‘Prison Break’ Returns, Michael Scofield Isn’t Dead

Just when you thought it was safe to go back to prison, FOX is unleashing a new season of Prison Break this Tuesday, eight years after the series finale and subsequent TV-Movie wrap-up. And while Wentworth Miller’s Michael Scofield inconveniently passed away in The Final Break, the new season wastes little time telling us that he’s still alive. How and why remains to be seen, but this premiere episode is long on setup and short on answers.

If you watched Prison Break from the very beginning, there are definitely some callbacks to the early days. That means you can look forward to some murderous secret agents and conspiracies that don’t make much sense. But that’s easier to deal with than the characters who barely resemble their previous selves. Lincoln Burrows and Sara Tancredi-Scofield are largely spared from wholesale changes, but the alterations to T-Bag and C-Note are so numerous that they’re almost completely different people. C-Note’s new life seems to have been chosen only so that he would be in a position to help Lincoln. However, C-Note never had much of an emotional connection to either brother, so it doesn’t feel like a natural choice for him to get so involved with this.

That’s nothing compared to the mess that T-Bag brings to the table. Robert Knepper has been TV’s go-to psycho for the better part of a decade, thanks in large part to his role on the original Prison Break. It’s understandable why the producers would want to bring him back, but the premiere strains all credibility by not only springing T-Bag from jail, but also by putting him in the same room with Lincoln without the pair coming to blows. T-Bag was never on good terms with the brothers, so the initial puzzle and his willingness to cooperate feels incredibly forced and false. And that’s before the premiere takes T-Bag into an unlikely new direction that’s one Prison Break has never gone into before… and all because John Abruzzi grabbed an axe a decade ago.

Unlike the original Prison Break seasons, it’s Dominic Purcell’s Lincoln who carries the narrative here, and he’s the best part of the episode. The brotherly bond between Lincoln and Michael was always one of the show’s strengths, and that’s why Lincoln’s dangerous plans to search for his brother at least feel like something that he would do. While the premiere ignores the fact that Lincoln has his own family, it does reveal that he’s regressed in the years since the series ended. In a way, saving Michael is also Lincoln’s way of saving himself.

The premiere also touches upon some tension between Lincoln and Sara over her life choices, but it doesn’t really follow up on that before setting the story in motion. It does look like Sara is going to be actively involved, even if she doesn’t accompany Lincoln on his search. It’s a little strange to see Sarah Wayne Callies reinhabit the role after her stints on The Walking Dead and Colony, but Sara seems like an easy character for her to slip back into. And unlike Lincoln, Sara hasn’t lost the edge she had in the fourth season.

By the time that Lincoln finally gets underway with his search for Michael, he proves that Purcell’s Legends of Tomorrow character, Mick Rory, is a deeper thinker than Lincoln. That’s how amazingly bad Lincoln is at making sudden decisions, and this one is going to make life very difficult for him.

To a certain extent, it’s commendable that the premiere isn’t simply a total rehash of Prison Break’s greatest hits, but it is still very heavily reliant on nostalgia. Purcell and Wentworth get all of the best parts of the episode, and their chemistry is also why we watch the series. Whether it’s enough to keep us watching remains to be seen.

For better or worse, this is Prison Break. Logical character decisions and the normal rules of storytelling don’t always seem to apply. It’s the relationships that make this series work, from Lincoln and Michael’s bond, to Sara and Michael’s love, and even the complex feelings between Lincoln and Sara after their estrangement. By contrast, the conspiracy just isn’t as interesting. That said, I’m curious if this story can hold up to scrutiny as it slowly unfolds its secrets.

The new season of Prison Breaks premieres Tuesday, April 4th on FOX.