Now this is a thrilling pilot!
The reason the Prison Break pilot works so magnificently is because it doesn’t let up. Straight off the bat, it dumps you right into the thick of the things and expects you to keep up. There’s no hand-holding and no needless exposition – just a man getting some mysterious tattoos and committing a bank robbery before his subsequent arrest. It’s all so compelling because it feels like our hero, Michael, has a very deliberate plan and we the audience have absolutely no idea what’s going on. In fact, Michael always being one step ahead of everybody else is one of Prison Break‘s greatest strengths as a series.
Of course the whole thing would fall flat if the relationships didn’t make sense, but you totally buy Michael’s relentless determination to save his brother who’s been framed for the murder of the VP’s brother. Although the conspiracy angle unfortunately ends up overwhelming the show in later seasons, it’s used sparingly in the pilot while effectively driving the story forward. Not only that, but the sparks between Michael and Dr. Sara Tancredi’s immediately fly, and their chemistry is fantastic.
The pilot’s final scene is particularly blood-pumping as we start to realize that Michael has planned everything: the getaway money (D.B. Cooper), the disappearance (Abruzzi), and of course the spine-tingling reveal of the prison’s blueprints tattooed on his body. The final shot is very slick too: the camera flies into his tattoos, right through the vents, and then zooms out of the prison to showcase just how monumental Michael’s mission is. Outstanding!
Bits & Bars
– The pilot introduces one of the show’s key supporting players: Veronica Donovan, a lawyer (and Lincoln’s ex) who is hellbent on finding out the truth. Oh, she’s also engaged but keeps postponing her wedding. Exciting…
– Interesting to note: Sara Tancredi is the Governor’s daughter. And she was on Michael’s wall in the teaser.
– So the origami that Michael throws in Sara’s office reaches the magazine he dropped all the way out in the yard. Hmm.
– The first jawdropper of the episode: the fact that Michael designed the prison! Damn!
– Love how it turns out that Michael found the man who put Abruzzi in prison, and how he uses the origami duck to let him know that and get himself a job.
– D.B. Cooper and his cat – I’d so watch a spinoff starring these two.
– How amusing is it that the Warden wants Michael to help him with his wife’s gift?
– The mysterious secret agent (obviously responsible for framing Lincoln) murders the bishop who opposes Lincoln’s death penalty. Creepy!
– It’s a small touch but I like how between every commercial break, we get those little flashes of the camera escaping through the prison vents.
– The scene with Lincoln and his son LJ is pretty harsh. Dominic Purcell isn’t the most versatile of actors, but I always liked him in the role (unlike his wooden turn on Legends of Tomorrow).
– I kind of love Sucre. He adds a much needed dose of humor to the proceedings, and his conjugal visit is hilarious.
– It’s a quick moment, but Michael’s hand shakes when he’s by the window (since he’s taking insulin shots and he’s not diabetic).
Jabs from Jail
Prisoner 1: Man, can a brother get some air conditioning up here ’cause it’s hotter than a crack ho’s mouth, man.
Prisoner 2: To hell with the AC man, give me the crack hoe!
Sucre: What’s another word for ‘love’?
Michael: What’s the context?
Sucre: Oh, you know, the I-love-you-so-much-I-ain’t-never-knocking-over-another-liquor-store-again context. Except, you know, classy.
Sucre: Oh, oh, passion, passion, that’s dope. Passion. How do you spell that? Is it P-A-S-H?
(Michael shakes his head)
Sucre: No H?
Sara: I believe in being part of the solution, not the problem.
Michael: Be the change you want to see in the world. (She looks at him) What?
Sara: Nothing, that was just my senior quote.
Michael: That was you? This whole time I was thinking it was Gandhi.
Michael: I’m getting you out of here.
Lincoln: That’s impossible.
Michael: Not if you designed the place, it isn’t.
Sucre: Chick probably thinks I went sissy up in here. ‘Passion’… You know what? Got more than one syllable, too much talking. That’s me from now on. One Syllable Sucre. ‘Yes, no, love, hate.
Pope: (to Michael) Son, it’s better for me to owe you one in here than it is for you to owe me one, I can promise you that.
LJ: I don’t have a father.
Lisa: It wasn’t an immaculate conception, honey, trust me.
Lisa: I just figured he could use some fatherly advice before it’s…
Lincoln: Gone forever?
C-Note: Only if you tell me why is it you want to keep going back up to medical to get an insulin shot for which you don’t need.
Michael: I like the ambience.
Abruzzi: (to Michael) Kudos, Fish. You’ve got spine.
Lincoln: You’ve seen the blueprints?
Michael: Better than that. (He takes off his shirt to reveal his tattooed body) I’ve got ’em on me.
Although the show eventually went off the rails, the Prison Break pilot is one of the most perfect openers ever produced. Incredible!
Note: Check out my retro review of the show’s four seasons. Here’s hoping I get to review every episode individually one day.