Michael Scofield (Wentworth Miller) is dead. Long live Kaniel Outis.
The biggest question on Prison Break fans’ minds was answered in the premiere episode of the limited series revival … well, sort of. Throughout the hour, Michael’s brother Lincoln Burrows (Dominic Purcell) wrestles with the news that his departed sibling might not be deceased after all, and instead might be alive and not-so-well in a Yemeni prison called Ogygia.
But how is it possible? How could Michael have survived the events of Prison Break: The Final Chapter, in which he sacrificed his own life in order to break his wife Sara Tancredi (Sarah Wayne Callies) out of prison? The how and why of it all remains unanswered, but midway through the premiere, Lincoln digs up Michael’s grave, and is shocked to see that there’s no body inside the coffin.
“That was a tough scene. I had difficulty writing it,” creator and executive producer Paul Scheuring tells The Hollywood Reporter. “On some level, digging up the grave is a little bit absurd. But also on some level, it’s the only thing Lincoln can do. The proof is in the pudding: If the body’s in the grave, it’s all for naught. But if his brother is obsessed and saying, ‘I have to know, I have to put this to bed once and for all, and I need to know if the body is in that grave.’ At the end of the day, I decided that Lincoln’s need, that compulsion, was greater than my own coyness as a writer. It has to be done at the end of the day. You have to know.”
And now we know, except there’s a new mystery in play: Why is Michael pretending he’s not Michael? At the end of the premiere, Lincoln and C-Note (Rockmond Dunbar) travel to Yemen and visit Michael, but the somehow-alive brother refuses to acknowledge his past. The twist raises more than a few questions, according to executive producer Vaun Wilmott.
“By the end of the first episode, we really wanted to leave a question mark over the character of Michael,” he says. “Who is he? What has he become? Is it him? If it’s not him, who is this man that looks exactly like him? Also, if it is him, could those seven years have massively changed him?”
What’s more, Michael now goes under an alias: Kaniel Outis, a name that’s pulled straight from the epic poem that the new Prison Break series takes its cues from.
“I’m almost positive Paul got it from The Odyssey,” says Wilmott. “That’s the name Odysseus, when he resurfaced after years being presumed dead, was using: Outis.”
Scheuring confirms the origin of Outis, adding, “It’s Greek for ‘nobody.’ It’s this tease: ‘Who did this? Nobody did this.’ I thought that would be nice, if Michael had a name that’s almost a phantom name. He’s nobody.”
Throughout the premiere, Michael operates as a phantom on another level: He’s more ghost than character, a force that looms over the story, appearing in only a handful of scenes. It’s a divisive choice for some fans, perhaps, concealing Michael for the vast majority of the premiere. But it’s one that the creative team, including executive producer Michael Horowitz, heartily defend.
“I think it’s really fascinating,” he says. “It’s sort of withholding from the audience a big thing that they want. It puts you in Lincoln’s shoes of discovering it, and it deepens the mystery. You’ll find out a lot more in subsequent episodes. It’s going to be a little bit challenging for people, but hopefully in a good way. We don’t give you all the answers right away.”
The Prison Break creator says he felt like he would be “doing the fans a disservice if Michael Scofield just popped his head up and came back at the start of the new season, and we said, ‘It was all a dream.'” Instead, he was interested in going down the rabbit hole and using the mystery of Michael’s sudden reappearance as the driving force of the season.
“I wanted it to be a far more mystifying reason that he went missing,” says Scheuring. “It’s something that takes episodes and episodes to unpack. Initially, if it was just Lincoln walking up to Michael at the end of the episode, and he walks up to Michael and says, ‘I’m here to break you out,’ and Michael says, ‘Good,’ it just feels like … I feel like it was done in season three. It becomes this trope in Prison Break where one brother comes up and says, ‘I’m going to get you out.’ And the other one goes, ‘Good!’ But if we take that entire idea and turn it on its head, and this man denies his brother — that he says, ‘I’m not Michael Scofield‘ — then that’s a twist that no one will see coming. It’s part of that question: What happened to Michael in the last seven years? For me, that’s a central thrust and drive of the season.”
Adds Wilmont: “It’s a tough decision to make, to hold one of your leads — your star — until the end of the first episode. But I think because he died, Paul made the right decision to really build the world out again, get back to the Prison Break of it all, and kind of rebuild the idea of Michael as we’re discovering that he’s still alive. We’re along with that character for the discovery, instead of jumping right back in.”
The mysteries surrounding Michael will continue into the next batch of episodes, with plenty of answers along the way. But it sounds like one question won’t be answered for quite some time: the story behind Michael’s body tattoos. After all, the last time viewers saw him, Michael’s signature ink had been lasered off in a season four episode.
“Yeah, I heard about that,” jokes Scheuring, before acknowledging that Michael’s tattoos are “part of the mythology of the show: He has tattoos, and he has a plan. Having said that, that was a conceit that was new 12 years ago. Now, it’s familiar terrain, so much so that other shows have appropriated it. I wanted to turn all of that on its head. What’s the scheme with the tattoos? By the end of the season, it’s a double-triple reverse scheme. I’m hoping that it’s rewarding to the audience.”
What’s your take on the Prison Break premiere? Let us know in the comments below, and click here for more Prison Break coverage throughout the season.