Prison Break finale – disappointment

The tattooed backside of the main character is one of the most powerful devices in all of television Prison Break was a show that I watched with some hesitation.  There was something about the premise that did not sit well with me.  I mean, there’s only so much one can do within a prison unless the plan is to let the characters escape at some point.  Turns out that was part of the plan, with the second season’s focus on their escaping to another country.  The real focus of the show was on Michael Scofield’s, the main character, being a mastermind who was able to plan out each step of the break and even the run – and how he overcomes the obstacles and changes in plan.  It was brilliant!  Then came the third season…which was less so.  I honestly stopped trying to keep up until the start of Season 4.

Season 4 began with another form of imprisonment, except that they were free to come and go from their warehouse but they were still trapped.  They had to fight the Company, who initially framed Lincoln Burroughs for killing the Vice President’s brother – which led to Michael Scofield’s getting himself put in prison to break his brother out.  I thought it was pretty brilliant, using the mind of Scofield against the Company and forcing the prisoners to work together to topple an evil regime.

The show started to weaken some when Michael started developing nosebleeds.  You see, Mike and Linc’s mother got similar nosebleeds before her brain aneurysm and subsequent death.  Never mind that it was established in previous seasons that she died of liver cancer – her brilliant mind exploded!  Michael faced the same fate.  Then the Company captures Michael and puts Lincoln in the position of his savior.  Lincoln could work for the Company to get Scylla (the McGuffin) back in exchange for a special surgery that would save Michael’s life.  Easy choice for Lincoln.

At this point the series devolved into a series of plot twists rather than actually reasonable stories.  Michael and Lincoln’s mother is actually alive and works for the Company, but she was trusted enough for a key to Scylla.  That does not bother her because she’s crazy and would willingly use Scylla to plunge the war into a virtual holocaust so long as she is able to make a profit off of it.  By the way, she was also successfully saved by the special surgery offered by the Company, but she had to leave them to work full time.  Oh yeah, and she’s not Lincoln’s mother, so she’s willing to let him die.  And Scofield’s girlfriend, Sarah Tancredi, is pregnant with his  child.  His mother is easily able to figure this out before anyone and use it as psychological leverage against the girl.  And then Michael gets Scylla back into his possession, but at this point everyone is held at gunpoint.  He decides he can save everyone.

I would love to have seen an advertisement campaign featuring these posters all over phone poles and beside buildings.  Maybe when they reboot the show in 20 years they'll make use of my idea.And he does, with the use of Agent Kellerman, presumed dead by most (not me) at the end of Season 2.  Kellerman, the former villain, emerges as a deus ex machina of sorts to save the day and offer Michael a third option for Scylla – the United Nations.  Leading to that, though, the General needs to be subdued by the two surviving minority characters who had fallen off of the screen for several episodes (literally, seasons for one character) and Michael’s mother needs to die.  In a move that I’m sure Freud would find interesting in analysis, Michael could not kill his mother (misfire) but his girlfriend willingly took the shot.  The prisoners are all exonerated after having brought about a relative peace in the world, and everyone returns home to their loved ones.  Michael and Sarah walk on the beach – and then Michael’s nose bleeds.

Five years later, we find out that Michael didn’t make it very long after the end of their ordeal.  The special brain surgery did not take.  That’s OK, because all of the surviving members visit his grave on his birthday, even characters who weren’t that close to him (Alex Mahone, probably the coolest character on the whole show).  With the show’s premise of a mastermind working through his plan against all odds having devolved into a twist of the week sensationalist disaster, the only way to end the series with any sort of lasting impact was to have the main character die.  This was cheap writing.

I would like for this show to serve as an example for succinct writing and seriously working within the original plans.  When a show is extended beyond its original premise, everything spirals out of control.  With pretty much everything planned from the beginning, the first two seasons were absolutely brilliant.  Seasons 3 and 4 had great ideas that got squandered because the writers were forced to make it up as they went along.  There were three elements present in the last two seasons that I was most disappointed in their failing to explore:

  1. The evolution of Theodore Bagwell from the sexually deviant and reprehensibly violent offender T-Bag to an actual human being with values and a drive to live a normal life.  Bagwell got so many humanizing moments in Season 4 that one can’t help but wonder how rushed the writers were in the end when he devolved into wretched lackey who was too dumb to know that he was being used and would ultimately be disposed.
  2. The redemption of Gretchen Morgan.  She started off as an Taylor Vaughn from She's All That - oh yeah evil killer who would offer no mercy and showed herself to be part of something outside of her control.  All she wanted was to someday return to her daughter – who sadly believes Gretchen is her aunt and not her mother, because the girl’s actual aunt is raising her to keep her safe from…everyone, really.  Gretchen’s last scene, after fully showing that she’s working for the good guys, has her bleeding to death on the ground – with no indication that she was taken into police custody and hospitalized or simple left for dead.  I may be the only one who cares anyway, because I have a fascination with and attraction to Jodi Lyn O’Keefe.
  3. Michael Scofield is a cold blooded killer no better than his mother.  It began with the removal of a screw that led to a man’s being crushed to death.  Later, Michael showed no remorse for having basically bashed a man’s brains in.  Ultimately, he has no problem with attacking his own mother with bombs and bullets.  The character was interesting and Batman-like when he employed a no kill policy, so his becoming that which he looked down upon should have become a more major plot point.  The exploration of what desperation can make a person do would have been compelling television with lasting value.  This would have been amazing when juxtaposed with the evolution of former killer T-Bag!  And yet they let it go, and even the character of Michael Scofield does not have to live with the man he has become.  That makes for so much squandered potential.

Prison Break is a show that I believe is worth watching, but only the first two seasons.  There is no way to ignore the presence of the later seasons, but those are definitely not recommended viewing.  The next time I watch the show, I’m going to pretend that in the end of the second season Michael and Sarah managed to get away and be free.  No surprise twists, no rewritten histories, and no sudden deaths that should have been avoided thanks to assured competency.  The end.

About Gospel X

Media commentator who tries not to waste time - and often fails

Posted on May 18, 2009, in television. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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