A couple of weeks ago, when Prison Break screened its final episodes (“Rate of Exchange“/“Killing Your Number“), I questioned if the series had a further story to tell in its encore extra episodes, “The Old Ball and Chain” and “Free”, collectively known as “The Final Break”. Having caught “The Final Break” in the UK, the answer is a startling YES!
“The Final Break” is a standalone double episode of Prison Break that aims to explain what actually happened to Michael Scofield (Wentworth Miller) and how he died. In essence these encore episodes fill in the gap that episode 22 “Killing Your Number” might have left unanswered. “The Final Break” focuses on a completely different storyline, as The Company was already taken down in the previously aired episodes. Hence this extra episode sets up an entirely new storyline and plot, with a whole new motivation for the hero thrown in.
“The Final Break” starts off with Michael Scofield and Sara Tancredi (Sarah Wayne Callies) getting married, but at their reception, Sara is arrested for the murder of Christina Scofield (known as Christina Hampton in the real world) because there is video footage of her shooting Scofield’s mother. Strangely enough, the cameras don’t show Scofield being shot at by his mother before Sara defends him. Also strange is the fact that Sara was given immunity and we saw her sign the papers in “Killing Your Number” and yet no explanation was given as to why she was arrested.
Nonetheless, this leads to a whole new setup, the Miami Dade Women’s Penitentiary which, due to budget cuts and overcrowding, also houses the jail for alleged criminals awaiting trial such as Sara. It’s in this new setting that “The Final Break” spends some time establishing the cold and corrupt ambiance that seems to permeate the prisons of America, according to this show. Just as it did with Fox River in season one, we see the cruelty and crooked shenanigans that go on in this prison through an inmate‘s eyes, but this time the inmate is Sarah and it’s through her eyes that we experience this new prison.
Sara gets punched and slapped around by the guards who recognize that she was the doctor from Fox River who left the door open for Scofield, and apparently that caused a lot of their fellow prison guards to be fired or put on probation. Just like Scofield, Sara finds out that in prison you need “protection” and she decides to get branded by Daddy (Lori Petty), who runs a “family” at this prison and who takes care of all her charges. However, the General, who resides in the male penitentiary next door, reads in the papers that Sara is in custody, and he sends word to Gretchen (Jodi Lyn O’Keefe), who is in the same prison as Sara, to kill her. Sara ends up being poisoned but survives.
Meanwhile a helpless Scofield tries to talk to Sara’s warden about transferring her somewhere safer, and he also tries to talk to the General about exchanging his life for Sara‘s, but both conversations yield no results. So Scofield, knowing that Sara has a hit on her and won't survive long in that prison, decides he has no choice but to stage a prison breakout.
Elsewhere, Mahone (William Fichtner) is given an offer by the head of the FBI — should he be willing to spy on Scofield and gang, and report everything to an FBI field officer, Mahone will be given his job back. Mahone takes the offer and hooks up with Scofield, Lincoln (Dominic Purcell), and Sucre (Amaury Nolasco) to discuss how they are going to break Sara out, all the while snitching on them to the FBI officer.
The gang go through the usual planning, and realise there is a blind spot somewhere within the prison grounds. However, after getting word to Sara about the blind spot, Scofield discovers that the FBI field officer, having discovered the plan courtesy of the tip from Mahone, has had the cameras repositioned to capture the entire area, leaving no blind spot uncovered. As a result, Scofield and gang come up with another solution — to parachute into the vicinity.
Sara meanwhile finds her protection gone, as Daddy gets taken away to solitary, thanks to Gretchen sexually bribing a guard into searching and possibly planting some blow in Daddy’s cell. That leaves Sara with no choice but to partner up with Gretchen who tells her that instead of killing her, she wants to escape with her. Gretchen also ends up killing the girl whom the General hired to murder Sara, thereby giving Sara another reason to include Gretchen in the escape.
With this new plan that Scofield and gang have involving parachuting into the prison yard, the gang gets in touch with T-Bag (Robert Knepper) and offers him money to start a fire in his cell thereby setting the alarms off. T-Bag tells the gang he wants more money, and that the General’s henchman has a hundred grand in his possession, setting Sucre and Lincoln off to steal the money.
The gang then executes the plan, and we learn that Mahone had come clean to Scofield earlier and together they had come up with the idea of using a decoy in the parachute while Scofield was to hide under the FBI field agent’s car, and get into the prison vicinity that way, which is exactly what Scofield ends up doing. Meanwhile Gretchen and Sara overpower a guard, steal her keys, and try to get to the chapel where Scofield is to meet Sara. However, Gretchen gets caught, but decides not to tell on Sara, and Sara remains undetected. Scofield then finds Sara at the appointed place.
Scofield explains that he expected T-Bag to rat on them and so was counting on the authorities shutting off the alarm instead (the reverse of what T-Bag was supposed to do), which was what Scofield needed so that he could use a flaming device to pry open a sealed door. Together, the couple manage to go underground to the one sealed doorway that leads to the outside. However, Scofield’s makeshift card that he had put together earlier doesn’t work in unlocking this door, leaving him the only choice of pulling on live wires and connecting them. Knowing that this act would end in himself being electrocuted, the lovers bid a fast farewell and Scofield tells Sara to run as soon as he connects the two wires. Scofield does the deed, and Sara runs out to a waiting Lincoln, Mahone, and Sucre.
Lincoln is perplexed as to where his brother is, and Mahone, who knew what Scofield had intended to do all along, tells Lincoln that his brother is never coming back, and is gone. The gang then flee in disbelief.
Mahone, whom Scofield had entrusted with some paperwork and a DVD, gives what turns out to be a copy of Scofield’s blood work to Sara, and it’s discovered that Scofield’s tumour had returned. Meanwhile, Sophia manages to arrange for passage to Costa Rica where Sara is able to live with her baby and Lincoln freely. Sucre gives the money that he had stolen from the General’s henchman to Sara, and Mahone gives the DVD to Lincoln, and with that, both Sucre and Mahone say their goodbyes and leave.
The final scene is of Lincoln and Sara on a boat, heading to freedom, watching the DVD of Scofield explaining to them that he didn’t have much time because of the tumour returning, and that he doesn’t regret sacrificing his life for his wife and child. He also advises them to take care of each other, and asks them to tell his child that they are all now truly free. The series ends on this note.
After the barrage of nonsensical, over-stretched, and thin episodes that made up much of season four, one would not have held their breath expecting this encore of double episodes to be any better. Surprisingly, “The Final Break” was exciting and well paced, taking into consideration that it was Sara who was in prison this time, and not Scofield, thereby limiting how much he could do from the outside and so the tactics and maneuvers were somewhat restricted. For that reason, whilst “The Final Break” was a lot like the brilliant first season of Prison Break, it was a slower and more laid back version. However, a lot of things happened in the combined 80-plus minutes that held one’s attention, and provided for some intrigue and twists too.
Unlike some of the absurd storylines and plots that the audience have been subjected to in the past as far as this series is concerned, “The Final Break” also had plot holes, but they weren’t irritating and obvious, since the action and story were solid enough to mask these. Also, unlike some of the past episodes, “The Final Break” made each and every scene useful and purposeful to the story, and it didn’t feel like the writers were just filling in space and time.
All in all, this episode was thrilling enough, moved with a good pace, and had a solid story. It was not as exceptional as season one, but it came as close to it as possible at this juncture of the game. With the story already being stretched as far as it can go, and with Scofield being on the outside, thereby limiting his antics, and with the same faces planning and orchestrating as we’ve seen over the last season, and with nothing new being able to be portrayed in the women’s prison that we’ve not seen in Fox River, and with only two episodes to fit all this into, it should be said that “The Final Break” did indeed achieve a lot in terms of quality storytelling.
The episode also had a fair amount of twists and turns and managed to hold some surprises for the audience. Gretchen refusing to tell on Sara was one such surprise, and Scofield using the FBI field agent’s car to get into the compound was another, and expecting T-Bag to do the opposite of what was asked, thereby allowing Scofield access to use the flaming device, was an unpredictable twist as well.
However, this episode is not without some criticism. The two leads, Wentworth Miller and Sarah Wayne Callies, were never able to show any chemistry or emotional connection towards each other on screen, and that made the relationship between Michael Scofield and Sara Tancredi cold, passionless, and unconvincing. The problem is that the driving storyline of “Final Break” leads to Scofield sacrificing his life because he loved his wife Sara that much (and his unborn baby as well) to do so. Whilst the audience is able to intellectually understand that Scofield and Sara love each other by way of them saying those words to each other every so often, physically and emotionally it is hard to buy that this couple was that connected to sacrifice their lives for each other!
Simply having characters mouth the word “love” doesn’t make the audience believe that they are in love when the chemistry simply isn’t there, and the emotional connection seems non-existent. A husband dying for a wife requires the kind of intense passion and feeling between the two to make it convincing and believable, and in this case the couple didn’t have anything close to that and so the intended depth of Scofield’s sacrifice didn’t quite translate from the screen onto the audience. It’s a shame that there wasn’t more effort on the part of the writers and/or the actors to portray this relationship more convincingly, otherwise Scofield’s sacrifice would’ve been even more explosive and impacting than it was.
Also, the final scene between Sara and Scofield, where he tells her that he’s not going to survive connecting the live wires, and Sara leaves her husband to carry out his plan without any qualms that her husband is going to be killed, all the more portrays their relationship as unrealistic. There wasn’t any sense of desperation and anguish in that scene at all, whereas any newly married husband and wife would have been clinging to each other, in utter despondency, in such a dire situation. A wife who’s in love with her husband wouldn’t leave her husband to die so easily without at least attempting to talk him out of such a sacrifice, or at least showing some gut-aching devastation and anguish at his decision. Also, a loving couple wouldn’t handle a last goodbye and last kiss the way Scofield and Sara did, with such a lack of peril and agony.
Actually, Scofield (and by extension perhaps Wentworth Miller) had better chemistry and a more palpable connection with his brother Lincoln and even with his friend Sucre than with Sara, and perhaps a better alternative would’ve been to have him sacrifice his life for his brother instead, which would‘ve made for a much more convincing and cogent scenario.
In fact, the entire final scene between Scofield and Sara was so unconvincing that when Sara ran out, with that unchanged shocked look plastered on her face, one had to wonder if she really understood what her husband meant — that he was going to kill himself! Sara left Scofield so fast, without much persuasion, or any sense of grief or distress, almost like she was leaving a man she liked a bit and had a one night stand with, and not someone she supposedly loved and who was her spouse!
Also a point of contention is the “coded speech” with which Scofield speaks to Sara. There are times that Scofield seems to not explain things properly, and yet we are supposed to believe that Sara understands him. For example, he hinted around in the last episode that they could start anew somewhere, and Sara seemed to know that he was indicating that he knew about her pregnancy, when the relationship between what he actually said and what he supposedly meant was weak, and the words “I know you’re carrying my child” never actually came out of his mouth. In this episode, Scofield didn’t really explain that he was going to kill himself either and yet Sara is supposed to have understood him? Like Scofield said in his last piece of dialogue, he (or the writers, in other words) spoke too much in code, and it’s just not believable that Sara was able to understand what he meant during those times.
Having said that though, Scofield’s death was absolutely heartbreaking and gripping. We saw Scofield tearing out the wires, and trying to put them together, but then we were given another perspective, and we experienced Scofield’s actual death through the eyes of Sara and Lincoln instead. Granting us the perspective of the two people who loved Scofield the most, instead of showing us Scofield’s perspective of his own death, made the audience feel Lincoln and Sara’s sorrow and misery even more acutely.
By focusing the closing shot on the shut door that enclosed Scofield, and with befitting music, the audience was made to feel the separation between the rest of the gang and Scofield, both physically and spiritually. In that sense keeping the shot on the door just made the audience effectively feel the bereavement that Lincoln and Sara would’ve felt because we were also separated from Scofield and we couldn’t see him either, other than to know he lay somewhere behind that door, and much like the mourning characters, we also knew we’d never see him again.
Also, the closed door symbolized the closure of Scofield, the end of his life, and it also showed that he had come full circle from his start with a shut door in season one by way of his incarceration in Fox River. The door also represented the hopelessness that Lincoln felt as he stared at the door; the hopelessness of no longer being able to save his brother from his fatal end. Hence that scene – Scofield’s death scene – delivered a strong heartbreaking and highly emotive connection to the audience, and it managed to do so without much dialogue at all, with just the simple connotation of the shut door, and suitable music.
It has to be said though that that scene would’ve been so much more effective if Dominic Purcell and Sarah Wayne Callies had more range and versatility to bring out the magnitude of anguish and sorrowfulness that one would expect when a brother or husband dies so unexpectedly. Instead, for that scene, we got Callies with an unchanging, lackluster look of shock and Purcell did not show enough torment at all (both at hearing of Scofield‘s death and even after when he‘s questioning why his brother didn‘t tell him about his plans). If both these thespians were better at their craft, that scene would’ve been even more wrenching than it was.
Another actress who needs to better her craft is Jodi Lyn O’Keefe, who played Gretchen in a hammed up, over the top way, that made her character unconvincing and cartoonish at best. O’Keefe over-dramatized and over-acted in such an animated fashion that Gretchen ended up as a character that was hard to believe, and hard to swallow.
However, the acting wasn’t of poor quality for every character on the show. Lori Petty (yes, she’s the girl who romanced Keanu Reeves in Point Break) made a dramatic entrance as Daddy, the female inmate who has masculine qualities and has her own “family” in the prison that Sara’s kept in. Petty practically stole every scene she was in, and very easily upstaged Callies (who only seemed to have one expression and spent most of this episode looking at the floor as her one sole acting technique to show fear!). Where Callies brought nothing to her role, Petty brought different subtleties and layers to her performance, and completely overshadowed and took the focus off Callies every time the two of them shared screen space together. Petty proved that very much like William Fichtner, she too effortlessly took the limelight away from the leading stars with her amazing acting technique.
Even Wentworth Miller, whose acting has been regularly bemoaned because of his expressionless face and an over-reliance on brooding and whispering as his main acting technique, finished off this episode with a final scene that he pretty much carried on his own. Whilst Miller still portrayed Scofield in much of this episode rather flatly, by unnecessarily whispering the dialogue at times, and practically over-brooding at every emotional upheaval his character faced, in the last two minutes he delivered the best performance he has ever given in the course of the four years that the show has been on.
Miller talked directly to the camera as Scofield delivered his final words to Sara and Lincoln, and the actor was able to bring in various tiers to both his delivery of the dialogue and his expressions. It’s a shame that Miller seems to have stepped away from acting in pursuit of modeling work in the Far East because that final scene of Prison Break belonged to him!
Also, because of Miller‘s dramatic fluidity and expressiveness in that last performance, the audience is better able to feel the discernible sentiments his character carried at that point. In essence that last scene effectively gripped at the audience’s heartstrings because Miller carried that scene with much aplomb and ability, and also because he was so believable, he compellingly left us with a Scofield who was both melancholic, and yet hopeful. And we didn’t just hear his words, we felt them!
Above all, “The Final Break” proved that Prison Break was back to being fun, fun, fun — something that it used to be but somehow lacked in recent seasons. After enduring unfocused and weak storytelling that made up the other seasons (after an exhilarating first season), “The Final Break” was arousing and moving at the same time, thereby giving this show the perfect send-off into television graveyard land. After the tedious, over-extended, and repetitive season four, it seemed like Prison Break was going to whimper out and fade into oblivion but this encore episode allows the series to end on a high note instead as “The Final Break“ is the best the show has been in a very, very long time!
But alas, the time has come to close the curtain on this series, because admittedly the show has run its course, it has told all the tales it could possibly drum up, and while it proved that it had one more final, splendid story to tell in this episode, and we are glad to have witnessed this last fable, the show is now left empty and dry and it’s time to say goodbye.
So I guess in a way, having enjoyed some wonderful episodes, having tolerated a lot of lousy ones, and being able to finish off on a sweetly amazing encore, this is the perfect time and place to walk away from Prison Break because, to quote Scofield, “We're free now… finally… we’re free!"