Prison Break

[Prison Break Primer in 100 words or less, because I know it's not everyone's cup of tea: Season 1 was about Michael breaking his brother Lincoln out of prison because Lincoln was set to be executed for a murder he didn't commit. Several prisoners they needed favours from ended up tagging along. Season 2 was about the fugitives' (mostly unsuccessful) attempts to avoid recapture or death, and Michael's and Lincoln's attempt to uncover The Conspiracy that framed Lincoln. Season 3 finds Lincoln exonerated, but Michael in a Panamanian prison where The Company needs him to break someone out.]

A show like Prison Break doesn’t set itself up for having a lot of major female characters, considering the original setting was a men’s prison. Which is fine, since it fits the situation and they had at least a few relevant female characters. But as the show starts its third season, it’s becoming very clear that the female characters they do have are treated far worse than the men.

The first season started with two significant female characters: Dr. Sara Tancredi and Veronica Donovan, a lawyer (and old girlfriend) trying to help Lincoln. 4 episodes into season 3? They’re both dead. Now many people have died over the past 2+ seasons, and the majority of them have been male, but none of them were treated in the grisly manner that Veronica and Sara were.

Veronica died in the second season premiere, having already been kidnapped once and nearly killed several times in season 1. I’ll admit that I wasn’t a huge fan of the character, but that’s because the writers had her do so many patently stupid things that I couldn’t understand how she was still alive. Then she wasn’t, which cleared up some of the mystery.

At first it seemed she was going to wind up dead after being betrayed by Nick, the lawyer who was helping her with Lincoln’s case who was actually working for Abruzzi (a mobster set to break out of jail with Michael and Lincoln). Obviously a woman can’t be counted on to be a decent judge of character, despite the 9,000 red flags that he was playing her- luckily, he had a last minute change of heart. Eventually Veronica managed to track down Terrance Steadman, the man that Lincoln had supposedly murdered. And called the police, despite the fact that Terrance was the President’s brother, and since he was on federal land all 911 calls went directly to the Secret Service office. Oops.

Veronica was not only shot by agents protecting him, she was removed from the house in no less than 4 garbage bags. A woman who should have been intelligent was dumbed down at every possible juncture, and then killed, dismembered, and discarded like trash. Literally.

Sara lasted a season longer. At the beginning of season 2 she was, like Veronica, fooled into becoming friends with someone trying to kill her, this time for The Company. (She gets a pass here, since Kellerman is far better at his job than Nick could ever be. Still, it’s an unfortunate pattern.) After her father, the governor, was murdered, she ended up on the run as well. For most of the season she was working with little information and no experience, and handled herself well, which is part of what makes her ending so very disappointing. At the beginning of season 3 she’s been kidnapped along with Lincoln’s son LJ, and being held hostage to force Michael to break out of prison for them.

Until her severed head was delivered in a box to Lincoln after a failed rescue attempt.

Characters in this show have a high mortality rate, but the men haven’t been treated like this.

Fugitives who died? Abruzzi was shot by FBI agents while attempting to kill the person who sent him to prison, Tweener was shot by a bad FBI agent and made to look as though he was attempting to escape, Haywire jumped off a water tower rather than be recaptured. Others? Kellerman was shot after turning on The Company, Steadman committed suicide rather than face his crimes, Governor Tancredi was hanged in a faked suicide.

All more standard crime show deaths, and most of those were bad guys by this show’s definition. Some of the men were set up to look decent, even ones who were guilty. Kellerman’s was redemptive. The two major female characters in the show however, have both been murdered and mutilated and used as a tactic to horrify characters or the audience. Reduced to nothing more than body parts, degraded, completely powerless. If I was Susan- this season’s antagonist- I’d be awfully nervous.

Comments

  1. says

    The two major female characters in the show however, have both been murdered and mutilated and used as a tactic to horrify characters or the audience. Reduced to nothing more than body parts, degraded, completely powerless.

    Nicely put. I’m on the list of those not watching the show, but it does sound like death is an event in the men’s lives, something that says something about grandiose the meaning of life, the universe and everything, while the death of women is just something that happens. It’s tough to describe in a tangible way what the difference is and why it’s misogynistic, which is why the murder of female characters is something that’s really been getting to me lately.

  2. MaggieCat says

    The thing is, I can handle the murder of female characters about as well as that of male characters, when the woman is shown the same amount of agency that the man is, which is becoming increasingly rare. It didn’t hit me as much with Veronica, probably because relative to other 1st season characters I didn’t like her all that much (ignoring that the reason I didn’t really care about her is because the writers wasted her potential) but that’s really the more egregious incident because she really had very little involvement with her own death, if that makes any sense.

    Other characters, men, were allowed that involvement. (IIRC) Veronica was in the foyer of the house talking to Steadman and saw the agents enter. And just stood there. Got shot, fell to the ground, and at some point we heard Lincoln hear the shots over the phone (she was calling him) and then…. garbage bags being stuffed in the car trunk. Nothing- shock and falling. That’s it.

    Contrast that with Abruzzi, who knew the FBI had caught up with him and made the decision to commit suicide by cop. Kellerman (who, admittedly, I loved) was given time to make his speech about the French Resistance and facing the firing squad with a smile. Tweener, going back to jail willingly rather than turn on Michael&Co and because he’s met one person that thought he wasn’t hopeless, and the moments when he realized Mahone was going to murder him. Even Haywire, who was mentally ill and a minor character, was actually driven to suicide by Mahone since it made his job easier.

    All that while the female regulars get murdered without the benefit of any recognition other than how they relate to the male leads. Hell, by this point I’m starting to suspect that both of them winding up in pieces was a metaphor for the fact that in death they both wound up as nothing more than props.

  3. says

    “All more standard crime show deaths, and most of those were bad guys by this show’s definition. Some of the men were set up to look decent, even ones who were guilty. Kellerman’s was redemptive. The two major female characters in the show however, have both been murdered and mutilated and used as a tactic to horrify characters or the audience.”

    “It sounds like they want us to see the men as going down bravely with a fight, but the women as tragic victims.”

    It was this trend that turned me off Lost for good. Even if Ana Lucia and Libby both needed to go for reasons having to do with the actresses behavior (which I find suspect for obvious reasons) neither needed to die the way they did.

    It didn’t help that when I tried to make a list of male vs. female deaths, I noticed that that while the guys were pretty much all bad guys killed by good guys or good guys killed by bad guys, the women were all good people killed by other good people. I doubt this trend was deliberate, but it was very disturbing.

  4. MaggieCat says

    It was this trend that turned me off Lost for good. Even if Ana Lucia and Libby both needed to go for reasons having to do with the actresses behavior (which I find suspect for obvious reasons) neither needed to die the way they did.

    I’ve stopped buying that reason myself. Part of the reason Sara was killed was because the actress left the show, but there was no need to kill her in this manner. Especially since they’ve shown themselves to be perfectly creative about killing other characters before. (This is where being halfway decent gets you into more trouble than the all-around crappy writers.)

    Anyway, the producers etc, have been saying that once they heard Sarah Wayne Callies wasn’t coming back, they actually found a way for it to work better than what they’d originally had planned. There’s a fallout Q&A with one of PB‘s exec producers here. While I’ll grant that they had some limited options without the actress’s involvement, I’d be interested if that had anything to do with what they did to the character.

  5. Gategrrl says

    Hmm. All this talk about how women die on television shows reminds of two very different shows: NCIS, and ST:The Next Generation.

    The very first main title character to be killed off on a Star Trek show was Tasha Yar, a tall blonde Nordic type woman who was the security chief. She was killed off because her actor wanted off the show (it was VERY dire at the time – the show, that is). And she was given an explicitly purposeless death by a completely evil creature. Tasha was later resurrected (sort of) in one of the best episodes of Next Gen, Yesterday’s Enterprise, in order so that she get a death that meant something. She has one of the most complex storlines on Next Gen as a result.

    NCIS – Kate, one of the officers, was killed off suddenly, in the presence of two of her male work-buddies, by a maniacal terrorist type they’d been hunting for a few episodes. Again, it wasn’t a death that had any meaning to it, except what hole her character left for the other characters.

    I’m sure I could come up with a few more if I really thought about it – but it was interesting how explicitly meaningless the ST writers made their female character’s death. And Kate’s on NCIS, as well.

  6. MaggieCat says

    The very first main title character to be killed off on a Star Trek show was Tasha Yar, a tall blonde Nordic type woman who was the security chief. She was killed off because her actor wanted off the show (it was VERY dire at the time – the show, that is). And she was given an explicitly purposeless death by a completely evil creature.

    I actually remember watching that episode when it originally aired, and how random it seemed. I spent the rest of the episode waiting for them to find out she wasn’t really dead.

    Prison Break has only gotten worse in the episodes since I wrote this. Susan, this season’s visible bad, turns out to be evil and holding people hostage because she herself was a hostage for several weeks, subjected to torture and implied rapes. And her personality completely changes depending on what man she’s talking to at any given time. (We’ve never seen her talking to a woman that I can recall, so I can’t tell if it’s an actual coping mechanism of adapting to any situation, or wish fulfillment that her personality will be whatever will appeal to a particular man. Understandably any faith I had in the writers that it may be the former in gone.)

    I knew I should have stopped watching after they killed Marilyn in season 1.

  7. Ide Cyan says

    Susan/Gretchen briefly talks to Sofia in the last episode, to warn her to stay out of the way.

    In a happy fun episode where she gets threatened by the male Company boss with an even worse treatment than the gang-rapes and torture she’s already endured.

  8. MaggieCat says

    Susan/Gretchen briefly talks to Sofia in the last episode, to warn her to stay out of the way.

    Oh right, I forgot about that. Probably because I’m not particularly interested in Sofia either. From what I recall it was more “Get out of my way so I don’t have to waste time killing you”, but I can’t be sure since it’s gotten to the point where I’m only half watching when Susan/Gretchen is onscreen because she’s offensive on so many levels.

    Yeeeah, that’s, um, totally not how PTSD works on so many levels. Actually, I find that insulting to everyone who’s ever suffered it – from veterans to rape survivors.

    Yeah, the only line of “sense” I can discern is that the torture/hostage situation broke her and now she’ll do what ever the people she’s working for tell her to for some reason. Except she also possesses the reason to be completely cool about discussing her own torture and can change her personality on a dime. I don’t remember that being the diagnosis for much other than maybe thewritersareoutofideas-itis.

    Let this be a lesson to me: never invest time in a show that kills the cat. (This is actually based on something: a few months ago on a forum I was complaining about Hollywood’s anti-feline/pro-dog stance and someone ventured the theory that it’s a particularly covert brand of misogyny.)

  9. says

    Adulthood traumas, no matter how awful, don’t make you a psycho – they make you a basket case, generally more harm to yourself than anyone else. For this storyline to be remotely plausible (going off what you’re telling me), she’d have to be brainwashed and still under the control of someone.

    More to the point, why can’t I imagine a story in which 35 year old Jim Bob is captured by psychos for a few weeks and tortured, and then becomes a cold, clever serial killer? Somehow I think they’d bother to do the minimal research (hell, five Law & Order re-runs should do it) to learn it doesn’t work that way.

    It just doesn’t ring true.

    And I totally buy the cat-dog theory. There is some bizarre cultural idea that cats are like women and dogs are like men (whatever that means). Every time a straight single guy has told me he has a pet cat, he’s felt the need to crack jokes about how it doesn’t mean he’s gay. Like, WTF? I totally don’t get this one.

  10. says

    Yeah, and part of why The Plague was such a success was that folks decided cats were spreading it and killed them en masse… thus making it even easier for the rats to spread it.

    I hadn’t thought to break it down to dogs being pack animals and cats being relatively solitary, but that’s a very good point. The men who dominate the world got there by pack behaviors: stand up for each other, overlook each other’s sins, reward your buddies even if they don’t deserve it. Women are discouraged every which way from forming packs because it would make us a viable contender for domination.

    Very interesting way to look at it. Thanks!

  11. MaggieCat says

    And I totally buy the cat-dog theory. There is some bizarre cultural idea that cats are like women and dogs are like men (whatever that means). Every time a straight single guy has told me he has a pet cat, he’s felt the need to crack jokes about how it doesn’t mean he’s gay. Like, WTF? I totally don’t get this one.

    Cats have historically been associated with the feminine- personally I take it as a compliment (.. obviously. Heh) but their traits that are seen as negative are ones that are also seen as negative in women- independence, unreadability, calculation. It reached its apex of misogyny during the witch hunts when cats were considered in league with witches because of their nocturnal habits and ability to ‘disappear’, among others. And that association has never gone away.

    Contrast that to “Man’s best friend” in the canine world, and it looks pretty dire for the felines. But dogs got that reputation because they’re pack animals by nature, and it was easy enough for them to switch their allegiance from the alpha dog to the alpha human. Cats are more solitary. You have to earn their respect, and that’s quite threatening to someone who would prefer slobbering devotion following a display of dominance. (For the record: I love dogs. I just love cats more.)

    This is also why I don’t really trust people who go on about how much they hate cats. There does seem to be some correlation between ‘hates all cats’ and ‘would prefer to tell you what to think rather than have you think for yourself’.

  12. MaggieCat says

    It takes a hell of a lot of machinery to keep a major system going, and it’s almost impossible for any one person to pose an actual threat. So when men are in a group it’s a team, but when you have a group of women it’s suddenly a MeanGirls clique. Heaven forfend we organize and start comparing notes– it makes the entrenched system nervous.

    Humans are social animals too though, so by removing all the other options for so very many centuries, women were forced into a different sort of role; isolated and able to shrewdly assess a situation because that’s how you have to react when nobody’s watching your back. But we were using that to fight against a huge system stacked against us, so those actions were vilified as disingenuous and sneaky rather than seen as a mark of individual strength or tactical maneuvering, and the association with the ‘evil’ cats who act in similar (non-pack/patriarchy unapproved) manners was forged. How dare anyone not quietly do as they’re told?

    (I may have thought about this too much…)

  13. says

    I wouldn’t say you’ve thought about it too much. Clearly this is important enough to the patriarchy that they’ve bothered to make single men feel like having a cat as a pet puts their manhood into question. We should be asking about phenomenon that seem so stupid and ignorant… yet are so important.

    I also believe on some level of gut instinct, men who buy into the idea they can form packs but others aren’t allowed to* can’t help but be aware that people who survive being cut off from a pack are guaranteed to be stronger than those who survive with the help of a pack. That makes them even more scared and defensive, because they really do fear the “lone wolf”.

    *I think people other than women – men of color, men in certain classes, etc. – are also discouraged from “pack mentality”.

  14. SunlessNick says

    Adulthood traumas, no matter how awful, don’t make you a psycho – they make you a basket case, generally more harm to yourself than anyone else. - BetaCandy

    However all too many men (and scriptwriters) consider women as being only half way into adulthood.

    I think people other than women – men of color, men in certain classes, etc. – are also discouraged from “pack mentality”.

    When white men form a group, it’s called a team; when black men form a group, it’s called a gang.

    For those who are watching season 3: At the end of season 2, Bellick recruits Sucre by kidnapping Maricruz, and leaving her somewhere where she’ll die after a certain time; the last we see, Bellick is in a jail in Panama, and Sucre was bleeding in the street. I presume season 3 has specified Bellick and Sucre’s fates; but has it mentioned Maricruz?

  15. MaggieCat says

    Bellick is in prison, Sucre somehow managed not to die despite running around with only half the amount of blood he should have had. Sucre confronted Bellick and Bellick admitted that he was lying about having Maricruz somewhere– apparently he just scared her and the woman she was staying with into running away, and stole the cross she was wearing to use as proof. Since the place where she had been didn’t have a phone, he knew there was no way for Sucre to confirm whether or not his story was true. Sucre was planning to go and find her, but he ran into Linc and got drafted into helping with Michael’s new breakout, and I think he broke up with her via phone when he finally realized you can’t really raise a baby on the lam. Hopefully she went back to her family to magically make someone else’s IQ plummet into the single digits, but at least she wasn’t left in some sort of indefinable danger.

    Although I was never positive that would happen– Bellick’s far too much of a coward to kill her in cold blood, although choosing a method that worked through inaction did make it slightly more possible. I mean, if he had any sense he would have shot T-Bag and left the body for the police rather than left him alive and handcuffed to a radiator, given the latter’s cockroach like ability to survive, but he couldn’t do it even then. He’s sort of a picture perfect example of men who are only strong when they have the entire system backing them with no real competition but turns into a whimpering coward the moment it’s a fair fight. I actually feel rather sorry for him for that– he bought into what he was being told, that he was better than certain people because he was in a position of (grossly abused) authority, and simply has no way to cope with real life.

  16. says

    However all too many men (and scriptwriters) consider women as being only half way into adulthood.

    Yes! That’s the implication I’m getting from Maggie’s description of the show’s events.

    When white men form a group, it’s called a team; when black men form a group, it’s called a gang.

    Yep. Hell, even when white men form a group to go about raping prostitutes, the word “gang” somehow gets left right out of descriptions.

  17. MaggieCat says

    However all too many men (and scriptwriters) consider women as being only half way into adulthood.

    Yes! That’s the implication I’m getting from Maggie’s description of the show’s events.

    That’s what really gets to me though- Sara was an adult, she was almost always an adult, and a strong one, even when she was kidnapped and being tortured in the second season. I actually had a post started at one point about how much I liked her, and she held her own and had one of the more interesting and difficult storylines in a show dominated by men.

    So she’s the one who gets the severed head in a box treatment while Maricruz, who has never been anything more than a plot device for her boyfriend to explain “why would someone with less than 10 months left on his sentence try to escape?” gets written off the show but basically gets the ‘she’s gone to live on a nice farm with lots of room to run and bunnies to play with’ scenario. It’s not fair and feels like they’re punishing the woman they accidentally made too competent.

  18. SunlessNick says

    It’s not fair and feels like they’re punishing the woman they accidentally made too competent.

    I agree. I never cared about Maricruz, but I liked Sara – and Veronica for that matter, though I know I’m in the minority there (I didn’t find her as stupid as many people did). I did care about Kacee (C-Note’s wife) – but she had characteristics and aspirations that weren’t entirely about illustrating his (and at least she got a partially happy ending).

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