The theme of Grace in Fox TV’s Prison Break

For those, who like me, have invested many hours in Fox’s TV series Prison Break, and have caught up to Season 3, I’d like to look at the Grace theme that seems to be running through each season up to this point. Michael Scofield is a Christ-haunted redeemer. In the first season he robs a bank to get into prison and rescue his brother Lincoln from execution for a crime he did not commit. Once in prison Michael has to win friends and influence people to survive and execute his plan. He is haunted throughout season two by the toll of his decisions in Fox River Penitentiary, paid out in blood on all but a few of those who escape in season one. Each episode ends in a power turn-around. Someone new is holding the gun, has a new ace up the sleeve, is holding someone new ransom. The one thing every character has in common is the desire for escape, anonymity, and enough wealth to live outside the reach of the Corporation.

Michael, as redeemer, preserves for himself the one code that he will not take another life intentionally. At one point Sucre tells Michael that he intends to murder Belick.  Michael responds by telling Sucre he won’t have any part in murder–that such an action causes you to lose your soul. Other characters see this as his weakness, but he sees it as one of the few things keeping him free inside. In one episode in the second season, Michael goes into a Catholic church and seeks confession from a priest. He’s looking perhaps to absolve his conscience and find grace to do what’s necessary. Instead of offering pardon, the priest tries to understand the extent of Michael’s sins. Michael won’t budge. He can’t divulge all that he’s done, its not really safe to involve the priest, but the encounter seems to encourage him that the decision itself, the will to continue, the impulse to move is itself all the grace he needs to continue. The priest cannot help Michael Scofield, simply because he represents a world wherein Grace lies outside the self and is conferred by God. Michael needs assurances, not conferrences.

He lives and must deal in a world without assurance. He is, by the third season, trapped in Sona, a Panamanian prison, and blackmailed into finding an escape for himself and another Australian inmate. This time his brother Lincoln is on the outside, a free man, trying to free him. Each episode feeds us enough of a new story to inspire hope that just maybe the blood redeemer can win. But by the third season we have learned the hard lesson, along with the characters, that there is nothing free in using murder, extortion, lying, and blackmail to accomplish anything. In this bleak world, the self possesses only enough grace to face the next gauntlet, but not quite enough for a new life, certainly not enough for forgiveness. In the last episode I saw, Michael’s former cell mate Sucre redeems his girlfriend Maricruz by severing contact. He loves her enough to know that only outside of his embrace can she truly be free. Grace comes by choosing not to try and redeem, however painful the separation and the thought that perhaps a difference could have been made. But certainly for the others this is just not an option. Their freedom is dependent upon action and so they cannot rest.

I wish that Sara Tancredi’s Recovery in the twelve steps was a bigger part of the program. I don’t get the sense that “the serenity to accept the things she cannot change, the courage to change to the things she can, and the wisdom to know the difference” (the Serenity Prayer) have a strong place in her thinking at this point. Recovery has the potential to be a form of grace, but it pales in significance for this story. What the characters are seeking is a way out rather than a way through.

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One response to “The theme of Grace in Fox TV’s Prison Break

  1. I Ching: Hexagram 27 (Nourishment):

    …”Pay heed to the providing of nourishment
    and to what a man seeks
    to fill his mouth with…”

    If Jacques Ellul does not provide sufficient roughage, you could better seek it in something more realistic like maybe Terry Pratchett’s Diskworld novels? (Or there’s a really enjoyable litry book entitled _Celestial Jukebox_, in which practically everyone is GOOD to each other! Trouble, yes, but not much meanness at all!) Or just read the FAQ on go at, download igowin.exe & practice a little, maybe invite ‘trees’ to a 9X9 game. Various good ways to kill a little Eternity!)

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