[SPOILERS] The Final Break is a feature-length addendum to the recently-axed Prison Break. It plugs a gap in the TV show's finale, which jumped ahead four years for a bittersweet denouement at the grave of pragmatic protagonist Michael Scofield (Wentworth Miller). I guess it's also a peek at what a fifth season may have resembled had Fox unwisely re-commissioned the show, while reviving aborted plans for a female-only spin-off called Cherry Hill...
Recently exonerated by the government, Michael and Sara (Sarah Wayne Callies) get married in a beach ceremony attended by Linc (Dominic Purcell) and a bearded Sucre (Amaury Nolasco), before the FBI rudely interrupt their reception to arrest Sara for the murder of Michael's mother Christina -- a clear-cut crime caught on security camera. It's not the honeymoon they had planned, clearly.
Pregnant Sara is sent to the Miami-Dade State Penitentiary to await trial (likely to get at least 25 years for murder), and her husband is unable to pull any strings to get her released. Unlike previous seasons, there's no lawful injustice going on here (Sara did kill a woman), but it's nevertheless a cruel and unfair twist of fate -- so Michael starts hatching a plot to break his wife out of jail, so they can elope to raise their family in peace.
The Final Break introduces us to the women's-only penitentiary, where all that estrogen doesn't make prison life any more palatable: Sara is picked on as the new "fish"; beaten up by the guards (as payback for disciplinary action doled out to Fox River staff after Sara assisted in the breakout -- wha--?!); meets "Daddy" (Lori Petty, resembling a fat Michael Douglas in Falling Down) who runs a respected "family" of girls Sara has to ingratiate herself with, and then realizes she's incarcerated with an old enemy --superbitch Gretchen (Jodi Lyn O'Keefe, a cross between Miss Piggy and Elvira.)
In the male division of the penitentiary, T-Bag (Robert Knepper) has become the would-be sidekick of General Krantz (Leon Russom), who discovers Sara has been jailed next door and puts a $100,000 bounty on her head. Beyond the prison walls, Mahone (William Fichtner) is trying to get his old job back at the FBI, but finds that he'll only be taken seriously if he helps the Feds keep tabs on Michael Scofield, whom they suspect is mounting an operation to spring his wife from jail. Will Mahone turn traitor just to get his job back?
Clearly, at its core, this is all preposterous guff. But, intended as a straight-to-DVD treat for incorrigible fans, it worked surprisingly well. I'm not convinced this set-up would have worked as the basis for a fifth season (Sarah Wayne Callies makes for a bland heroine), but there are glimpses of potential in redoing Prison Break in a female environment. By now, the writers are so adept at writing to formula that The Final Break passes by very smoothly, with twists and development that are inert but still entertain. The show was always high-concept silliness at heart, but it's been insanely dumb for the majority of its lifetime. The Final Break takes that to the nth degree, but it's still curiously easy to be swept along and enjoy the latest shake-up.
For fans, it's an intriguing frippery: seeing villainous Krantz as an inmate without his usual influence, Michael devising a total of three escape plans in an hour of screen-time, watching waiflike Dr. Tancredi face vindictive inmates, and watching fan-favourite Gretchen become her cohort. In some ways, this felt like the writers were scratching an itch to redo Prisoner: Cell Block H in the Prison Break mould, and they condense what could have been a painful 22-episode run into a nimble double-episode.
Of course, what could have been an insignificant side dish is actually of greater relevance to diehard audiences who stuck with Prison Break till the end, because we learn the circumstances behind Michael's death. After successfully breaching the penitentiary to meet with Sara at the prison chapel, it becomes clear that one of Michael's contingency plans to extricate them out involves him electrocuting himself to open a sealed doorway for Sara to exit through to freedom -- a self-sacrifice he's prepared for because his brain tumour has returned and his days are numbered anyway.
To its credit, The Final Break manages to tug at the heartstrings with Michael's sacrifice (despite the fact we're denied a proper on-screen death and instead have to make do with Sara staring at a closed door from the other side of the prison fence), but Wentworth Miller emotes a little better than usual. It's a cliché, but the special ends with Sara and Linc on a sailing boat, watching a video Michael made before he died, and the moment works well as thick melodrama. It's just a shame that, with actors like Dominic Purcell around, the audience are likely showing more emotion than the actors in the actual scene (Purcell manages a smirk at his screen brother's final words, signifying either sorrow or trapped wind), and then the whole thing ends with an infuriating abruptness.
Overall, there's not much reason for fans to see The Final Break unless you're desperate to know exactly how Michael met his unfortunate end, as nothing else of relevance is really explored. Emotionally, this leaves us with a similar feeling to the series finale's coda (minus a surprise punch) and, while it thankfully doesn't stomp all over the TV series' respectable finish, it wasn't really worth dragging everyone back for another go-round. Still, despite viewers being asked to swallow the most absurd development ever presented to us in Prison Break's history, it accomplished what it set out to do. It's a silly caper, aimed squarely at the fanbase, that plays like a cheeky glimpse at an alternate universe's fifth season, and fills in a blank for those who detest ambiguity... but it's nothing more.
Hopefully this really does mark the end now, once and for all. Or will there be a low-budget special set entirely in Michael's coffin, where he wakes up to find himself buried alive and forced to escape using a brooch pin? I wouldn't put it past them...
writers: Nick Santora & Seth Hoffman (story by Christian Trokey) director: Brad Turner starring: Wentworth Miller (Michael), Sarah Wayne Callies (Sara), Dominic Purcell (Linc), Jodi Lynn O'Keefe (Gretchen), Robert Knepper (T-Bag), Leon Russom (Krantz), Amaury Nolasco (Sucre), William Fichtner (Mahone), Lori Petty (Daddy), Alicia Lagano (Agatha), Adrienne McQueen (Prison Guard), Peggy Dunne (Motor Pool CO), Damien Leake (Detective Marlin), Livia Trevino (Hucks), Wendy Riordan (Mail Con), Sufe Bradshaw (Wife), Chris Bruno (Agent Wheatley) & Aisha Hinds (Guard Cowler)