Obligatory warning about a massive spoiler for season 3 of "Prison Break" up through the fall hiatus . . . .
Okay, let's get started. I thought season 1 of "Prison Break" was claustrophobically compelling despite the ridiculously complicated jail break scheme cooked up by Michael Scofield. There were likable prison convicts (Scofield, Sucre, C-Note) and loathsome but watchable ones (T-Bag) and some decent prison officials (Warden Pope, and a few other minor characters) and some loathsome but watchable ones (Bellick, Geary). Throw in a juicy conspiracy plotline going as far as the Vice President's office, and it's not hard to see why "Prison Break" was a hit.
At the end of season 1, Scofield and his crew broke out but had the law literally chasing at their heels. Season 2 was much sunnier in atmosphere -- downright hot at times, as you might expect in places like Arizona, Nevada, and Utah (in the summer, anyway). Some of the escaped cons were killed off, and at the end, Scofield was once again in prison. This time, though, he was in a hellish Panamanian prison that looked something like the maximum security facility in "Escape From New York."
Season 3 picked up with another Byzantine plot by the mysterious Company to use Scofield's engineering talents to break out a fellow prisoner known only as Whistler. As incentive? The Company captured Scofield's nephew LJ and Scofield's girlfriend Dr. Sara Tancredi. When Scofield and his brother Lincoln Burrows (LJ's dad) resisted, with Burrows narrowly failing to rescue LJ and Sara, the Company representative called Burrows and told him that it was understandable that he would try to rescue his loved ones, but he had better not do it again or LJ would suffer. And she directed him to a box in an alley.
A box big enough to hold a human head.
Which is where the episode ended.
Was it really going to be a human head in there? Following conventional Hollywood wisdom, you'd think not. The use of a human head sized box could only be meant to mislead the audience into expecting that, only to be "surprised" when it turned out to be something else, like a hand in a block of ice.
Only, the next episode revealed that . . . it *was* Sara's head in the box!!!!
* * *
I have to say, this was so utterly mean-spirited and violative of Hollywood conventions that, even as I mourned the character's death -- and I really thought that Scofield and Sara had really good chemistry together -- I applauded the writers' gutsiness in doing so.
As far as I can tell, one of the rules of Hollywood is that it is okay to kill off the female lover of a male protagonist, but only in a few circumstances:
(1) The relationship between the protagonist and the woman pre-existed the events depicted in the movie or TV series, and generally, the woman's death motivates the protagonist to do something (like kill a lot of bad guys). We might think of the woman as a motivational sacrificial lamb. Some examples of this situation include action flicks like Steven Seagal's "Hard to Kill" (his wife is killed in the same shootout that puts him in a 7 year coma, freeing him later to romance Kelly le Brock) and Arnold Schwarzeneggar's "Collateral Damage," as well as the movie you were probably thinking of once I told you what was in the box, "Se7en."
(2) The male character is basically a jetsetting globetrotter who, for narrative reasons relating to sequels, can't be tied down to one woman, and if he foolishly marries one, she must be killed off. *The* archetype for this, of course, is James Bond, and we see this exact scenario in "On Her Majesty's Secret Service," when Bond gets married, only to lose his bride at the end of the movie.
I've tried to think of other examples/situations, and I haven't come up with any. Scofield's relationship with Sara Tancredi did not pre-date the events in the series; it arose during the show. And Scofield, while handsome, is not at all James Bond. (He's more like MacGyver, if anything.) I really don't expect him to meet and romance another female character during the rest of the show, though I suppose if it lasts for several more seasons (he breaks out of the Panamanian prison, gets captured elsewhere, breaks out again?), it could happen. So, Sara will end up being a motivational sacrificial lamb, except not one that pre-dated the events in the show. . . . And at the end of the series, Scofield will -- one expects -- bring down the conspiracy and the Company, and then he'll be alone.
Even if it plays out as you'd expect, it's already broken the rules, and I applaud that.