Series / Prison Break

Michael: I'm getting you out of here.
Lincoln: It's impossible.
Michael: Not if you designed the place, it isn't.

Lincoln Burrows, a petty crook from Chicago, has been tried, convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of the Vice President's brother. The evidence is damning, all appeals have been denied, the government has been railroading proceedings from the outset and Lincoln is left to wait out the last few months of his life in Fox River State Penitentiary, a maximum-security prison. Only one person believes that Lincoln was framed for the crime: his brother, Michael Scofield, a structural engineer, genius and chronic do-gooder. Armed with an incredibly intricate scheme, in-depth intelligence on both the staff and prisoners, cleverly hidden tools and blueprints for the entire prison tattooed on his body, Michael gets himself incarcerated at Fox River in order to break himself and his brother out of prison.

Prison Break is a US TV series that ran for four seasons on the Fox Network between 2005 and 2009, concluding with a direct-to-DVD movie. The first season follows Michael and Lincoln as they assemble an escape team, avoid the suspicions of the prison staff and put Michael's plan into action, while their lawyer friend Veronica tries to uncover the conspiracy that's framing Lincoln. Later seasons involved the characters becoming fugitives, breaking out of other prisons and eventually taking on "The Company", a shadowy cabal responsible for framing Lincoln in the first place. Like 24, the show features a serialized story structure and a highly suspenseful plot. The story is quite dark, with many examples of death, torture and rape, and the cast contains some well-rounded characters with complex personalities. However, "Refuge in Audacity" is pretty much the show's motto, and it gained notoriety for throwing in a big Re Tool every season.

A Video Game adaptation for the first season was made in 2010 called Prison Break: The Conspiracy.

For the trope about breaking out of prisons, see Great Escape.

This show provides examples of:

  • Aborted Arc: There are far too many to mention (it was taken to ridiculous extremes in the last season). A notable example is the romance between Linc and Veronica which is promptly forgotten about when Veronica is killed. Pretty much any lesser plotline from the first season is dead and gone by the third. The producers have also said there was far more planned for President Reynolds but were prevented due to Patricia Wettig joining the cast of Brothers & Sisters.
  • Agony of the Feet: Michael has two of his toes cut off by Abruzzi's men early in Season 1.
  • Alas, Poor Villain: Gretchen in The Final Break. When she and Sara are escaping, she gets caught. Not only does she not snitch on Sara, but she also leaves behind the necklace she intented to give to her daughter.
  • The Alcatraz: For season 3 of the series, hero Scofield is manipulated by the recurring shadowy conspiracy to break a man out of Sona, a fictional Panamanian prison with a perfect record, surrounded by brutal military forces, and that's run by the convicts. Fox River in season 1 is not this trope, since it is more of a standard maximum security prison, even though it took the protagonists the entire season to break out.
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys:
    • Dr. Sara Tancredi, Up to Eleven. It's part of her backstory.
    • Lincoln with Veronica, Lisa Rix, Sofia, and Gretchen. There was also Jeanette in season 2, who led on T-Bag but really had the hots for Lincoln.
  • Alternative Foreign Theme Song: The Japanese dub uses "Top Secret" by Namie Amuro for the theme song of the second season."Evolution" by Exile was the first theme song for the third season and "Be On Top" is the second theme song. "Change" by YU-A as the ending theme song for the final season.
  • Arch-Enemy: Michael and T-Bag. Michael and Mahone. Michael/Linc/Aldo and the Company.
  • The Artifact: Bellick in any post season 1 storyline.
  • Artifact Title: In seasons 2 and 4.
  • Affably Evil: T-Bag, Kellerman.
  • Anti-Hero: Most notably Lincoln, but pretty much every character who's not an outright villain. Even then, it's sketchy.
  • Anti-Villain: Alexander Mahone, an FBI agent forced by the Company to kill the brothers and their escape team, or else his own ex-wife and son will die.
  • Anyone Can Die: Can and do. The first unexpected death was LJ's mother Lisa, but from there it just spirals out of control. Out of the main characters, Veronica, Abruzzi, Lechero, Whistler, Bellick, and Scofield himself all die.
  • Anything That Moves: T-Bag.
    • To a lesser extent, Gretchen.
  • Artistic License: The Illinois corrections officers are portrayed as poorly paid (e.g., a veteran officer saying "I ain't a hero for $14 an hour"). In reality for Illinois, because of the poor working conditions the pay is not bad for a job requiring only a high school education: about $24 an hour fresh out of the academy.
    • There's no death penalty in Illinois. The state has had a moratorium on executions since 1999, and it was officially abolished by the governor in 2011. Also, the preferred method before then was lethal injection; the last use of the electric chair was 1962.
    • This is combined with Idiot Ball on the part of the guards on countless occasions. Inmates in Fox River are shown to have shivs concealed in their bibles, under the toilet seats, etc. In reality prison guards know all about these hiding places and check them often. Trying to hollow out a space in your bible to conceal a shiv is a waste of time.
  • Asshole Victim: Several in the series, but T-Bag and Bellick are standouts.
  • The Atoner:
    • While Michael was never an actually evil character, he feels regretful for everything he had to do and all the consequences of him breaking Lincoln out of prison, including releasing T-Bag back into society, ruining Sara's life, as well as countless deaths, usually caused by the Company. He spends the entire series trying to get T-Bag arrested again, and his main goal in Season 4 is taking down the Company.
    • After being ditched by the Company and President Reynolds, Kellerman realises all the things he did for them was in vain. He decides to turn himself in, handing over several documents from the Company, as well as exonerating both Sara and Lincoln in the process, even if he knew he would end up being killed for it.
  • Ax-Crazy: T-Bag, Quinn, Kellerman (initially), Gretchen, Wyatt.
  • Babies Ever After: Subverted: Sara has Michael Jr., but Michael himself dies.
  • Back for the Finale: Sucre, C-Note, Sofia, Felicia, and Hale's wife all re-appear for the broadcast finale - despite not being having seen in a few episodes, two seasons, a full season, a few episodes, and almost three full seasons - respectively. Strangely, neither LJ nor Gretchen join them, though Gretchen does play a huge role in "The Final Break."
  • Back from the Dead: Sara and Kellerman.
  • Backstory: The Season 1 episode "Brother's Keeper" is set three years before the main story to show the pasts of most of the main characters introduced at that point. Several other backstories are revealed through the series.
  • Badass: Many of the characters. Michael breaks out of two prisons, Mahone can kill people with his bare hands (justified due to his training) and throw FBI agents into shivers of concern, Lincoln is called "Linc the Sink" because he'll take whatever you throw at him, Sucre and Sara both resist torture... the list goes on.
  • Bad Cop/Incompetent Cop: The COs at Fox River are corrupt, and technically all are incompetent considering they escaped. Plus, the Fox River escapees manage to outrun almost every single cop in America.
  • Becoming the Mask: T-Bag with the Cole Pfeiffer identity.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: Monkeywrenched in The Final Break. Michael was dying anyway, so he performs a Heroic Sacrifice to save Sara.
  • Best Served Cold:
    • Mahone clearly looks satisfied after waiting quite a while before he finally got the chance to kill Wyatt, the man who murdered his son.
    • Subverted with Michael and Gretchen, after figuring out Sara wasn't really dead.
  • Big Guy: Linc
  • Bittersweet Ending: The series finale.
  • Blackand Gray Morality: Lots of characters. Special agent Mahone in particular.
  • Bodyguard Crush: Kellerman clearly has feelings for Vice-President Reynolds and that drives him to do whatever she wants. Terrence openly calls him on it, laughing at how Kellerman honestly thinks he can be "the First Husband" and bluntly tells him Reynolds doesn't care about him. Kellerman doesn't believe it until he finds himself cut out of her loop and when she okays his termination, that's the final straw that drives him to help the brothers.
  • Boxed Crook: In season 4, the characters are offered a choice between serving out their prison sentences or helping Agent Self take down the Company. You can guess which one they choose.
  • Brother-Sister Incest: Caroline Reynolds and Terrence Steadman. Also, T-Bag's parents.
  • Bungled Suicide: Kellerman tries to kill himself, but the gun jams.
  • Butt Monkey: Tweener, Bellick (from season 2 onwards). T-Bag definitely qualifies in long stretches.
  • By-the-Book Cop: Agent Wheeler. He and Mahone engage in conflicts because of this. Mahone himself states that he used to be this early in his carreer.
  • Callback: In a Season 4 episode, T-Bag gives his name as Charles Patoshik.
  • Catholic Schoolgirls Rule: Gretchen wears the uniform in one episode. The viewing audience probably had the same reaction as T-Bag.
  • Character-Magnetic Team: Justified in seasons 1 and 3, when Michael is breaking out of a prison and brings onboard people who have something he needs or know too much.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Seemingly unimportant items will often prove essential in Michael's plans. Very often.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: In season 1, everyone is a Chekhov's Gunman for Michael.
  • The Chessmaster: Michael. Justified in Season 1 and 2 - after spending long hours in the dark as an abused child, he's developed a mental condition that enables him to break things down into parts.
    • Christina Rose.
  • The Chick: Sara Tancredi. Sofia even moreso.
  • Chronic Hero Syndrome: Michael, elaborated and justified.
  • Clear My Name: The goal of the first two seasons.
  • Clear Their Name: Veronica's main goal in Season 1 is to prove Lincoln's innocence.
  • Cliffhanger Copout: The first season ends with the main characters being spotted and chased by cops about a hundred yards away across an open field. In the beginning of the second season, and they got away by... running. Really fast.
    • And this is coming from a show that ends every commercial break with a cliffhanger.
    • Season 3 ends with Sucre, Bellick, and T-Bag still in Sona. Season 4 opens with them somehow having escaped (via riot) from Sona. Especially annoying in that 1. it took a season for Michael to figure out how to get Whistler out and 2. they spent time showing T-Bag working out a way to get out (through bribes.)
      • In fairness, they offered a little bit more explanation - it wasn't so much a riot as T-Bag convinced the prisoners to burn the place down, giving everyone a chance to escape.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: This happens a LOT. Especially to T-Bag.
    • Used by Mahone on Wyatt. Mahone shoves a needle into Wyatt's finger. Oh, and he's also connected to a defibrillator that will give him a wake-up call when he starts to fall unconcious due to the pain. The effects are spectacular, as the normally completely stoic Wyatt is screaming and wheezing from the crippling pain.
    • Wyatt himself is both a Professional Killer and a Torture Technician for the Company. He repeatedly invades people's homes to slowly torture them for information. He's most thorough with Gretchen, whom he ties up and locks up in a tiny cell with nothing but a bucket for days, occasionally coming back to explain what he's going to do to her next.
    • Gretchen is both a victim and a practitioner of this. She tortures many characters, including Sara, Sofia, and T-Bag. However, she is also waterboarded in Panama and later on held in captivity, where she is phisically abused and exposed to degrading smells, and it's severely implied she was tortured multiple times in the past.
    • It is very common for someone to be almost beaten to death, usually as a way to obtain information. Victims include Michael, Sucre, T-Bag, Wyatt and Gretchen.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Mahone. Mahone. Hell, Mahone. T-Bag.
    Mahone: Go for the kneecap. You hit it straight on it'll buckle and it'll take the guy out of commission.
    Michael: Fighting dirty, that's your secret?
    Mahone: I didn't think there was such a thing as clean in a place like this.
  • Command Roster: During season 4, the cons get organized into a team that follows this structure.
  • Commercial Break Cliffhanger: All the time. It cuts to photos of Fox River in Season 1, photos of the streets in Season 2, photos of Sona in Season 3, and photos of buildings bring broken into in Season 4.
  • Confessional: In Season 2, Michael visits one because he felt guilty of all the crimes he had to commit and all the things that happened because of his plan.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Everyone in the Company who is not an assassin.
  • Crapsack World: Sona Federal Penitentiary.
  • Crazy-Prepared: Michael does a tremendous amount of preperation work before going to prison, including for situations that seem improbable.
  • Daddy Had a Good Reason for Abandoning You: Aldo Burrows to Lincoln and Michael.
  • Dark Action Girl: Gretchen/"Susan B. Anthony".
  • Dead Guy Junior: Michael Jr.
  • Dead Man Writing: The final scene of the series, and a Crowning Moment of Heartwarming, is Michael's posthumous message to Lincoln and Sara.
  • Deadly Nosebleed: Michael Scofield has a medical condition that sometimes manifests as nosebleeds.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Michael has his moments.
    Self: Making false claims to a government agency? That's like five years in prison.
    Michael: Welcome to the club.
  • Deal with the Devil: Lincoln working for the Company in season 4.
    • Anytime Michael is forced to work with T-Bag. Invoked and Defied in The Final Break.
  • Death Row: Lincoln Burrows is on Death Row after being framed for the murder of the Vice President's brother. His brother Michael Scofield allows himself to be incarcerated in another section of the same prison to mount an escape. The scheduled execution is at one point actually almost carried out before it's postponed by a call from the Governor when Lincoln is literally sitting in the chair.
  • Depraved Bisexual:
    • Exaggerated with T-Bag.
    • Gretchen hits on almost every character she interacts with. Most of the time it doesn't work.
  • The Determinator: Michael Scofield.
  • Deus ex Machina: Kellerman in two instances.
    • First in the Season 2 finale. Apparently he had everything documented the whole time, and just never bothered to mention it to the brothers or Sara before.
    • Happens again in the Season 4 finale. It's revealed that he was still alive and working with the United Nations, so they clear Michael, Lincoln, Sara, Sucre, C-Note and Mahone's names in exchange for Scylla.
  • Died in Your Arms Tonight: with Michael and Aldo. Because Michael wasn't messed up enough.
  • Dirty Cop: Bellick and Geary. Agent Mahone (though in his case it's Justified, since he was being coerced by the Company). Agent Self.
  • Dirty Coward: Roland Glenn is a disgrace to the name "geek". Brad Bellick in seasons 2 and 3.
  • Disposable Sex Worker: T-Bag often kills prostitutes after having sex with them.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Bellick, who admittedly had done some pretty awful things to OTHER people, is exposed to beatings and rape by Fox River guards because he put them on the night shift.
  • The Dog Bites Back:
    • After being continuously raped by Avocado, Tweener slashes his penis with a razor. Bellick, the one who moved Tweener to the rapist's cell, later on gets punched in the face by him.
    • Kellerman tortures Sara and leaves her to drown in a bathtub, but she escapes and burns his chest with an iron before getting away.
  • Driving Question: Season 1: Who framed Lincoln, and why?
  • Driven to Suicide: Seth in Season 1, after being constantly raped by T-Bag, and Terrence Steadman in Season 2.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: Whistlerin the Season 4 premiere. Subverted with Sarah, who apparently dies in Season 3, but she returns in the beginning of Season 4.
  • Downer Ending: The epilogue of the season 4 finale (amazingly enough, the same event gets turned into a Crowning Moment of Heartwarming in "The Final Break").
  • Dying Moment of Awesome:
    • John Abruzzi in season 2, defiantly staring down a squad of FBI agents & when told to get on his knees, replying "I only kneel for God; I don't see him here."
    • Amazingly enough, Brad Bellick gets one by sacrificing himself and meeting it head on.
  • Enemy Civil War: The General and Christina Rose Scofield in season 4.
  • Enemy Mine: Happens a lot. Most notable are season 3, where Michael and Lincoln work with Mahone, T-Bag, Bellick, Lechero, Whistler and Gretchen, and the Miami chapter of season 4, where Lincoln works for the General and with Gretchen, T-Bag and Self.
  • Enigmatic Minion: Alexander Mahone, James Whistler.
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Bellick mistreats inmates, sells PI, and is a coward keen to turn tail for the highest bidder... but he loves his mama.
    • T-Bag, also, though it comes up less.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Probably as a consequence of slowly Becoming the Mask, T-Bag shockingly pleads for Gretchen (who has screwed him several times over, and therefore has no obligation to save) to be spared, looking more like a human being than Don Self, who enthusiastically calls for her execution.
    • A darker example in season one: there are some people even T-Bag won't rape.
    • Lisa Tabak quits the Company and later helps Sarah save Michael from them, claiming to have been disillusioned with the organization's ruthlessness.
    • Abruzzi has this reaction after one of his men kill T-Bag's nephew.
  • Evil Matriarch: Christina Rose.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: In seasons 1 and 3.
  • Face–Heel Turn: Roland. It ends badly for him.
  • Faking the Dead: Sara in season 3. Kellerman and Terrance Steadman as well. Season 4 reveals Michael and Lincoln's mother was faking this as well.
  • Fate Worse Than Death:
    • Self ends up mostly paralyzed, in a wheelchair and needing someone to wipe the drool from his chin.
    • Invoked and discussed by C-Note when he and Sucre hang T-Bag upside down to obtain the location of the General (a technique he learned during his time in Iraq).
      C-Note: In two minutes, your eyeballs are gonna pop out of your head. Now that's worse than death.
  • Film Noir: The show isn't at all, but Michael in the (early) first season sounds like he belongs in one, both because of his word choices and his cadence.
    Michael: The evidence was cooked.
  • Finish Him!: Happens twice in season 3. In Sona, a chicken-foot fight means only one of them can leave the fight alive. The first time Michael refuses, the other guy comes at him with a knife and Mahone kills him. The second time Whistler is about to kill Michael when their failed escape plan is found and the guards come storming in.
  • Flash Back: Used to show how Michael set something up.
  • Freudian Excuse: T-Bag was conceived by Bagwell Sr. raping his mentally challenged sister, and as a child he was sexually abused. And forced to memorize the dictionary.
  • Friend in the Black Market: C-Note (season 1).
  • Functional Addict: Mahone still manages to be a Worthy Opponent for Michael and figure out every step from his plan, despite being a drug addict.
  • Gambit Pileup: Throughout the series, but especially in season 4.
  • Genre Shift: Season 1 is a classic jailhouse drama with a Great Escape plot, and its cast is filled with classic prison Stock Characters. The Season 2 is a Stern Chase centered on the characters evading the law, Season 3 is a thriller set in a Hellhole Prison (though with a Great Escape still worked into the plot), and Season 4 is a conspiracy thriller about the characters MacGyvering their way out of scrapes with The Syndicate.
  • Get into Jail Free: The main premise: Michael robs a bank to get himself in jail so he could break out with his brother Lincoln.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: Most of the goriest moments in the show happen off-screen, such as Nick Savrinn getting shot and T-Bag having his hand chopped off with an axe.
  • The Government. Politicians and federal agents, corrupted by the Company, were the main antagonists of seasons 1 and 2. In season 4, the protagonists teamed up with government people working against the Company... only, those guys weren't much nicer.
  • Great Escape: The first season revolves around an honest-to-god prison break with a cast composed almost entirely of stock characters ripped from classic prison movies, and the second season continues it with the escaped inmates on the run from the FBI. By the end of the second season, the escapees have all successfully evaded the law (the few that survived, at least...) but the writers manage to justify the title by having the main characters all rounded up for random reasons and sent to a new, even worse prison in Panama. Then the final season rolls around, and the whole series morphs into some weird cross between MacGyver and The Bourne Series about the main cast trying to take down some evil shadow corporation using zany schemes whipped together with loot from the Dollar Store.
  • Groin Attack: Tweener slashes Avocado's penis with a razor. Ouch.
  • Handy Cuffs
  • He Knows Too Much:
    • T-Bag kills a guard in Fox River after he sees the hole in Michael and Sucre's cell.
    • The main reason for most deaths ordered by the Company.
  • Heroic B.S.O.D.: Lincoln goes through one after finding the box with Sara's head. Michael suffers a brief one after being told of Sara's death. Mahone seems to suffer one after the murder of his family.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: In seasons 3 and 4, Anti-Hero Michael becomes increasingly fanatical about destroying the Company, while Lincoln takes on a "Violence Is the Only Option" mindset, leading them to do things they condemned others for doing only a season or two ago. Michael learned of Sara's apparent murder in season 3 and had a lethal brain tumor in season 4, so he had an excuse for his judgment impairments.
  • Heel–Face Door-Slam: T-Bag was Becoming the Mask with his Cole Pfeiffer identity and was genuinely on the fence about his entire character after he left. He waffled back and forth while keeping Gretchen's family hostage, and kidnapped a passing Bible salesman out of paranoia that he might be Company. T-Bag tests the salesman be reciting a verse, and when he passes, he lets the family and the salesman go free. But the salesman really is Company, and he immediately puts T-Bag in a chokehold and delivers him to the Company. He is back to his old self by the next episode.
  • Heel–Face Revolving Door: Abruzzi in season 1. Lampshaded by Michael early on: "You're a mercurial man, Abruzzi.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Daniel Hale in season 1, Kellerman in season 2.
  • Hero Ball: Michael often carries this.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Brad Bellick and Michael Scofield.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Michael has two: one with Linc and one with Sucre. They plan to go separate ways (at the end of each season), but they never do, and each trust the other and are willing to do whatever they have to for the other. (Sucre tries to separate from Michael a few times, with Michael's blessings, but always seems to come back.)
    • To a lesser degree than most cases, Lincoln and Mahone.
  • Hidden Agenda Villain: General Jonathan Krantz/"Pad Man".
  • Honor Before Reason: Michael, lampshaded several times.
    T-Bag: So you're the one I've been hearing all the rave reviews about. Scofield! Well, one thing's for sure, you just as pretty as advertised. Prettier even.
  • Human Notepad: Michael's tattoos, which have the blueprints of Fox River and a lot of other information he needs for his escape plan.
  • Humiliation Conga: Bellick. Not that he doesn't earn it.
  • I Have Your Wife: Quite a lot of times. This was Mahone's motivation during season 2, and Michael and Lincoln's during season 3. One episode of season 4 has the brothers try this tactic on the villains.
    • This is basically the reason for LJ.
  • I Will Punish Your Friend for Your Failure: The threat used to keep people in line. Combined with I Have Your Wife
  • Idiot Ball: Gets passed around a lot, which brings us to...
  • Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain: Bellick in season 3. He tries to betray Michael several times, but always fails.
  • Interrupted Suicide:
    • C-Note tries to kill himself because he's being blackmailed by Mahone, but the prison guards save him in time.
    • Bellick was going to kill himself, but his mother (who doesn't know) tells him about the Fox River 8 rewards, so he decides to chase them instead.
  • In the Blood: Michael and Christina Rose, which was lampshaded by the latter and Lincoln.
  • Ironic Echo: Between C-Note and Michael during first season:
    C-Note: Well let me school you. Darwin wins inside these walls. Not Einstein. Darwin.
    • Later on in the season:
    Michael: There's a reason they replaced it with a twelve-inch pipe, Darwin - people can't get through it.
  • Is That What He Told You?: The General, regarding Daddy Burrows.
  • Jaywalking Will Ruin Your Life: Tweener gets incarcerated in a penitentiary loaded with criminals like Abruzzi and T-Bag... for stealing a baseball card.
  • Joker Immunity: T-Bag, Gretchen.
  • Just Got Out of Jail: Linc (after his name was cleared the first time) kills a Mook and tells LJ and Sofia to run since he rightly assumes the police won't care if its self-defense.
  • Karma Houdini: Ultimately, mostly averted.
    • T-Bag never gets quite the comeuppance he deserves, he's kidnapped, repeatedly tortured, loses his hand twice (having to tear it off himself the second time), stabbed in the OTHER arm, set up to be caught as bait in a prison escape (again, twice), left to die in the desert, blackmailed, betrayed by just about everyone he allied with, etc.
    • Kellerman redeems himself, then is executed - though not for his actual misdeeds. Then he comes back to life, saves the day and becomes a Congressman. Though he does get spit on, so there's that.
    • Gretchen similarly never quite gets a punishment worthy of what viewers want for her, but she does end up getting tortured a few times, shot once, and ends the series in prison, where she helps Sara escape. She also gets her main misdeed turned around on her when her daughter is held hostage and used to blackmail her. And of course has to live with the memories of Mosul. And it helps that she doesn't turn out to have beheaded Sara after all.
    • Bellick gets a heaping pile of karmic retribution before his Heel–Face Turn. After having set Tweener up to be repeatedly raped by Avocado in Season 1, he ends up as Avocado's cellmate himself in Season 2. He then gets set up for a murder he didn't commit and sentenced to prison in Panama, where he is left starving and almost naked for days, nearly gets beaten to death by Sammy as a distraction for digging the tunnel out of Sona, and then gets used as bait for the police to aid Michael's actual escape, culminating in a pretty brutal beating.
    • Caroline Reynolds is by far the only one who walked away without any comeuppance. While it's shown that she was pawn of The Company, it was heavily implied that she was a major wild card by going against The Company plans such as poisoning the previous President. While she stepped down from being President after being threatened by Michael with exposing her incest, she got the laugh by going back on her word that she would give a presidential pardon to the brothers. After that, she is never seen or mentioned again. Though many fans speculate that she may have been arrested after Kellerman publicly exposes The Company at the end of Season 2, it's never shown or even implied.
  • Kick the Dog: Wyatt: see Wouldn't Hurt a Child.
  • Kick the Son of a Bitch: Roland.
  • Kill Him Already: Zig-Zagged with Gretchen.
    • Wyatt advises against the General not allowing him to kill her when she's being held in captivity.
    • It happens again when Lincoln has the opportinity to shoot her, but while Don insists that he should kill her, T-Bag and Mahone insist otherwise.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Don Self becomes a brain dead paraplegic, just like what happened to his wife because of his own doing.
    • General Krantz ultimately is executed in the electric chair - much as the Company planned for Lincoln.
    • You have to wait until the Crossover episode of Breakout Kings, but you can argue that T-Bag ends up with this when his mother, the only person he cares about, is sexually assaulted.
  • Last Name Basis: Varies depending on the character and their relationship. For example, Mahone calls Michael Scofield in season two when he's chasing him, varies it in season three (when they're uneasy allies), and Michael in season four when they become friendly.
  • Left for Dead: A lot, and it always seems to come back to bite the characters in the ass. If someone is left bound and 'fatally' wounded on this show, you can pencil them in for a reappearance in a shocking plot twist. The constant refusal to give in to Why Don't Ya Just Shoot Him? added a season-and-a-half of plot, minimum.
  • Life-or-Limb Decision: In season 2 T-Bag was forced to re-sever his reattached hand to evade recapture by the police after he was left tied to a radiator by Bellick and a colleague, who were after the D.B. Cooper money he had taken.
  • Luke, I Am Your Father: Inverted: Michael and Lincoln are told that they aren't blood-related. They don't actually seem to care. A post-series interview reveals it was a lie anyway.
  • MacGuffin: Westmoreland's stash of money and the Steadman recording in season 2, the bird book in season 3 (actually a subversion: the book really is worthless, just something to put Michael's mind at ease about breaking Whistler out of Sona, Scylla in season 4. the bird book contained information critical to the theft of Scylla.
  • The Man Behind the Man: General Jonathan Krantz, better known simply as "the General" (known by the fans as "Pad Man" before his name was revealed).
  • Manipulative Bastard: T-Bag, again. And Christina Rose. Michael at times, too.
  • Meaningful Name: Most of the names of the prisoners but C-Note is of worthy mention. He can get you anything you want for $100, so his name is C-Note (slang for $100), but his real name is Benjamin Franklin, who's face appears on the 100 dollar bill.
  • Mind Rape: What the General has planned for Michael if he won't join the Company.
  • The Mole: Don Self. Tweener. T-Bag, when it suits him.
  • Morality Pet: T-Bag has Susan Hollander and her kids, as well as Gretchen's family.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Gretchen takes this role for the most part - a lot of tight clothes and leather, and on one memorable occasion a Catholic schoolgirl's uniform. Sara at one point wears a very cleavage-y top as part of a con, telling Michael "don't get used to it." At one point, Trishanne /Miriam Holtz is running around wearing a very flimsy and very lacey white camisole and a short skirt, for absolutely no reason other than "it's fun to have Shannon Luccio running around in flimsy lace and short skirts."
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Michael, thinking about the number of deaths he's (indirectly) caused by breaking Linc out of jail.
  • Mysterious Parent: The brothers' father abandoned the family, so when their mother died, they were left in foster care, but he interfered once to protect Michael. Both turn out to be operatives for the Company itself, with their father's desire to protect them being the reason for his departure, while their apparently Not Quite Dead mother is ironically not quite as benevolent as she was made out to be.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Michael Scofield is named after the deadly Schofield revolver. While he's not the toughest character on the show, he definitely is one of the most dangerous.
  • Never Going Back to Prison:
    • Abruzzi makes this vow. He tells his wife he'd rather die than go back to prison.
    • Averted for Michael, who tells Whistler in Sona that he was willing to stay there to pay for his sins; Tweener, who decides to go back to prison instead of ratting on the others; and C-Note, who also turns himself in after his wife gets arrested.
  • True Companions: Both subverted and played straight. Subverted with the original group that broke out of prison in season one, as seen during season one and two a number of times, including but not limited to T-Bag's hand being cut off, Tweener and Haywire being left behind, and Michael trying to steal the money out from everyone except Sucre. Played straight in that Michael, Linc and Sucre form a small gang of True Companions in season one, which LJ and Sara are added to in season two. Subverted again in season three, as Mahone and Michael (much less the rest of the group) have no problem backstabbing each other while trying to break out of Sona. Played straight in early season four (as they're on their way to becoming one) and then subverted when the group splinters in the later part of the season. The direct-to-DVD gives us the basic group, seen in the season four finale at Michael's funeral, of Linc, Michael, Sara, Sucre, and Mahone.

    The Michael/Linc/Sucre crew is the most stable, which other characters frequently ignore. Basically any time Sucre actively betrays the brothers, you can reasonably bet that he's actually about to pull a double-cross on someone else.
  • Never Speak Ill of the Dead: Played straight with Brad Bellick's death. Sucre especially is ready to take out anyone who speaks ill.
    • Subverted with Roland. Brad calls Linc out for his comment and Linc basically tells him to shut-up.
  • New Era Speech: T-Bag gives one to take over Sona.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: There's several, but arguably the first one was in "Riots, Drills and the Devil". Michael wanted to have enough time to break through a certain wall (which he does.) On the other hand, it leads to the death of a guard, the maybe death of another guard (its unclear if he dies or is just badly beaten), the death of several inmates, T-Bag finding out about the escape plan, and Sarah getting suspicious and nearly raped. Whoops.
    • Nice job letting T-Bag out and causing the brutal murder of five or six people as a result, Michael.
    • Michael does admit he feels responsible for every murder committed by T-Bag since they broke out, which is why Michael chases after him near the end of season 2.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain:
    • Maybe if The Company and Caroline Reynolds hadn't treated Kellerman so badly in Season 2 and eventually casted him aside, he wouldn't have had his Heel–Face Turn and greatly aided the protagonists in the long run.
    • Invoked by Michael. He needs the final Scylla card, which belongs to General Krantz – the only one who has access to Scylla's security cameras. Michael manages to reach Scylla and activates the alarm on purpose, so the General takes the elevator to Scylla's location, only for Lincoln, Mahone and Sucre to show up and force him to give the card for them to take Scylla.
  • Noodle Incident: What exactly did Manche do involving a donkey?
    Sucre: You owe me!
    Manche: Like hell I do, it's your turn, not mine.
    Sucre: Miss Mangini's broken window?
    Manche: The Terrado sisters?
    Sucre: Your brother's "lost" El Camino?
    Manche: The church collection basket?
    Sucre: The donkey!
    Manche: We took an oath, bro.
    Sucre: Don't make me break it.
  • No Party Like a Donner Party: How T-Bag survives being stranded in the desert in 4x02 - though to be fair, Sancho tried to do it to him first.
    ATV Rider Rescuer: What's the matter? Eat some bad Mexican?
    T-Bag: Something like that.
  • Not Quite Dead: Sara Tancredi, Christina Rose Scofield and Paul Kellerman in season 4.
  • Not So Different:
    • T-Bag's constant taunt to Michael.
    • Wyatt tries to say this to Mahone right before Mahone shoves Wyatt off a dock as retribution for Wyatt murdering Mahone's 8 year old son.
  • Not So Invincible After All: Michael in season 4.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Dominic Purcell (Lincoln) occasionally slips into his Australian accent.
  • Orphaned Punchline: When Pope's secretary eavesdrops on what she thinks is a call from the DOJ.
    "And I get why the guy's lighting the candle, but why are the other two playing the bagpipes?"
  • The Old Convict: Charles Westmoreland, who had served in Fox River for thirty-two years.
  • One Steve Limit: Averted. Several characters share their names. Not really a problem because they're either never seen together, they're called by their last names, and/or one has a nickname.
    • Lincoln Burrows and Lincoln Burrows Jr., but the latter is only called LJ.
    • Charles Westmoreland and Charles Patoshik. The latter is usually referred to as "Haywire", and both are also referred to by their surnames. Aside fron the Lincolns, these two are the only ones who are ever seen together.
    • Lisa Rix (LJ's mother) and Lisa Tabak (daughter of the General).
    • Luis Galego (McGrady) and Louis Patterson (one of the guards in Fox River).
    • Subverted for the name Susan. First there's T-Bag's ex-girlfriend, Susan Hollander, a.k.a. Susy-Q. Then there was Susan B. Anthony, whose real name turned out to be Gretchen.
    • Michael Scofield and his son who has the same name.
    • If you wanna go far with it, there's Nick Savrinn and Nika Volek.
    • David "Tweener" Apolskis and the engineer David Baker.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname:
    • Many Fox River inmates: Theodore "T-Bag" Bagwell, Benjamin Miles "C-Note" Franklin, David "Tweener" Apolskis, Charles "Haywire" Patoshik. A lot of the Fox River characters only ever called Lincoln "Sink" or "Link the Sink".
    • In Sona, there were Norman "Lechero" St. John and Luis "McGrady" Galego.
  • The Only One Allowed to Defeat You: Michael and T-Bag, Mahone and Wyatt.
  • Pariah Prisoner:
    • T-Bag is despised by almost every other inmate in Fox River, mostly for being a child rapist.
    • Since Tweener is a white guy who tries to affiliate himself with the black inmates, he is rejected by the groups of both races.
    • Bellick becomes this twice, first in Fox River, for being an ex-guard, and later on in Sona, for trying to keep his wallet.
    • Sammy invokes this in Sona. Any prisoner who tries to hold on to his wallet is left hanging around in his underwear with no food or water, symbolizing his low position in the prison's social scale.
      Bellick: Do you understand what happened? You're a... what's it called... pariah. You made the same mistake when I walked in. I tried to hang on to my wallet, next thing I knew, I spent the next two days kneecap deep in human feces. In Sona, it's every man for himself. Here, cheese.
      Tyge: I'm not hungry.
      Bellick: Yeah, you will be.
  • Pet the Dog: Kellerman in Wash, Gretchen in Blowback
  • The Plan: Most of what Michael does is one of these with the notable exception of the season 1 and 3 escape plans.
  • Plot Coupons: The Scylla cards in season 4.
  • Plot-Induced Stupidity: Michael and co. have a few notable instances, which comes off as particularly jarring because Michael is a skilled Chessmaster. Not killing T-Bag and Gretchen repeatedly comes back to bite them in the ass, as do many occasions of them leaving people tied up and injured instead of finishing the job. Self's double-cross in Season 4 relies on them not checking the paperwork until after he's long gone - which seems like the first thing they would do after all the times they've been screwed.
    • Everyone who thinks they can outsmart Michael Scofield, despite knowing about everyone who previously got into trouble for doing so.
    • Periodically, everyone in the show's universe forgets that the existence of the Company has been publicly proven, and they have to start all over again.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: T-Bag.
  • Post-Script Season: Seasons 3 and 4.
  • President Evil: Caroline Reynolds, who was the Vice-President of the United States until her "promotion" in the season 1 finale.
  • Pretty Fly for a White Guy: David Apolskis. An inmate in Fox River which (like most real world prisons) is divided along racial lines, he quickly becomes rejected by both black inmates for trying to affiliate himself with them, and by white inmates for trying to affiliate himself with black inmates, earning him the nickname "Tweener" (In-Betweener). Lampshaded by T-Bag, the leader of a white racist gang:
    T-Bag: "The boy sure seems confused about his pigmentation."
  • Prison Rape: Tweener's a victim. T-Bag is a regular perpetrator.
  • Prison Riot:
    • Sucre initiates a lockdown by disabling air conditioning so that Michael can keep drilling without worry of headcounts. Unfortunately, this leads to fullblown prison riot.
    • T-Bag starts one in Sona, which leads to all remaining inmates escaping and the prison being burned down.
  • Pseudo Crisis: All the time. Combines with Commercial Break Cliffhanger.
  • Psycho for Hire:
    • Quinn and Turk in Season 1.
    • Wyatt in Season 4.
  • Put on a Bus: LJ's on a bus to a safe place in Panama in Season 4. Strangely, he does not come back for his uncle's wedding... in Panama.
  • Race Against the Clock: Both throughout the seasons (Linc must be broken out before his set execution, Michael must break Whistler out before Gretchen's deadline) and during specific episodes.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: Lampshaded by Michael in season four.
    Let me guess. He had a ragtag band of criminals ready to pick up the slack.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: In season 3, the guards at the Panamanian prison only guard the perimeter. Inside, it is ruled only by the criminals, with an incarcerated drug lord its de facto warden. This may seem ludicrously far-fetched, but some prisons in this part of the world are in fact run in this way.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Henry Pope.
  • Recovered Addict:
    • Sara used to be addicted to morphine.
    • Mahone eventually beats his addiction to a drug called Veratril.
  • Recruiting the Criminal: Because of his first successful breakout plan, Michael is compulsorily recruited by the Company to break James Whistler out of Sona.
  • Redemption Equals Death: In season 4, subverted with Paul Kellerman and played straight with Brad Bellick.
  • Reformed Criminal: Most of the convicts. Discussed by Sucre:
    Lincoln: I got your back, man. When you get home, whatever you need, whatever you want...
    Sucre: That won't be necessary. When I get back home, I'm a saint. I'm not even jaywalking.
  • Refuge in Audacity: The show, especially season two and four. (Yeah, breaking out of the prisons aren't the strongest moments of this.)
  • Re Tool: Every year the show changes. Season 1 is Escape from Alcatraz, season 2 is The Fugitive, season 3 is Midnight Express (or so the writers thought), and season 4 is Mission: Impossible.
  • Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves: Roland. And Don Self. Michael even works a reward for anticipated treachery into his plan in the Sona escape.
  • Right Hand vs. Left Hand: Subverted. Linc and Michael are working at cross purposes during season four, and decide to go after Scylla separate from each other. But because of brotherly love, they still share information.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: A few instances. There was the flashback episode showing C-Note's service in Iraq, where it's revealed that he was thrown out of the army for trying to expose the torture of inmates at Abu Ghraib. Also, the episode where his daughter becomes seriously ill while he's on the run from the law, and he's forced to take her to a hellish free clinic because he doesn't have health insurance.
  • Sacrificial Lion: Westmoreland, Veronica, Tweener, Abruzzi, Haywire, Whistler, and Bellick.
  • Sadistic Choice: In season four, Michael is offered the choice of keeping Scylla out of the General's hands or rescuing Sara. The choice gets worse when Christina Rose then calls and offers Michael the choice of keeping Scylla out of her hands or rescuing Linc. The Sadistic Choice has a three way.
  • Save the Villain: Michael (and Sara, especially when its Michael about to do the killing) spend a lot of time stopping others from killing the villains, and sometimes even helping them. Noticeable since they kill plenty of minions without a thought, making this a very good example of What Measure Is a Mook?.
  • Scary Black Man: Wyatt and C-Note. Lechero in Season 3.
  • Secret Stab Wound: Charles Westmoreland.
  • Senseless Sacrifice: Nick Savrinn sacrifices his life (and his father's) so Veronica can find Steadman and expose the conspiracy. Too bad she got killed two episodes later.
  • Shaggy Dog Story: For T-Bag, who ends up right back in Fox River, it can be argued the ENTIRE SERIES is this.
    • One of the main subplots in Season 2 revolved around stealing Westmoreland's stash of five million dollars. In the season finale, Agent Kim kicks the backpack into a lake and the money is never seen again.
  • Shipped in Shackles: Linc is usually moved around like this, but sometime subverted when the guards go easy on the shackles because he's a good prisoner/they want him to break out.
  • Smug Snake: Bellick and Falzone in season 1, Agent Kim in season 2, Gretchen and Lechero in season 3, Self in season 4.
    • Pretty much all of whom make the mistake of mocking Michael Scofield. This is not a good idea.
    • In the first episode Michael starts out as this; after his first few days of prison (seeing someone knifed, being tortured) cuts into it considerably.
    • Hector, in a minor character example.
  • Softer And Slower Cover : Season 3 ends with a slower, Spanish-language cover of Roy Orbison 's "Crying."
  • Squat's in a Name: Scylla.
  • Stay with Me Until I Die: Michael won't let Roland die alone. Luckily he goes quickly so Michael can get out of there before the cops pull up.
  • The Stoic: Wyatt.
    • Gretchen. She doesn't have enough of a reaction to being tortured, so General Zavala figures out she's been tortured before and leads credence to Michael's claims.
    • Michael wants to be, and can pull it off nine times out of ten, but he does 'emote' (aka yell or bang his fists) when something really screws up his plans.
  • Suicide by Cop: John Abruzzi.
  • The Syndicate: The Company.
  • Tattooed Crook: Justified in Michael, who does have tattoos and is a criminal, but got the tattoos as a way of smuggling information about his plan and the prison blueprints into Fox River.
  • Technical Pacifist: Michael fluctuates between this and Thou Shalt Not Kill.
  • Third Act Stupidity
  • The Three Certainties in Life:
    Agent Mahone: Three things in life are certain... death, taxes, and the fact that a man on the run will make a mistake sometime in the first 72 hours.
    Sucre: Three sure things in life: death, taxes, and count.
  • Thou Shalt Not Kill: Michael fluctuates on this. In the beginning he wouldn't kill anyone. In season four he'd attempt to kill a number of people, but wasn't very good at it.
    • People tend to consider Linc this, ignoring his Back Story, like the Flash Back to him ramming his car into someone and the number of Mooks he'd killed.
    Mahone (to Michael about Linc): When it comes right down to it, he's just like you. He has a heart that won't kill a man.
    • Subverted in season three when Michael killed a man by taking away a specific pin so the tunnel debris would fall on him.
    • Stupidly subverted with some of the other characters. They'll kill any number of Mooks, but will refrain from killing people like the General when they have the chance because Thou Shalt Not Kill, seemingly forgetting they've already killed. What Measure Is a Mook?, indeed.
    • Subverted with Sara. She is the reason Michael refrains from killing, on different occasions, T-Bag, Christina Rose and the General. Then she kills Christina Rose. And let's not forget in season two she also killed Kim and tried to kill Kellerman.
  • Took a Level in Badass:
    • Sara, starting at the Fox River prison riot, when she deals with the many inmates who want to get to her. She escapes while being tortured twice and from the bad guys in general more than once. She also sews up her own arm. In Season 4, she graduates into Action Girl.
    • Lincoln was basically a petty thug before he got to Fox River.
    • Michael forces himself to take a level in badass pre-season 1, when he goes from structural engineer/office jockey to criminal mastermind. He also learns how to steal cars.
    • Sucre might be the most impressive - he's a car thief who becomes a bad convenience store stick-up artist to make enough money to take Maricruz out in style, and at first just takes a few bucks. Four months later, he's taking on a global conspiracy with the best of them.
    Sara: (watching Michael jimmy a car lock open) I see Fernando has been a great influence on you.
    Michael: And me on him.
  • Too Dumb to Live:
    • Season 2 cleans up the gene pool: Veronica Donovan, Tweener, Haywire.
    • In Season 4, Roland, believes he would receive $1 million in exchange for Michael and Lincoln, only to get shot down by Wyatt.
    • He doesn't end up getting killed for it, but at times Sucre's persistent unwillingness to understand that EVERYONE in Maricruz's family dislikes him approaches this.
    • Mrs. Hollander. So, a psychotic killer who has promised that he will hunt you down if he ever gets out of jail has broken out of prison. Do you think you maybe want to see who it is BEFORE opening the front door?
    • In addition, a lot of characters going up against the brothers (or one brother and Sucre) seem to spontaneously forget that there are TWO of them - while actively chasing/being chased by both. Witness someone outrunning one and pausing for breath, only to be caught by the other, or knocking out one, and pausing to gloat or call someone only to be attacked by the other.
  • To the Pain:
    • While holding Gretchen in captivity, Wyatt would occasionally visit her to explain how she was going to be tortured next.
    • T-Bag is strung upside down by C-Note, who tells him his eyeballs would pop out of his skull if he spent two more minutes in that position.
  • Truth in Television: A rather sad example, as Lane Garrison, the actor who played Tweener, went to prison for vehicular manslaughter not long after his run on the show ended. Despite committing a far more serious offence than his character, Garrison received a lighter sentence; he was sentenced to just over three years, and served about two and a half.
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee: The entire first and second season is one long eleventh-hour-revealed plan of Michael's.
  • Unwitting Pawn: T-Bag, more often than not. He learns to hate Michael more than anyone for this reason.
  • Villain Decay: Bellick. The General, too. The Company as a whole.
  • Wardens Are Evil: Subverted in Fox River, where the warden Henry Pope is more of a reasonable authority figure who genuinely believes in reforming the prisoners. A straighter example would be the skull-cracking captain of the guards, Brad Bellick.
  • Was It All a Lie?: Sara, most notably, with regards to Michael's feelings for her.
  • We've Got Company: Sucre is frequently the "We've Got Company" guy in Season 1, when he spends a lot of time as Michael's lookout, and pretty much everyone in the initial break-out gang but Michael and Lincoln plays this role from time to time.
    • Lincoln uses this trope by name when Bellick first catches up to them in 2x04.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Michael. Sarah has to try and stop him from scalding/drowning his mother.
  • Wild Card: Kellerman in season 2, Mahone in seasons 2 and 3, Gretchen in season 4, T-Bag...constantly.
  • Willing Suspension of Disbelief: As mentioned under Idiot Plot, it helps to enjoy the show if you disengage yours.
  • With or Without You
    Michael Scofield: As soon as the lights go out, I'm gone. With or without you.
  • Whole Episode Flashback: Season 1's "Brother's Keeper" is an excellent example of this done well.
  • World of Badass
  • Worthy Opponent: Mahone to Michael in season 2.
    • T-Bag thinks he's a worthy opponent to Michael. He does get some moments over Michael (like stealing the money in Season 2) but overall loses to him.
  • Would Hurt a Child:
    • Philly Falzone threatens to harm Abruzzi's children.
    • Wyatt kills Mahone's son.
  • Wouldn't Hurt a Child:
    • Abruzzi is horrified when he hears that one of his henchmen killed T-Bag's four year old cousin.
    • C-Note is also disgusted when Abruzzi briefly holds a hunter's daughter as hostage for them to proceed with the escape.
  • Xanatos Speed Chess: Michael, especially in seasons one and four.
  • You ALL Share My Story: Season 2, the most decentralized of the series, had the characters running around America individually or in small groups, teaming up on a few occasions before (almost) everyone met up first in Utah, and then later in Panama for the big season finale.
  • Your Princess Is in Another Castle: The gang are all cleared with twenty minutes to go in the last episode. Michael and Sarah are walking down the beach, talking about their future, when Michael starts bleeding from the nose. The flash forward has him dead. Happens throughout the series too.
  • You Will Know What to Do: Linc (when he and Michael go to break LJ out) tells his son "On the third, look out for otis right." and when LJ goes "huh?" Linc answers with the You Will Know What to Do. He does, but so does Mahone.