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TV Review: Prison Break – “Blow Out” Saved by William Fichtner’s Acting

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Prison Break returned this week with the episode “Blow Out,” which proved to be another fun-filled episode to watch. What it lacked in sensibility in terms of plot, especially in an elaborate but thoroughly unnecessary starting sequence, this episode made up for in terms of the enjoyment factor. That has always been the saving grace for Prison Break.

Part of the reason for incorporating such intricate but pointless plot sequences is probably to keep the audience interested in the program, which in this case was served well. However, one gets the impression that another reason for the use of such complex set-ups in the pre-credit scene is also to occupy some of the regular cast who are at this point rather redundant to the story and serve no purpose in being in the narrative any longer.

For example, Sucre’s (Amaury Nolasco) only role in the starting sequence was to run and tell Security that a ruckus was forming in the lobby, a task that surely Lincoln or Scofield could’ve easily mastered. In the courtroom we see Sucre again in another purposeless role as he simply does a countdown on his cellular to Scofield. Bellick (Wade Williams) and Glenn (the Asian hacker played by James Liao) don’t even have any significant part to play in this court room scene, and Sara (Sarah Wayne Callies) seems to be doing nothing indispensable other than reminding us that she’s Scofield’s new love and is capable of womanly charms if needed (it was needed for the first time only in this episode). Her whole purpose seems to be to serve Scofield emotionally, and nothing much thereafter. Some of the regular characters are dead weight to the series, superfluous, and easily expendable in fact. Perhaps it’s about time Prison Break streamlined its regular cast, in order to give more presence and substance to the ones remaining, thereby strengthening and tightening the entire program.

In this episode, Scofield (Wentworth Miller) and his gang obtain their next Scylla card copy within the first five minutes of the start of the show. The rest of the episode rests on the gang getting Mahone (William Fichtner) out of jail, while Gretchen’s (Jodi Lyn O'Keefe) past is revealed to us. Meanwhile, T-Bag (Robert Knepper) gets his employers suspicious and begins his run from them.

This episode, albeit an enjoyable one, served to showcase one of the more blaring downfalls of this series — the mediocre acting. The only one who manages to put on a superior acting exercise every time he’s in front of the camera is William Fichtner, who plays Alex Mahone. Fichtner doesn’t just embody his character when he has lines that need to be delivered, but he becomes this character even when he’s in the background contemplating or listening to the other characters engage. That is a true mark of a thespian of high caliber. Fichtner also has the ability to emote and show expressively what his character is feeling with the right amount of nuance and color. Sadly, having Fichtner in scenes with the other actors, notably Wentworth Miller, only makes it glaringly obvious that Miller doesn’t really have the talent to stand up to Fichtner’s remarkable acting prowess in their scenes together.

It’s not that Miller is a bad actor. He isn’t. It’s just that Miller is an average TV actor. He doesn’t have miles on his range of portraying emotions and displaying facial expressions; instead he only has centimeters of range to offer instead. As noted before, Miller commands the screen beautifully when he plays anger or sadness, it's the in-between ordinary moments that he has trouble expressing effectively enough.

For the most part in this episode, Miller isn’t able to add any layers or color to Scofield being conflicted over getting Mahone out of jail or leaving him to rot in there (which would have been the perfect opportunity for any able thespian to show their range and color their performance) or even when Scofield talks to Mahone on the phone and is asked to do a favor. All we get from Miller are bland, two-note expressions, which to a certain degree is fine for television acting; however, next to someone as formidable as Fichtner, it makes Miller stand out all the more as an actor who is impaired by his own finite ability.

Having said that though, in some episodes of season three, Miller did endeavor to showcase better acting as he infused more layering into Scofield’s “ordinary” moments, with subtle but varied facial expressions. In this season, and in particular this episode, he seems to have lost either the ability to do what he did in the past, or the inclination to do so anymore. Either way, Miller came across as noticeably “ordinary” next to Fichtner this week.

It has to be noted that it's just his luck (and Miller's bad luck) that Dominic Purcell (who plays Lincoln) never found himself interacting with Fichtner's character in this episode, as Purcell would've found it even more difficult than Miller to match Fichtner's stature as an actor. It is to Fichtner's credit that he stands out week after week, head and shoulders above the two main leads of this series, since it's so rare to find a supporting actor in a television program stealing the show (and thunder) from the main stars.

Another actor who also was struggling this week in this episode was Jodi Lyn O’Keefe, who portrays Gretchen Morgan. Where Miller is an average TV actor capable of sometimes exceptional performances, O’Keefe has always been the over-acting, scenery-chewing actress who falls far below the average standard of TV acting.
O’Keefe plays some scenes in a standard acceptable fashion, and other times she plays  in an over-exaggerated, over the top, cringe-worthy way. In this episode though, her character Gretchen is given some emotional depth by introducing a daughter and sister into her story. Given O’Keefe’s strong limitations in the acting department, adding this additional scope to the character only served to burden the actress playing her and enhance the fact that this actress doesn’t have the nuance, subtlety, or capability to play such a multi-dimensional character. O’Keefe was thus not able to deliver in the soft toned scenes convincingly at all.

It is tough work playing a wicked person who also has a softer emotional side, so most actors and actresses would’ve struggled with such complexities anyway, but to throw such a challenge onto someone like O’Keefe who has such constraints in her craft just seems unfair and unreasonable. If Prison Break scribes want to add complexity and depth, they should do it with the Mahone character, because the actor playing that character is more than capable of handling such a challenge. O’Keefe isn’t capable of such a task. Hence Gretchen should be kept as simple and uncomplicated as possible.

Since this episode relied on Mahone, and by extension Fichtner, this week’s Prison Break was not only fun to watch, but we also got the added thrill of seeing an outstanding performance as well. It's a pity that unfortunately that performance didn’t come from the main stars of this show.

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About Sharmila Melissa Yogalingam

Ex-professor, Ex-phd student, current freelance critic, writer and filmmaker.
  • SS

    Wentworth is a great actor.

  • alexis

    Wentworth does everything perfectly except portray a vaguely recognizable human emotion. Fichtner owns this show.

  • Erin

    Wow! So true, you nailed it. Fichtner is, imho, the best actor on TV right now. So irritating how such a terrific actor can be stuck in such a mediocre show. I’m crossing my fingers for his upcoming project, ‘Night and Day’.
    Really dug into those other actors, though, didn’t you? I probably won’t be passing this article on to more mainstream PB fans. Oh, it’s true, it’s all true… I just don’t think they’d appreciate it very much. 😛

  • Darlington

    Wish Scofied was a girl,would have marry her,love d guy 2 pieces,keep it up.

  • David

    Love scofied,linc,mahone,those guys are d best,keep it up

  • Carolin frome Germany

    Great writing,soo true!!!
    Fichtner really steals the show from the others.
    It´s really sad that such a great actor only plays the supporting roles and was so unknown in the past. But now with PB he showed his talent to a bigger audience. I´m looking forward to his own new series.

    And the part about Jodi Lyn O´keefe is so true too. Her role is just annoying and i´m always moaning when she emerges. I wonder why she´s not yet shot. 😉

  • stewat

    Darlington u big puff holly shit man us daftys must love this sit program man it shite man pb haters lol u wankers this is a waste of time this program