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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 and breaking out of other prisons. The first season also introduces the series' Big Bad, a shadowy cabal of business interests called "The Company" who spend four seasons killing a ridiculous amount of people, characters and redshirts alike. 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.
Agony of the Feet: Michael has two of his toes cut off by Abruzzi's men early in Season 1.
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.
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.
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: Complicated, because it happens so much that the audience begins to expect characters who are Left for Dead to return. But inarguably Sara and Kellerman.
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). Then there's Agent Mahone (who goes around killing the escapees because he's being blackmailed for killing a different criminal earlier in his career) and Agent Self. Not to mention the number of cops the group outwits/outruns throughout season 2.
Of course, Mahone's actually really good at his job - which is why he's being blackmailed.
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.
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.
Used by Mahone on Wyatt. Wyatt killed Mahone's son. Consider it payback time. 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.
Not to mention season four opens with Sucre, Bellick, and T-Bag somehow escaped from Sona.
In mid-season four its explained that T-Bag riled everyone up so that they all rioted and overran the prison guards. Bellick apparently helped Sucre from the stampede, hence why Sucre won't allow anyone to speak ill of him after his death.
Kellerman 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.
Dirty Cop: Bellick and Geary. Agent Mahone. Agent Self.
Dirty Coward: Roland Glenn is a disgrace to the name "geek". Brad Bellick in seasons 2 and 3.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Heroic BSOD: 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.
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.
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.
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.
Kill Him Already: There's no reason why they leave T-Bag alive in the first season. Or the second. Or the third. Or the fourth. Then there's Don Self, the General, Christina Rose, and others. Less so Gretchen, where at least there's typically a reason they can't get rid of her, but definitely still there. Combines with Third Act Stupidity.
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: Subverted: 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).
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.
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.
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.
Subverted with Roland. Brad calls Linc out for his comment and Linc basically tells him to shut-up.
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.
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.
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.
Only Known by Their Nickname: 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".
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.
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.
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?.
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.
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.
If he's so smart, why can't he just remember all this important stuff?
That's a pretty big misconception of what being smart is. According to Michael, memorizing all of it would be like memorizing a phonebook. Especially since he's shown trying to memorize all the routes and failing.
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.
Arguably she stayed at Badass throughout the series. She escapes while being tortured twice ( though one was an Ass Pull from the writers to bring her back from the dead) and from the bad guys in general more than once, and took out some of the men trying to get her during the season one riot. She also sewed up her own arm.
Lincoln was basically a petty thug before he gets 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)
They took care of Roland early in season four.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.