In Fox’s new 9-episode event series Prison Break, clues surface that suggest a previously thought-to-be-dead Michael Scofield (Wentworth Miller) may actually be alive. With the evidence too overwhelming to deny, his brother Lincoln (Dominic Purcell) and Sara (Sarah Wayne Callies), Michael’s wife until he was presumed dead, must engineer the biggest escape ever, as three of Fox River State Penitentiary’s most notorious escapees – Sucre (Amaury Nolasco), T-Bag (Robert Knepper) and C-Note (Rockmond Dunbar) – are pulled back into the action.
To promote the return of the series, show creator Paul T. Scheuring sat down with Collider to discuss all things Prison Break. During the interview, he talked about how this ended up being the right time to bring the series back, why it needed to be a limited run, figuring out how to bring Michael back into the story, working the other characters in, in an organic way, who didn’t make the cut, which character’s journey will be most surprising, feeling a sense of resolution at the end of the season, and whether he’d be willing to do more episodes.
Collider: I’m excited that Prison Break is back!
PAUL T. SCHEURING: It’s strange to be back.
There must have been talk, over the years, about the show coming back, in some form. How did this end up being the right time?
SCHEURING: There are a lot of things. Just on the personal level, a lot of people were not interested, from Wentworth [Miller], on down. I think a lot of people were burned out, and I was certainly burned out. I was burned out after two seasons. There was that necessary process of letting it all go, and then remembering. And then, the second thing was the idea that the culture of TV has changed. You can come back and do a limited run. If they had said, “Let’s bring the show back, full-time for 22 episodes,” we wouldn’t have done it. I needed to hear that the actors were interested, and then subsequent to that, I had to convince myself that there was a good enough idea to do it. We weren’t doing it just to do it. We wanted to make it awesome. Those were some of the components that went into it.
Did you go through a series of ideas that wouldn’t work, before you got to the one that did?
SCHEURING: Yeah. We were not making the show without Michael, and Michael apparently died, at the end of Season 4, so we had to answer the question of, how did he die? And then, we had to give him an emotional journey that was worth doing. That’s when I thought, “I know this story. It’s a man coming back from the dead who, for all intents and purposes, was gone from the earth for seven years, and then showing up in a mysterious place under mysterious circumstances, and coming home to claim the wife and son that he left behind.” That’s The Odyssey. I was like, “If we can tell The Odyssey, that would be cool.” You’ll see all the players from The Odyssey, like Cyclops and Poseidon and Penelope.
Was it a big challenge to figure out how to bring all of the other characters back in?
SCHEURING: Yes. That had to be organic. One thing I really dislike in narratives is what I call the super friend complex, where you have six people run around together, but you really don’t need four of them. They just stand in the back of the scene, but they’re supposed to be there because they’re a character in the narrative. That’s creative bloat. So for me, I asked, why would Sucre be in the picture? Why would T-Bag be in the picture? Why would C-Note be in the picture? Those were ones that I could answer, in a very organic way that’s integral to the narrative. They fit in. But, there were some that didn’t fit in. I would loved to have had Bill Fichtner as Mahone. He’s incredible. But, what would he do and why would he be there? There were just certain people who didn’t make it back.
Was it fun to figure out who had changed and how much they’d changed?
SCHEURING: It’s a lot of fun to see what happened to all of them, in the intervening seven years. That’s part of the fun for the audience. With T-Bag, there’s an earnest yearning. He’s trying to find his place, and perhaps he’s being manipulated because of that.
Was it important to you to explore how each of these people were affected by Michael being gone, and not just getting him back?
SCHEURING: If the story is just about the mechanics of an escape, nobody cares. We’ve already done that. We did a pretty good job of telling a complex escape story in Season 1. If we’re only going to tell a complex escape story, we’ve already done that. But if there are new emotional complexities and dynamics between the characters, where they have mixed feelings about what it all means, that makes it a richer story because the audience, themselves, are conflicted. We didn’t want to just make it a two-dimensional action thriller. We wanted there to be a lot of people caught in the middle of hard decisions.
There’s a lot of mystery about what’s going on with Michael. Will we start to get answers quickly?
SCHEURING: A big thing for me is to be able to deliver answers. Then the audience knows that the things that you tease are not just for the tease, but there’s actually something there. I think a lot of shows figure out how to tease you very well, but then have to get out of it later, so they just keep kicking the can down the road because they don’t know how to get out of it. So in this case, especially with a short run, you want to start rolling out answers very quickly. But at the same time, there is a certain masque element, where nothing is what it seems to be, and that goes all the way to the end, to the last frames of the show. We want the audience, even when they’re getting answers, to realize that down is up. I think those kinds of narratives are really fun to the audience.
By the time we get to the end of the season, will we feel satisfied in knowing those answers, or will there still be some questions?
SCHEURING: No, this thing was designed as a close-ended piece. At the end, you’ll be like, “That was the dynamic. That’s what happened. And that’s how it was resolved. Wow!” There’s no over-hanging piece that will make you want to come back next year.
Do you see this as the end, or could this be a possible beginning for more?
SCHEURING: There’s a hunger from the actors for that. I’m ambivalent about that. I don’t like embarking on a story unless I know exactly where it ends. The reason I signed on to do this season was because I knew where the season ended. I couldn’t tell you another story about this group of people. Maybe somebody else can, or by accident, I’ll somehow, possibly, dream up another prison escape that’s new and fresh, but I would bet against it.
What was it like to get all of these actors back together again?
SCHEURING: It was fun. Whenever you start a new project, you cast the characters as best you can, and then you throw the actors all together and you don’t know what’s going to happen. Often, you’re disappointed. Despite your best intentions, it just doesn’t really gel. You realize the value of really good actors and their chemistry. It’s a rare thing, indeed, to have that at your disposal, as a storyteller. With Prison Break, it was wonderful, within an hour on the first day, to drop back into these roles that they’re really quite good at, and go, “Wow, I have some nice brushes to paint with. These are really nice.”
Was it challenging to figure out how to weave new characters into the story?
SCHEURING: No. I was so pleased to watch J.J. Abrams reboot Star Wars because what I thought he did so wisely was to bring back some of the original characters of the series to bring back that fundamental emotional foundation of the story. But then, he intermingled those original characters with new blood. If it was just the original characters, it would feel a little stale. But when you bring in new blood and mix it all together, it has the feeling of the old and the new. That was the intention. We have some really strong actors that have been added to the cast, and they dropped in really nicely.
Whose journey do you think will be most surprising for fans?
SCHEURING: Good question. Michael’s is certainly an interesting journey. One of the central mysteries of the show is, who is this guy? One of the initial things I had been very troubled with, in thinking what the show would be, was that, if we were thinking of bringing Michael back as the protagonist, and we just show him alive again and he’s Michael Scofield, the audience will feel ripped off. But if the reason he’s alive is in question, and who he is and what agendas are behind this is in question, that becomes interesting. Hopefully, the enigma of “Michael Scofield” captivates the audience.
Was it even harder to say goodbye on the last day, this time around?
SCHEURING: Yes, but you can only be open for business, if it’s worth being open for business. You can’t just be in business to be in business. Your product has to be worthwhile. Until I, or someone else, can come up with something that’s really worthwhile for the audience, you have to say goodbye to these people. You can’t do it just to do it, for sequelitis.
Prison Break airs on Tuesday nights on Fox.