectly caused the death of hundreds of people. That’d be a pretty big weight on my conscience.

We’ll see when all the answers are revealed. I don’t know about you, but Stephen King and I had a fucking blast with this show, and we’re not ashamed to admit it. It was a wild adventure show through and through, a wonderful bit of escapist entertainment, and when this show wanted to reallllly ratchet up the tension, no show on television (other than Lost) could do it as well as Prison Break.

Vaya con dios, Michael Scofield and Lincoln Burrows. Fox will be less insane without you.

The Husband:

Prison Break is an extremely fun show, but sometimes I catch myself getting way more into it than I think the show often deserves. I don’t necessarily know how good of a show it is. The plots make very little sense, the coincidences are too staggering to take seriously, the characters bounce in and out of personalities whenever the story calls for it and even the showrunners and writers seem to constantly write themselves into corners and sometimes fail to ever come out of said corner.

But I dig it. I really, really dig it. I have never had a problem with suspending my disbelief, because I can get into premises quite easily with nary a care. Each movie, each play, each show is allowed to create its own world, even if that world looks a good deal like ours. I’ll never understand Herc over at AICN, who easily accepts the vampires and demons world of Buffy The Vampire Slayer but can’t get over the fact that at the beginning of Prison Break, when Michael Scofield held up a bank just to get sent to prison and thus try to free his brother from death row, he just happens to get sent to the correct prison where his brother is incarcerated instead of the many other prisons in the Chicago area.

Get over it. It’s entertainment. It can do whatever the hell it wants.

Oh, and those of you who have issue with the title of the show itself, how it’s called Prison Break and yet after season 1 they were already broken out of prison, get over that too. It doesn’t matter to me one lick. I don’t get pissed when The Office moves outside of the office set and into other locations, so it really shouldn’t matter that in s2 Michael, Lincoln and the gang are racing across the country to get to a big pile of money, or in s4 that they are working with a Homeland Security agent to recover several missing pieces of a big information hub known as Scylla (which, while a badass name, has seemingly nothing to do with its ancient namesake).

Hell, the show could be called Dingy Ring A Dong Bong Sloops and I wouldn’t really care. (Well, I’d care just a little bit. That’s a sweet-ass name.) In other words, get over it. The show is still the show.

I’m going to be one of the few exceptions to popular opinion, but I thought that s3 of Dingy Ring A Dong Bong Sloops (formerly known as Prison Break) was pretty fucking awesome, and far better than s2. While s2 very slyly worked several disparate storylines as they bounced in and out of each other’s trajectories and upped the stakes, especially in regards to Lincoln’s frame job regarding the death of the Vice President’s brother, as well as Patricia Wettig’s rise to power as the President of the United States, some of the magic of the first season forget to break out with the gang. By the end, though, everything had become so intense that it was almost overwhelming, including the death or capture of at least six major characters.

We aint mopey, okay? You have a full-body tattoo lasered off and you tell me how it feels.

We ain't mopey, okay? You have a full-body tattoo lasered off and you tell me how it feels.

In the highly underrated third season, Michael, T-Bag, Bellick and Mahone end up stuck in a Panamanian prison (why? I was never completely certain), which acted as a sort of tropical Oz (as in that HBO prison show with all the race wars and the buttfucking, not that Judy Garland movie with all the race wars and the buttfucking). In this overheated hellhole, Bellick lost all power he ever had as a prison guard, Mahone nearly lost his soul after unintentionally weaning himself off of his crazy pills, T-Bag nearly became the lord of the prison and Michael…well…Michael has pretty much been the same character for four seasons now. But the political power struggle within the walls of the prison was top-notch thriller television, thanks especially to The Wire’s Robert Wisdom as the villainous Lechero (which sounds like the best villain name ever until you realize it means “milkman”). And the stuff on the outside was just as good, as Lincoln and Sucre battle Susan/Gretchen and her blackmail scheme to get her own man, Whistler, out of the same prison on a very strict deadline. It was a great mini-season, and it further proves the idea that more American television should limit their seasons to 10-13 episodes and then let another show take its spot in their opposite season (i.e. fall/spring and vice versa).

When s4 rolled around this year, however, I really wasn’t into it. The show had listened to the fans more than they listened to their brains and brought back Dr. Sara Tancredi as a love interest for Michael, even though she got her head cut off midway through s3. (The show’s explanation? Kind of lame.) It also decided, after some spectacular and out-of-the-ordinary location shooting for the first three seasons (the majority of the first three seasons were shot in the Chicago and Dallas areas as well as some extra Florida shooting), to finally film the show in and around Los Angeles, thus rendering the show a little bit less special.

I’ll be honest. For about five episodes I was surprised to find myself not having any interest in the team nor their task. While I like Michael Rapaport and still do, I found his Homeland Security agent Donald Self to exist completely outside of the PB universe and felt the actor wasn’t taking it seriously. I also, after years of defending the show’s out-there plot contrivances (as you have seen in this post), was not really accepting T-Bag’s personality shift as he takes on a false identity and begins working for a mysterious company that seems to have actually very little purpose. (How did he get this new identity? He followed the clues in Whistler’s bird book, which I also cannot entirely explain.) And no, I was not feeling the Michael/Sara romance.

But as the season progressed, and Gretchen was basically resurrected from the dead, I found myself once again a victim to the ticking clock thrills of this show, the inane plot twists, the remarkable amount of violence and the completely unbelievable amount of technological knowledge Michael seems to possess. Suddenly I didn’t care that Mahone had gone from a completely fucked-in-the-brain FBI agent and murderer to righteous mercenary, that Bellick had become a good guy, that Lincoln had suddenly grown a brain, and that T-Bag really was ready to become a better person. Frankly, it didn’t matter, because really cool shit was happening onscreen.

I think that’s how I can honestly describe most great episodes of PB – really cool shit happening onscreen. Self’s sudden shift from Homeland Security agent to traitorous dickbag? Cool shit happening onscreen. The team’s final break-in to retrieve the Scylla hub? Cool shit happening onscreen. Michael’s sudden brain disease that went unmentioned until this season? Well…not so cool.

Now that the fall season is done, what will happen next? I know the show is suffering in its ratings, and I feel that it can definitely and organically finish itself off this season, but I damn well want to know what’s going to happen to Michael and his recently-under-surgery brain, his thought-dead mother’s involvement with the mysterious Company, and if Lincoln is ever going to see his son again.

Dingy Ring A Dong Bong Sloops, you make me giggle with your absurdity. Why can’t people understand my love for you? I know Stephen King does as evidenced in an Entertainment Weekly column this year, and he too has a great deal of trouble explaining the show at times. Whatever. A thrill is a thrill, and if some logic is going to be lost to reach that thrill, then I’m all for it.

But please, make Michael just slightly less mopey. Please?