[Warning: This story contains spoilers for the season finale of Fox’s Prison Break revival.]
At long last, the odyssey of Michael Scofield (Wentworth Miller) is at an end.
The Prison Break limited series event drew to its conclusion with Tuesday’s season finale, which ended with Michael finally reunited with his family. It wasn’t an easy task, of course, involving seven years away from his wife Sara (Sarah Wayne Callies) and their son, the whole world believing him dead. But thanks to some long-game planning, a mobile frame job and even a murder or two, Michael is finally free for the first time in years — though even then, freedom comes at a price.
“Michael’s home but I don’t know if he’s at peace,” Wentworth Miller told The Hollywood Reporter about the season finale. “He’s been living a nightmare, for years, and now he’s back — back from the dead. He’s reunited with his loved ones, but I think he would be haunted for a long time. I think there’d be paranoia, insomnia, anxiety… maybe a lingering taste for darker things, illegal things. If there are new stories to tell, we could probably start there: with Michael’s not-so-smooth re-entry into civilian life.”
Indeed, Miller isn’t the only one wondering if there are more stories to tell about Michael Scofield. Despite envisioning the fifth season as a closed-ended story, Prison Break creator Paul Scheuring has started coming around to the idea that there may be another breakout in the future — just don’t expect it any time soon, and don’t expect it at all if Scheuring and his team can’t come up with the right idea. As he puts it: “There’s a zero percent chance of the show coming back if we don’t have a top-notch story.”
Here’s everything else Scheuring has to say about the Prison Break finale, including the return to the show’s Fox River roots, the dark direction for T-Bag (Robert Knepper) and the decision to kill the main antagonist Jacob Ness (Mark Feuerstein) off-screen.
Knowing that this was quite possibly the final Prison Break story ever told, what were your goals in how to bring the series in for a landing?
Mostly, the goal was to tell a rip-roaring and close-ended tale with a ton of action, a ton of emotion, and a ton of twists, filled with some brain-bending strategy. Like any great feature film — like an Indiana Jones or something — the movie itself is self-contained, but if there’s going to be a sequel, that can be its own self-contained thing afterwards. The intention for this season was to just really kill it for nine episodes, walk away, and then should conversations ever develop again about doing another season, we would consider that, and then in turn create another self-standing season. In other words, the idea of getting Michael to smile in the end and walk away with him happy… that wasn’t necessarily the endgame.
You have talked about how structurally, a lot of this season is inspired by The Odyssey. How did that story guide you in terms of the ending?
The main antagonist in The Odyssey, it turns out, are the suitors who were after Penelope. That’s what we wanted: Michael back in Ithaca, just as Odysseus went back to Ithaca, to confront that very powerful suitor. Michael outsmarts him, just as Odysseus outsmarted the suitors. It’s a happy ending in The Odyssey: This guy has been through so much shit. He’s been dragged across the Earth and screwed in so many ways. It would be nice for him to have a happy ending when he gets home, and he gets to relax. That was something that inspired us. But the idea wasn’t to have just a perfectly happy ending here. The idea on the page was Michael would have this moment where he’s very happy, but he keeps looking back over his shoulder. Sara says to him, “It’s okay! It’s over! You don’t have to look over your shoulder.” But he does anyhow. And you start to realize that while Michael is apparently free and clear, and the sun is shining, he’s brought back with him this extraordinary paranoia. He’ll never be the same man. A little bit of that got lost in translation as we were producing it, so that it plays a little bit more like a straight happy ending. A little bit of that nuance was left on the page.
Doesn’t he deserve a little bit of sunshine, though? This poor guy!
I agree, I agree. (Laughs.) The modern audience is so cynical and so savvy that they don’t really want to see that, so that’s why we ended it with a little nudge-nudge and wink-wink to Prison Break fans by going back to Fox River and seeing, well, there’s going to be a murder! (Laughs.)
Speaking of which, when was it decided that the show would end at Fox River — essentially the same place this series began so many years ago?
We copiously outlined this thing before we even wrote the first script. We knew what the first frames were and what the last frames were from the start. We thought it would be great to finish up at Fox River. That’s an iconic part of Prison Break, you know? It’s like seeing the Death Star again in Star Wars: “Hey, look! I remember that!”
T-Bag ends the series in Fox River as well. He earns a little bit of happiness this season when he finds that he has a son, Whip (Augustus Prew), and then that’s taken away from him.
Yeah, this more or less proves I’m a heartless son of a bitch. (Laughs.) Here’s the truth: If you’re going to do the show, you need to have T-Bag. If T-Bag isn’t in the show, it’s just not the same show. So what’s his storyline? Well, he can’t just be the bad guy who rapes and kills people and slinks around with his rubber hand and acts as a stooge. He needs to have a new, emotional, character-driven storyline. I thought about it and wondered what would happen if we brought him a family for the first time. That’s how we created the story of Whip. Michael needed some escape pals who were likable and who we rooted for, destinies they were moving toward that were a little bit mysterious. And I thought that would be a great idea, if Michael could reunite T-Bag with his son, with a single caveat attached: he has to kill the bad guy. The other thing about T-Bag is, if he’s reunited with Whip and everything’s rainbows and sunshine, and then we see him up the street with white picket fences and buttoned-up shirts, and they’re like, “Hey, Michael! We’re doing great!” That’s just not Prison Break. It’s not T-Bag.
That’s too much sunshine.
Yeah, it’s just not him. T-Bag can’t get there. He can’t get to that world. And the audience doesn’t want that. They would feel uncomfortable with it. What I wanted to do is get a glimmer of normal life and humanity for T-Bag. I wanted to see a part of his character that we’ve never seen before, and then kick that away from him. But also it creates the final motivation in that jail cell. I didn’t want to kill Jacob on screen, but I wanted to create a circumstance where you knew implicitly that Jacob was going to die as soon as the camera pointed away from him — that if he killed T-Bag’s son, there was no doubt once T-Bag had the chance to be alone with him that this man was dead.
In your mind, then, there’s no ambiguity here: T-Bag kills Jacob?
Yeah. Someone else asked me: “Well, we don’t see him die. And we don’t see Kellerman [Paul Adelstein] die…”
Oh, Kellerman’s dead. That was pretty definitive.
I agree. But here’s the thing: a lot of people have died on Prison Break in previous years, and they’re on this season. I know perhaps we don’t have the greatest currency that once we say someone is dead, they are really dead. But all of the people who were killed this season, we’re saying they’re dead. I mean that genuinely. We can infer that Jacob is definitely dead about 15 seconds after the final episode airs.
On the subject of death, you entered the finale with Lincoln’s (Dominic Purcell) life on the line. For a minute there, I actually thought he might be a goner. Was there ever a version of the finale where one of the brothers didn’t make it out of the season alive?
No. If you bring Michael back to life at the beginning of the season, only to kill him at the end of the season, it’s like, what the hell? He’s dead at the beginning and he’s dead at the end? Thanks! And if we brought Michael back to life, just to kill off Lincoln? No, we couldn’t do that. That was never the intention. But the intention was to kill a lot of people along the way.
You brought the Abruzzi family back into the Prison Break universe this season. How tempted were you to create a character who was John Abruzzi’s twin brother, if only so you could have Peter Stormare back on the show?
Oh, I would die to have Stormare back. But that would have felt a little bit… (Pauses.) You know, that’s actually not a bad idea. (Big laugh.) Oh, man. Season six! You cracked it!
The fact that we’re even joking about season six… you entered this year of Prison Break with a mind toward a closed-ended story. The season resonated with longtime fans of the series. Can you seriously imagine a sixth season?
There’s a zero percent chance of the show coming back if we don’t have a top-notch story. Right now, we don’t have that story. That’s not to say we can’t find it. But we’re not going to make the show in perpetuity because we want to. We want it to be of very high value and high quality. Right now, the creative powers that be don’t have that answer. So it may never come back. I’m not being coy. I hold the quality standard very high. If we can’t get something that doesn’t in some way feel new and different, then we’re not doing it. That’s difficult when you have a very singular conceit like Prison Break. You have to get out of prison! So what prison is it now? So, it’s tough. I would be open to it, but only if we can find a story that’s going to knock your socks off.
What did you think of the Prison Break season finale? Are you hoping for a sixth season? Sound off in the comments below with your suggestions for where things could go next.