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Michael: I'm getting you out of here.
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 Retool 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.
- 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.
- All Girls Want Bad Boys: Dr. Sara Tancredi, Up to Eleven. It's part of her backstory.
- Lincoln fits this much more then Michael with Veronica, Lisa Rix, Sofia, and Gretchen.
- Alternative Foreign Theme Song: The Japanese dub uses "Change" by YU-A as the theme song.
- Arch Enemy: Michael and T-Bag. Michael and Mahone. Michael/Linc/Aldo and the Company.
- 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.
- Anything That Moves: Again, T-Bag.
- To a lesser extent, Gretchen.
- Ax Crazy: T-Bag, Quinn, Kellerman initially. Wyatt.
- Babies Ever After: Subverted: Sara has Michael Jr., but Michael himself dies.
- Back for the Finale: Sucre, C-Note, Kellerman, Sofia, Felicia, and Hale's wife all re-appear for the broadcast finale - despite not being having seen in a few episodes, two seasons, two seasons, a full season, a few episodes, and almost three full seasons - respectively, and despite the fact that Kellerman was, you know, dead. 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.
- Backstory: Lots and lots.
- 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.
- Batman Gambit: All of Michael's plans, but especially the escape plans in seasons 1 and 3. Don Self pulls an epic one in season 4, duping even Michael.
- 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.
- Black and Gray Morality: Lots of characters. Special agent Mahone in particular.
- 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.
- Butt Monkey: Tweener, Bellick (from season 2 onwards). T-Bag definitely qualifies in long stretches.
- Call Back: In a Season 4 episode, T-Bag gives his name as Charles Patoshik.
- Catholic School Girls 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
- 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.
- 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.
- Command Roster: During season 4, the cons get organized into a team that follows this structure.
- Commercial Break Cliffhanger: All the time.
- Corrupt Corporate Executive: Everyone in the Company who is not an assassin.
- Crapsack World
- Daddy Had a Good Reason For Abandoning You: Aldo Burrows to Lincoln and Michael.
- The Danza: Sarah Wayne Callies plays Dr. Sara Tancredi.
- 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 recurring and ultimately terminal 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.
- Deal with the Devil: Lincoln working for the Company in season 4.
- Depraved Bisexual: T-Bag.
- The Determinator: Michael Scofield.
- Deus Ex Machina: Kellerman in the final episode.
- 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.
- Not to mention season four opens with Sucre, Bellick, and T-Bag somehow escaped from Sona.
- Did Not Do the Research: Unusually, averted in "The Killing Box" - when Michael claims the brothers are entitled to a phone call, the USBP officer makes Prison Break one of the few shows to correctly point out that they're actually not.
- 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.
- Driving Question: Season 1: Who framed Lincoln, and why?
- Driven to Suicide: Kellerman puts a gun to his head in Season 2. The gun jams.
- Played straight with Terrence Steadman.
- Dropped a Bridge on Him: Whistler in the season 4 premiere. Sarah in season 3. She got better.
- 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: 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 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.
- 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
- 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.
- Five-Man Band: A couple emerge throughout the show, starting with:
- The Hero: Michael
- The Lancer: Sucre. Also Lincoln.
- The Big Guy: Lincoln. Also Abruzzi.
- The Smart Guy: Michael, pulling double duty.
- The Chick: Sarah
- The Sixth Ranger: C-Note
- Token Evil Teammate: T-Bag
- Tagalong Kid: Tweener and Haywire.
- Flash Back: Used to show how Michael set something up.
- Foe Yay: Canonical, if unidirectional. T-Bag has had "designs" on Michael since their first meeting. It's not subtle. His nickname for Michael is 'Pretty'. Gretchen and Sofia. Gretchen continuously comments on how pretty Sofia is, and she has her pinned to the wall, not to mention when they meet again, and again. Also, Gretchen and Sara.
- And Gretchen and Linc is canonical, if also unidirectional. There are two points when Gretchen wants to have sex with Linc and tells him so.
- 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).
- Gambit Pileup: Throughout the series, but especially in season 4.
- Get Into Jail Free
- 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
- 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 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.
- 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 2.
- YMMV. He does torture/threaten to rape/threaten to murder a few people.
- Interrupted Suicide: C-Note.
- 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.
- It Got Worse: For everyone. Seriously. I mean, it's the premise of the show.
- 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.
- Kick the Dog: Wyatt: see Wouldn't Hurt a Child.
- Kick the Son of a Bitch: Roland.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 /Megan 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 Schofield is named after the deadly Schofield revolver. While he's definitely not the toughest character on the show, he's arguably the most dangerous.
- 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.
- 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?
- Not Quite Dead: Sara Tancredi, Christina Rose Scofield and Paul Kellerman in season 4.
- Not So Different: T-Bag's constant taunt to Michael.
- Not So Invincible After All: Michael in season 4.
- Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Dominic Purcell (Lincoln) occasionally slips into his Australian accent.
- The Old Convict: Charles Westmoreland, aka D.B. Cooper.
- 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".
- The Only One Allowed to Defeat You: Michael and T-Bag, Mahone and Wyatt.
- The Other Darrin: Terrence Steadman is played by John Billingsley in Season 1. He gets replaced by Jeff Perry in Season 2.
- 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.
- Christina Rose Scofield pulls off the mother of all gambits in season 4, with geopolitical repercussions.
- 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.
- Pseudo Crisis: All the time. Combines with Commercial Break Cliffhanger.
- Psycho for Hire: Quinn in Season 1.
- 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.
- Redemption Equals Death: In season 4, subverted with Paul Kellerman and played straight with Brad Bellick.
- Refuge in Audacity: The show, especially season two and four. (Yeah, breaking out of the prisons aren't the strongest moments of this.)
- Retool: 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 Versus 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.
- Role Ending Misdemeanor: Barely averted; Tweener was actually killed off in the script shortly before his actor got sent to jail for manslaughter.
- Sacrificial Lion: Veronica, Tweener, 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.
- 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 mentioned 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.
- Sliding Scale of Anti-Heroes: Most of the escapees vary on the scale of this. Tweener, Sucre are Type I.Lincoln fits a Type III or IV, while Michael and Mahone are Type IV. T-Bag however is a Type V.
- 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.
- 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 Atoner Michael and Mahone.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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 in season 4.
- 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.
- 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.
- To the Pain: Used by a protagonist in season 4.
- 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.
- 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.
- Worthy Opponent: Mahone to Michael in season 2.
- T-Bag thinks he's a Worthy Opponent to Michael. Michael thinks T-Bag is annoying.
- To be fair, T-Bag does get some moments over Michael (like stealing the money in season 2) but overall loses out to him.
- T-Bag thinks he's a Worthy Opponent to Michael. Michael thinks T-Bag is annoying.
- Wouldn't Hurt a Child: Heinously averted with Wyatt and Mahone's son, but also played straight with Abruzzi, who's horrified when he hears that one of his henchmen killed T-Bag's four year old cousin.
- Which is funny, considering T-Bag himself averts this (especially in his backstory).
- Xanatos Speed Chess: Michael, especially in season 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.