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The Fox River Eight. The Company. Lechero and the Sona inmates. Donald Self and his odd squad of agents. Really, the insane plot twists littered throughout Prison Break are only possible because of the insane characters, of which there are many.
The Fox series makes its improbable comeback April 4, returning for a fifth season, years and years after seemingly ending the plight of Michael Scofield (Wentworth Miller) in as definitive terms as humanly possible: death via electrocution. Then again, this is the same show where a woman was decapitated in season three and then returned in season four with her head fully intact, so…let’s just go ahead and say death is a flexible creature in the case of Prison Break, and move on from there.
With only a few weeks still to go before Prison Break returns, let’s take stock of the men and women, inmates and operatives, who made the show so memorable. Here’s our ranking of the show’s main characters, a list we’re defining by series regulars and a few notable guest stars — namely, some of the major players from the Fox River State Penitentiary and Company sides of the aisle.
25. Sofia Lugo (Danay Garcia)
Caught between James Whistler and Lincoln Burrows, Sofia’s sole purpose on Prison Break is to add a little bit of love to Lincoln’s life, and to help speed things along on the Sona prison escape. It’s not personal that she’s here at the end of the list; it’s just a reflection of her extremely limited role on the show.
24. James Whistler (Chris Vance)
Whistler was a better MacGuffin than he was a character, serving as the major reason why Scofield needs to be broken out of prison in the third season. Bonus points scored for Whistler’s death: a completely sudden and unceremonious bullet to the brain in the fourth-season premiere, continuing the show’s fine tradition of yanking characters off the board with zero advance warning.
23. Lincoln Burrows Jr. (Marshall Allman)
Better known as L.J., Lincoln’s son was pretty easily the show’s most challenging character. Somehow, he managed to maintain series regular status across all four seasons of the show’s original run, despite the fact that the writers room bent over backwards to include L.J. in the series. If he finds his way into season five, hopefully it’s just to give his dad a quick hug — for his sake and for ours.
22. Cristina Scofield (Kathleen Quinlan)
It’s hard to knock Prison Break for thinking outside the box (no Sara Tancredi puns intended), but perhaps it went a little too far in season four when Michael’s mother emerged as an end-game villain. Granted, it featured some solid casting in the form of Kathleen Quinlan, but it was an 11th hour wrinkle that complicated an already elaborate plot just a little too much.
21. David “Tweener” Apolskis (Lane Garrison)
Remember Tweener? He didn’t even last two full seasons, but this member of the Fox River Eight was a big featured player while he was on the show. Tweener stands out as one of the show’s best early main character deaths, affording him a moment or two of redemption before shuffling into the great beyond. What’s more, his death marked a major shift in season two, revealing that Agent Mahone doesn’t just want to apprehend the Fox River Eight; he wants them dead.
20. Norman “Lechero” St. John (Robert Wisdom)
If his past baggage as Bunny Colvin on The Wire were a factor, Robert Wisdom’s Lechero might rank near the top of this list. As it is, he was a highlight during the show’s lowest point: the Sona prison story in season three. Kudos to the Prison Break writers for realizing there was simply no way to break Lechero out of Sona and plausibly keep him in the story; better to be suffocated by T-Bag and call it a day.
19. Veronica Donovan (Robin Tunney)
She only scores this low due to her relative impact on the series. But frankly, Robin Tunney’s wide-eyed attorney should score some extra points for being the most shocking death up to that point in the series: assassinated in the season-two premiere with absolutely no warning, becoming the first series regular to meet her maker.
18. Donald Self (Michael Rapaport)
Aside from having an incredible name, Donald Self has an incredible ending: injected with a serum that leaves him alive but invalid, much like his own wife, who earned her condition thanks to Self’s selfish ways. Essentially an evil version of Danny Ocean, Rapaport’s character fueled a lot of the fourth season’s action, and earns a nod or two for that reason alone.
17. Caroline Reynolds (Patricia Wettig)
Would you believe it? The White House, involved in the conspiracy at the heart of Prison Break? As far-fetched as that sounds, it’s the truth, with Vice President Caroline Reynolds deeply involved in the plot — so much so that she eventually becomes President Reynolds, after assassinating her predecessor.
16. William Kim (Reggie Lee)
A central character during season two, Bill Kim was relentless in his pursuit of the brothers Scofield and Burrows, as well as the rest of the Fox River Eight. But really, his preference was to taskmaster folks like Agent Mahone and Paul Kellerman, only getting in the thick of the action when absolutely necessary — a wise rule he foolishly violated at the end of season two, leading to his death at Sara Tancredi’s hands.
15. The General (Leon Russom)
Some call him Krantz. Some call him Pad Man. Just don’t call him Pac Man. For the purposes of this ranking, let’s stick with the man’s official title: The General (not to be confused with the Dispatch song or with Robert DeCanio), the man at the top of the shadowy organization known only as The Company. More ominous in his earliest days of the series, the General became quite chatty as Prison Break wore on, ultimately winding up sitting in the same electric chair originally intended for Lincoln Burrows. (OK, not the exact same electric chair, but the point remains.)
14. Henry Pope (Stacy Keach)
The warden of Fox River State Penitentiary looms large over the first season of the series, inarguably the best year of the show. But once Scofield and the others fulfill the show’s title and escape prison, Warden Pope fades away into the distance. Fair enough! It’s a better outcome than needlessly roping the character into any Company conspiracies, and it allows Pope’s season-one role as Michael’s father figure of sorts to remain intact.
13. Charles Westmoreland (Muse Watson)
Whatever happened to D.B. Cooper? Watch Prison Break, and the answer will be revealed. On this show, the legendary airplane robber went by the name of Charles Westmoreland, one of the kinder souls in Fox River. Sadly, that’s where he remains until his dying day, killed during the Fox River Eight’s successful escape — but even in death, the legends of Westmoreland’s money fueled the next season’s story.
12. Charles “Haywire” Patoshik (Silas Weir Mitchell)
Before there was Monroe and Grimm, there was Haywire and Prison Break. Given the character’s name, it should come as no surprise to hear that Haywire was a little bit…off. He boasts perhaps the saddest death scene of the entire series, effectively coached off a ledge by an empathetic — if still kind of rotten at the time — Agent Mahone, silencing the voices in his head with a resounding thud.
11. Brad Bellick (Wade Williams)
While Prison Break couldn’t figure out a way to keep Warden Pope in the mix, the show had no such problems with Brad Bellick, the Fox River correctional officer so furious over the Fox River Eight’s escape that he quits his job and dedicates the rest of his life to tracking them down. The irony, then, was that Bellick eventually sacrificed his own life to save one of the Fox River inmates. It was an admittedly sappier ending than one might have expected or desired from Bellick, but all the same, there wasn’t a dry eye on the night he died — not the least of which is because he died in an overflowing sewage tunnel.
10. John Abruzzi (Peter Stormare)
Right up front, it must be said: Abruzzi ranks this high because he’s played by character actor Peter Stormare, who has a way of infusing his roles with an unexpectedly perfect amount of eccentric mania. It’s no different for John Abruzzi (and yes, to clarify, that’s John Abruzzi John Abruzzi), who lords over the first season of the show as the veritable King Kong of Fox River State Penitentiary. It’s sad that he dies so quickly into season two, but his early exit sets the stage for the rest of the season’s momentum.
9. Gretchen Morgan (Jodi Lyn O’Keefe)
Some Prison Break fans might think Gretchen is way too high on this list, but in this writer’s estimation, she really is all that. (No apologies.) The lethal agent formerly known as Susan B. Anthony becomes a steady Prison Break presence starting with season three, lasting just a little bit shy of the show’s then final paces. She’s relentless in her service to the Company, even more protective of her daughter Emily, and is easily the show’s best late game adversary.
8. Benjamin “C-Note” Franklin (Rockmond Dunbar)
He’s one of very few Prison Break characters who actually earns a happy ending relatively early into the show’s run. During season two, after escaping Fox River with the other inmates, C-Note is the only one who manages to get away, winding up in witness protection, only to return for the tail end of season four. It’s actually a little bit troubling that he’s back for season five, as it raises the possibility that C-Note won’t ride off into the sunset after all.
7. Alexander Mahone (William Fichtner)
A lot of people rolled their eyes at the notion of Prison Break pushing forward once Michael Scofield and the other inmates actually broke out of prison. But the eyes that stuck around for season two were glued to the television set, thanks in large to the arrival of FBI Special Agent Mahone, played by the prolific character actor William Fichtner. A complicated guy with some dark secrets of his own, Mahone was an incredible addition to the lineup all the way through to the series’ end. There’s currently no word on whether he’ll return for season five.
6. Paul Kellerman (Paul Adelstein)
As the Company man with the heart of gold, Kellerman ranks right at the top as far as characters who underwent the greatest transformations across the seasons of Prison Break — not the least of which was cheating death. Kellerman apparently died in season two, only to return at the end of the series with a much higher pay grade and an eye on the country’s top office. Are we looking at President Kellerman come season five? Weirder things have happened, both on Prison Break and in life.
5. Sara Tancredi (Sarah Wayne Callies)
Long before Walking Dead fans loathed Lori, Prison Break fans loved Sara. The Fox River doctor became an absolutely essential part of Prison Break as Michael Scofield’s lover and confidant. Viewers were furious when Prison Break pulled a Se7en and tossed what appeared to be Doctor Sara’s head in a box, and were equally elated when season four dialed things back and made it clear that Sara was alive and well after all. Sara remains that way through the end of Prison Break, even if the same can’t be said for Michael — although the upcoming fifth season is set to change that status quo once again.
4. Fernando Sucre (Amaury Nolasco)
On the one hand, it would be perfectly OK if we never saw Sucre again. Much like the case with C-Note, a return trip to Prison Break for Sucre could potentially end in disaster. That being said, the prospect of seeing Michael Scofield’s big-hearted best friend back in action is an exciting one indeed. While the brothers are the key characters at the core of the show, there’s a real argument that Sucre is the heart and soul of Prison Break, thanks to the warmth Nolasco brought to the role.
3. Lincoln Burrows (Dominic Purcell)
If Michael is the brains, then his brother is the brawn. Lincoln is at the heart of all things Prison Break, the wrongfully convicted death row inmate who gets this whole show started. Where Michael uses carefully laid plans and impromptu engineering to break his way out of trouble, Lincoln relies on his fists. It’s a great dynamic, one that really works best when the brothers are together, rather than when they’re apart. But their relationship is so great that Prison Break fans around the world collectively howled with delight when Purcell and Miller joined The CW’s Arrowverse as Heat Wave and Captain Cold, respectively.
2. Michael Scofield (Wentworth Miller)
With blueprints tattooed all over his body and an origami swan on standby for every occasion, Michael Scofield is the epitome of everything you want from a main character: deeply mysterious, hyper competent, grounded together with a soul-piercing gaze and a booming voice. There’s a magnetic quality about Michael, and not just because he could probably build a magnet that could pull humans by their teeth fillings. Miller’s work outside of Prison Break more than speaks for itself, with his proved skills as a writer on films like Stoker and his commendable advocacy efforts. But for so many fans, he’ll always be most readily identified as Michael Scofield, the man who broke into prison in order to break his brother out of it.
1. Theodore “T-Bag” Bagwell (Robert Knepper)
For some, it’s controversial to rank T-Bag higher than Michael. In this writer’s opinion, the order could be switched on these final two, no harm, no foul. There’s just something absolutely mesmerizing about the way Knepper threw his entire being into the role of T-Bag, one of the nastiest and most unsavory villains on television at the height of Prison Break‘s original run. But it wasn’t all sleaze, slime and crime: T-Bag had moments of unexpected depth and tragedy, too, like a wounded street cat who couldn’t help but lash out after sustaining years of life’s abuse. None of which justifies any of T-Bag’s atrocious behavior, of course, but all of it stands testament to Knepper’s iconic performance in this role — such an iconic performance, in fact, that T-Bag even made a post-Prison Break appearance on the short-lived Breakout Kings.
How would you rank the Prison Break characters? Let us know in the comments below, and follow along with our Prison Break coverage for interviews, news and more.
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