Prison Break primer: Your questions answered
Nathanael Smith | On 08, Apr 2017
In 2017, eight years after Prison Break ended, Fox launched a fifth season of the hit show that brought back all the familiar characters for a new adventure. With such a long time since the original series became one of the original binge-thrillers, so here’s a primer on everything you need to know about the jail-busting drama.
What was the original series of Prison Break about?
As the title suggests, Season 1 of Prison Break was about, well, breaking out of prison. Michael Scofield, architect, polymath and problem-solver, gets himself put into a high security prison in order to break Lincoln Burrows, his wrongfully accused brother, out of it. In an act of self-emancipation so ambitious it would make Andy Dufresne weep, Michael has tattooed the blueprints of the prison onto his body in order to plan his way to freedom. Meanwhile, he falls for the infirmary doctor, Sara, and has to befriend some of the prison’s roughest inmates.
Was it any good?
Yes. Arriving before peak Golden Age TV, Season 1 of Prison Break didn’t quite have the emotional complexity or character depth of some of the small screen’s more celebrated titles, but damn if it wasn’t compelling. There was an underlying sense in every episode that the entire premise was utterly daft, but that never once stopped you being gripped by the escalating drama. Every scene pulsed with a sweaty tension, as they got closer to their goal and the intricacies of Michael’s plan unfolded. Add in the threat of Bellick, your standard mean-ol-prison-guard, and you had something that thrilled with every single episode.
And then Season 2 happened.
Did it stay good?
No. Part of the problem was that the concept of the show clearly only extended to one season. After that, the tattoos lost their relevance and the core conceit was compromised. It became about the Fox River Eight being on the run, which was just a lot less interesting. The one continuation they had from the first season was a hokey conspiracy featuring “The Company” and corrupt politicians wanting to take Lincoln down. It was the weakest element of the first season, but it was all they had to go on in the second, so it quickly got messy and burdened by the weight of its conspiracies. Many viewers tuned out at this point, especially as the ending took us back to Panama, the silliness outweighing the thrills.
Who are the characters we need to know?
Season 5 has brought back a large array of the original characters, including Michael (more on that below), played by Stoker screenwriter Wentworth Miller, Lincoln Burrows (straight-to-DVD stalwart Dominic Purcell), and Sara, who is brought to life by Sarah Wayne Callies, who once upon a time was in the Walking Dead.
Also returning are Rockmond Dunbar’s C-Note and Sucre, played by Amaury Nolasco, two of the more dependable and friendly prisoners from the first season. They’re reluctantly dragged back into the mess, but that’s good news for the viewers, as both are warm and engaging screen presences.
Then, there’s T-Bag. That’s right: T-Bag. Robert Knepper’s white supremacist paedophile was always a queasily dynamic character, but hammy to the extreme. Perhaps the showrunners should have cut him out, but he may yet end up playing a vital role in the new season. Finally, there is Paul Adelstein’s company man Kellerman, proving that the show is really reluctant to severe its ties with everything that’s gone before.
How can there be a new season, if… [Spoilers]?
Warning: This bit contains spoilers for Season 4.
Yep, Michael dies of a terminal illness at the end of season four, yet he was one of the first people cast for this new season. What gives? Well, you can bet that the writers of this famously knotty show have an answer. Equally dependable is that they probably aren’t going to tell you what that answer is for a long, long time.
Can I watch Season 5 if I haven’t seen the rest of Prison Break?
Much of Season 5 is rooted in the past of the characters, but it does also function as a standalone adventure, with a new problem and, yep, a new prison. You might have some issues picking up on minor plot points but, on the whole, you should be able to follow what’s happening.
Where can I buy or rent the previous seasons of Prison Break?
Season 1 to 4 of Prison Break are on Amazon Prime Video and Netflix UK, along with Season 5.
Why does this new season exist?
Prison Break is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription. It is also available on Disney+, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription or a £79.99 yearly subscription.