After watching the series finale of Seinfeld (1989-1998), I remember thinking, “What?! A courtroom trial? Jerry and the gang in jail?” (right). Like many other fans at the time, I was disappointed by the ending. But now, after a decade has passed and my students and I have looked at the show in depth, I see things differently. The finale is, in fact, an ideal conclusion to the series, especially for die-hard Seinfeld fans. It brilliantly exaggerates the show’s frequent use of intertextual references (e.g., “They’re real and they’re spectacular,” the marble rye, the Contest, the Bubble Boy, the Soup Nazi). It also features the main characters’ continued indifference to all facets of humanity (e.g., videotaping the obese guy as he’s being mugged). Employing such abnormal sitcom conventions is how “the show about nothing” not only distinguished itself from its peers, but also garnered so many fans. The finale recognizes this and, therefore, caters directly to those who would appreciate it.
[Spoiler Alert. If you haven't watched the finale of Prison Break, stop reading.]
I have said all of this about Seinfeld because I have similar feelings about the end of Prison Break. As I sat on the couch watching the dramatic finale, I once more thought, “What?! He’s dead? This is terrible.” A quick surf through some recent tweets and EW blog comments reveals that I am not the only one with this reaction. Here’s a sampling:
- “BS response to a BS ending. Thanks for nothing” (The_1337).
- “This is absolutely the worst idea the writers ever had. Way to completely ruin a wonderful 4 year run” (Christina).
- “Such a slap in the face to every fan that has invested in this show & supported it all of these years. Thanks for nothing” (Justin).
Wow. Disgruntled to say the least. On the other hand, a few fans speak well of the writers’ decision to kill off the lead character:
- “Ending was perfectly fit to the series. [Michael] paid the ultimate price so that everyone around him would be safe. He always knew it would probably end that way” (Ian).
- “Absolutely beautiful! The ending was great. Sure Michael dying is sad, but its [sic] fitting. Im [sic] left speechless. A great ending to one of my favorite shows of all time” (Chris).
At this point, I am likely too close to the show to form a solid critical opinion about its conclusion. Like many in the first category above, I’m still bummed that I watched the entire run–all four seasons in 5 weeks at that–and this was the “closure” I got. I assumed that since the characters suffered such hardships throughout the series (bullet wounds, beatings, near drownings and hangings) they would all be allowed to enjoy, at length, their new-found freedom. But nope; that’s evidently not what the writers had in mind. In fact, they believed “it felt nobler to have [Michael] die so that others could live.” The producer explains further:
It just felt a little weird for us to have Michael and Sara holding hands on the beach walking away — though that would be gratifying in the moment. Knowing that there was pretty much a scorched path behind them in terms of what happened, [having him die] balanced the books for us. He also paid the ultimate sacrifice and, in doing so, everyone else close to him was able to live, including his child.
Caught up in all of the action as well as the lure of T-Bag (what fantastic acting by Robert Knepper), I suppose I didn’t recognize that Scofield was set up to the be show’s heavily tattooed Christ-figure, sacrificing himself so that all could go free. In my mind, that was usually the job of Fernando Sucre and at one point Brad Bellick. But now that I think about it, from the beginning of Prison Break Michael does function almost exclusively as his “brother’s keeper,” intent on wiping away all of Lincoln’s “transgressions” and offering him a new life of freedom. Moreover, Michael’s benevolent actions and fight for justice serve to convert/save other degenerate characters like Bellick, Alex Mahone, and even Paul Kellerman. Finally, we’ve even got ourselves a Judas: good ol’ two-faced T-Bag.
Granted, semi-religious undertones cropped up throughout the four-year series (e.g., Lincoln and Michael consistently tell each other to “have faith,” Catholic medals are passed around), but with all of the jailbreaks, family turmoil, and sheer violence at the forefront of the show, I didn’t think much about faith, creed, or supernatural powers. If I had, perhaps Michael’s death (sacrifice?) wouldn’t be so shocking.
In any event, perhaps like my previous experience with Seinfeld, I’ll feel differently in time. Just hope I don’t need to create a 16-week course on Prison Break to find out…