Monday, October 09, 2006

"Prison" Rules?


I’ve been watching Season One of “Prison Break.” When I first heard about the show I wondered if you could sustain a series basically centered around one main plot. So, I didn’t really take the time to watch it when it aired. But now, after watching 7 episodes, I think I might be hooked. I’m fascinated by the way each episode stands as part of a deliberate plan taking place in the midst of so many questionable variables. This means sometimes the potential kinks seem a bit contrived, but isn’t everything in a story really contrived in the end? It heightens the drama, even if the little twists that will put everything back on track seem a little bit predictable. But, so far, I’m interested in why those things are predictable. For example, one of these turned on the question of the warden’s integrity, and because you have a sense of his integrity, you can see it coming. That’s not so bad. Indeed, I find myself seeing under the surface of the narrative certain “rules” coming through. It seems absolutely imperative that even in the chaotic and immoral environment that is the prison, that the two main characters not be guilty of something that would impugn them in the eyes of the audience. So, for example, the success of any part of the plan cannot ride on them deliberately killing someone. When a guard discovers their plan, for example, it is impossible for them to kill him. But if, against their wishes, a character we already know to be depraved does it for them, then we can accept it. And their remorse even convinces us more of their moral worth. I wonder if the writers early on come up with a list of rules—what the main characters can or cannot do in pursuit of their goal. Or maybe it’s a bit more organic to the writing process—one writer says to another “Michael wouldn’t/couldn’t do that!” Maybe our TV writer friend Karen Hall could enlighten us on this?

Anyway, now you know what a nerd I am, when I seem more interested in how the story is written than the story itself! But if you’re thinking of watching, the story is pretty good too—especially with the ensemble cast they’ve created of breakout (no pun intended) actors with seasoned veterans like Stacy Keach and Peter Stormare.


Blogger Ciaviel said...

Unfortunately I keep thinking of Stormare's character in "Fargo" when he comes on screen, but he is a good actor. I really do hope they start to wrap up some story arcs in the show, because if they keep going on and on with no resolution in sight, then we'll have another "Lost."

Interesting comment about the morality of it. Have you watched the most recent episode or two? There was one episode in which Michael makes the comment that nobody is innocent anymore in the original group, and all are equally culpable, that there's no such thing as an ex-con. I think the only truly innocent person is Lincoln's son, I think. (And even then he's no angel.)

Aaaah. I'll shut up now, before I spoil things. But I was choked up over last week's episode's end.

1:13 PM  
Blogger Mark Mossa, SJ said...

I'm only on episode 7, so I haven't seen any of the recent ones. I'm hoping that I can get done with season one before watching any of the newer episodes.

Lost is still keeping my attention, but I am thinking that they might have to give us something solid to hold onto soon. There were some interesting new twists in the first episode of this season.


1:28 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

One thing I've noticed since I started writing fiction, is that I pay a lot more attention to how stories are written, than just enjoying them ... it takes a little of the fun out of it.

2:30 PM  
Blogger Julie D. said...

I also was choked up over last week's episode end because it involved a character whose main fault was to be just dumb enough to always be someone's pawn.

For a show that talks about morality and examines it through characters from the very flawed through various permutations thereof I highly recommend House. Best show on television and that is one of the reasons. The universe makes sense and when they seem to be taking a side, such as in the most recent new one with the autistic child, suddenly humanity comes unexpectedly in to show the other side. Really wonderful stuff.

On the morality question, we tried to watch Smith and rejected in large part because every single character was, for lack of a better word, mean. There was no noble character, no one who held to a higher standard. Therefore, we didn't care about any of them. I think that is at the heart of all good stories. Because we all know what truth is on a basic level and the really great stories reflect that truth.

3:55 PM  
Blogger angelmeg said...

I saw an interview with the creator and he says he thought four years out when he created the show, so I think he has some idea about how things all tie together and what each character's motivations are.

I too love the intricacies that go into creating a story like this one. Unfortunately for me, I have a young daughter who is much too impressionable for the level of violence on this show so we have chosen as a family to view something else this season. I will have to chatch up with Prison Break on video.

I am glad you found it.


6:50 PM  
Blogger Karen said...

The "rules" depend entirely on the creator and/or showrunner. When my sister did "Joan of Arcadia" she made a list of "rules" for the writers. I don't remember what they were, but I'm sure you can google them.

But once when I met (job interview) with another show that centered around a big mystery, I was disturbed to discover that the creators had no idea what the answer to the mystery was. I thought that was a bad idea. But the show did fine, so that shows what I know.

I got an eye-opening lesson when I worked on Moonlighting. I can't tell you how many times we (writers) sat and looked at each other and said, "Okay, we're at the top of act four, who is still alive who could have done it?"

(Major Moonlighting nerds have probably noticed that people were always winding up "not really" dead at the end of act three!)

11:51 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Prison there's a show I had to comment on! My husband and I love it and get pretty frustrated, if, for some reason we can't watch it in real time and need to tape it, instead.

Some people don't like to watch a continuing drama since they want resolution each week. I do like the coninuing aspect of PB and the characters are all intense and very interesting.

I was sorry to see Stormare's character get killed off but this is TV land and he very well could come back from the dead in a future episode. :) My favorite is Lincoln, followed by Michael.

I was tearing up over last week's episode also because I thought the one to be killed off was going to be Haywire but I guess we need him for a bit of comic relief since he's building a raft one stick at a time. :)

10:42 AM  
Blogger Mark Mossa, SJ said...


I'm sorry, I'll have to read the rest of your comment later. I stopped at the point when you told me something I didn't already know!!!!

But thanks for your contribution.


11:38 AM  

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