Prison Break is officially back! Season five is underway right now with many familiar faces reuniting due to a surprising turn of events— Michael Scofield isn’t actually dead. It remains to be seen in the weeks going forward why this is the case, and what kind of escape Michael and his brother Lincoln are going to have to pull off this time, but any fan who has watched the first four seasons knows how crazy things can get.
As the season continues, we’re definitely hoping to see the series return to its prime that drew us in years ago. But what was the best of Prison Break? If you’re asking as a newcomer looking to get into the series, or if you just need a refresher since it’s been a while, we’ve got the answers (though there will be lots of spoilers). Looking back through the original four seasons, plus the TV special, we’re picking out the stand-out episodes from the series. This is Prison Break‘s 15 Best Episodes.
15. UNEARTHED (S2E9)
Most Prison Break fans seem to agree that the first season was when the series was at its peak, but season two was still really good television too. A big part of that was that Michael needed a strong new obstacle after he overcame the prison in season one, so this time around, his biggest challenge was a person. Agent Alexander Mahone wound up being one of the most compelling Prison Break characters, as clever and relentless as Michael, but bent on killing all of the Fox River escapees rather than capturing them. It was clear there would be no mercy from Mahone, so Michael had to learn about his enemy to fight back.
All the information about Michael was available to the FBI through his records, but Michael didn’t have that advantage for discovering Mahone’s weaknesses. Instead, in “Unearthed” Michael goes directly to meet with Mahone’s wife to learn more about his antagonist. While in disguise, Michael is able to deduce from Mahone’s wife that Mahone has killed a man named Oscar Shales, so Michael finally has leverage against his opponent. It’s Michael’s first step in fighting back in this season long battle of wits between two brilliant, very determined people.
14. HELL OR HIGH WATER (S3E12)
Season three got the most unfair treatment of the franchise since a writer’s strike during this period short-changed the season by half its episodes, accelerating the plot and forcing the show’s team to make a lot of decisions they otherwise might not have. This is definitely the season where Prison Break started to lose major fans, but it wasn’t something that was entirely within the creator’s control. Who knows how the plot surrounding Sona would have progressed if not for that writer’s strike. Regardless, it’s not like season three was terrible. There were definitely some cool moments here, and some pretty big episodes.
Just like in season one, the highlight of season three would have to be the escape from the prison. Sona had proven more brutal than Fox River ever was, and Michael had been forced against his will to plan an escape for the inmate known as Whistler. It’s not quite as exciting the second time around, but it’s still tense to see who makes it out, while the likes of T-Bag wind up getting caught and stay stuck in Sona. The whole plot of the Sona prison arc was pretty far-fetched, but this episode recaptured some of the magic of the show’s original premise.
13. END OF THE TUNNEL (S1E13)
Even though Michael seems like the meticulous genius who has everything planned out so carefully that there can’t be any mistakes, he is not infallible. Obviously the Fox River inmates did eventually get out, but it’s easy to forget they didn’t do it in one try. Before Michael’s later plan that happened in “Go,” his plan involved corroding a pipe while in Sara Tancredi’s office, and then later using that pipe to get out. What he didn’t count on is eventually someone noticed the damaged pipe, and Michael and the others only discovered it had been replaced after they attempted their escape.
To date, this episode attracted the highest number of viewers in the entire series, so that should tell you how invested people were in these characters. Obviously this episode couldn’t live up to the action of the successful escape, but it was still the most tense moment of the series up to this point. Adding to the drama was that Lincoln’s execution was scheduled for just days away, so as far as Michael knew, this was his one and only shot to rescue Lincoln. This escape failed, but it was still a great moment for the show.
12. RENDEZVOUS (S2E10)
Though Michael’s plan to escape Fox River initially involved manipulating Sara into assisting him by pretending to be attracted to her, eventually Michael’s feelings for her became genuine. She felt enough of the same for him to help him get out of Fox River, but she later nearly killed herself with a drug overdose due to her guilt over what she had done. So obviously there was a lot of unresolved baggage between the two that needed to be dealt with, and around midway through season two, the two had a rendezvous to discuss it.
Like all love stories, fans just wanted to see the two of them admit they cared about each other and decide to stick together. But before Michael and Sara could truly discuss what happened, Mahone appeared intent on killing Michael. The episode really showed the crossroads in Michael’s life, with him torn between being with Sara and becoming the person he wanted to be, or dealing with the consequences for his actions as he is pursued by Mahone. Michael chooses to be the better person by refusing to kill Mahone when he can, but fans would have to wait a while longer for the resolution to Sara and Michael’s romance due to Kellerman abducting her as the episode ended.
11. THE KILLING BOX (S2E13)
Midway through season two it didn’t look like things can get any worse for Michael and Lincoln. They’ve been recaptured after all their work and are being taken back to Fox River Penitentiary. The new warden at the prison promises not to delay Lincoln’s execution any further, and assures the public that Lincoln won’t have long to live once he arrives at Fox River. But the people who set Lincoln up are determined to make sure his life doesn’t even last that long.
Kim, Mahone, and Kellerman are all involved in a plan to kill the brothers before they get to Fox River. So an escape is orchestrated to get the brothers out of custody long enough for Mahone and Kellerman to kill the brothers when they run, claiming self-defense. But what makes this episode so awesome is that this is the point where Kellerman turns against the shady organization, and allies himself with Michael and Lincoln. Kellerman shoots Mahone and tells the brothers to come with him if they want to live. And just like that we’re given one of the show’s coolest antiheroes who would have a huge role to play in the future.
10. PILOT (S1E1)
A lot of shows can stumble in their pilot episode, still trying to find the legs for where the series wants to go. Prison Break didn’t have that problem, though, immediately packing in a lot of information that would lay the foundation for the entire season. We get the story of Michael meeting with Lincoln after the latter is convicted, and Michael believing his brother’s innocence so much that he can’t bear to leave Lincoln to a death sentence. So Michael deliberately gets caught committing a robbery so he can join Lincoln in Fox River.
Michael didn’t just get himself sent to prison to keep his brother company, though. When the two run into each other, Lincoln is shocked, but Michael reveals he has a plan. Michael sheds his clothes to reveal to Linc that he has gotten a lot of ink since they last met. But Michael isn’t just showing off some impressive tats— he reveals that they’re actually a way out. Michael has hidden a map in his skin, and he tells Lincoln he’s going to help him break out of prison.
9. FIN DEL CAMINO (S2E21)
If you watch Game of Thrones, you know episode nine of each season is where the big events tend to go down. For Prison Break, episode twenty-one started becoming the game changer. In season one, episode twenty-one was when the breakout finally happened. And here in season two, episode twenty-one is where Michael and Lincoln are preparing to vanish off the map, but Michael refuses to go when he finds out T-Bag is in the area. Michael knows how evil T-Bag is, and refuses to leave a violent criminal roaming the streets. So we finally get our long awaited fight between Michael and T-Bag.
T-Bag doesn’t go down easy by any means, initially leading his pursuers into a building with a murdered prostitute and shooting Bellick, making Bellick look responsible for the death. Michael and Sucre get free of the trap as the police close in, but T-Bag debilitates Sucre by stabbing him with a screwdriver. So finally it’s just Michael and T-Bag left to settle their longstanding grudge. It’s a great moment that sees Michael finally overcome his rival by pinning T-Bag’s hand to the floor, leaving him stuck and helpless to be arrested as the police arrive. It was a short-lived victory, but a very satisfying one to see.
8. BROTHER’S KEEPER (S1E16)
One of the big rules of storytelling is it’s better to show rather than tell, so an episode like “Brother’s Keeper” was a great interlude for the first season. While it did not actually do much to advance the plot of the present day story, this detour for a series of flashbacks to the Fox River inmates before they were convicted does make their stories a lot more engrossing. Sure, we know the end results to all their stories before the end of the episode, but this shows us what motivated them to commit their crimes and what kind of people they really are.
In Fox River almost everyone is trying to act like some hardened inmate so nobody messes with them, but “Brother’s Keeper” shows how in their own way each of the inmates was incarcerated out of the love they had for the people around them. Lincoln got framed due to trying to pay off a loan he took for Michael, and Michael got himself arrested to free the only immediate family member he believes he has. Sucre and C-Note were both trying to provide for their families, and even T-Bag, as evil as he is, was just trying to find normalcy with a wife and kids. This episode was a great snapshot for establishing what drives the characters.
7. SONA (S2E22)
The end of season two was the opposite of season one’s finale in almost every way. As season one drew to a close, Michael, Lincoln, and the other Fox River inmates were free from prison but still being hunted. But as season two was finishing, testimony from Kellerman finally cleared Lincoln’s name and exonerated him of the charge of killing the Vice President’s brother. Michael was also seemingly free. And as Sara joined the brothers, the three of them looked prepared to sail off to live their lives in peace.
Then Bill Kim, one of the assassins for the mysterious company that framed Lincoln, appeared with a gun, ready to kill the brothers. Sara had grown too fond of them to let that happen, and so she became a criminal herself to kill Kim. But now Sara was going to face prison time for murder if she was caught, so to save her Michael claimed to have committed the crime. Michael was, once again, sent back to prison. And to add to the horrible situation, T-Bag, Bellick, and Mahone had all also been placed in the unsanitary, dangerous prison for crimes of their own. Freedom had been snatched away as Michael was now in Sona, incarcerated once more.
6. TONIGHT (S1E20)
This is where the plan that had been building for all of season one was finally ready to kick into gear. No more delays, and no more second thoughts— it was time for Michael and the other inmates he was trusting to break out. Just to give them a bit of extra incentive, Bellick had found the hole they were digging and the only thing that stopped him from alerting the entire prison was getting knocked out by Westmoreland. Despite initially planning to escape in a few days, Westmoreland went to the others and let them know it had to be tonight.
Michael’s escape plan had always been in constant jeopardy of being discovered, but now it was so close to fruition. There could be no bigger letdown than coming so close just to have the opportunity fall through at the end, so the inmates scrambled to be ready. Michael revealed to Sara what he was planning, and how he needed her to play a part in leaving a door unlocked for the escape.
Near the episode’s end, we got a montage of all the inmates agonizing over the big moment, with Tweener needing to break out for his safety, while someone like Abruzzi wanted out to enact revenge. Then Michael pulled a shank on Warden Pope while in his office, and revealed the escape plan he had been concealing since day one. This was the start of the series’ big moment.
5. RIOTS, DRILLS AND THE DEVIL PART 1 (S1E6)
It’s hard to judge this episode on its own since it’s obviously a two-part story. But this episode definitely stands on as the first point in the series where everything descended into chaos. The rapist T-Bag was reintroduced to the general prison population after being locked in solitary confinement, and he obviously had a grudge against Michael. What made matters worse was that Michael realized to really make progress in digging his escape tunnel, he needed the prison to go into lockdown so he could work uninterrupted for a long time. That meant he had to cause a riot.
By making the air conditioning malfunction, Michael gets the inmates irritable enough that their behavior sends the prison into the lockdown he needs. But things escalate beyond what Michael anticipated as the inmates get free of their cells and launch an attack against the guards.
After Michael finishes with his tunnel, he realizes what has happened and has to rush to save Sara and Lincoln, who have both become targeted by the rioting inmates. And just to throw one last problem into the mix, the episode ends with T-Bag discovered Michael’s escape tunnel.
4. RIOTS, DRILLS AND THE DEVIL PART 2 (S1E7)
Since this is a direct continuation of where the show left off in the previous episode, pairing the episodes together on the list is inevitable. Even though Michael’s plan to further the escape path went fine, now Sara is in danger and he’s the only one inside the prison who can help her. Meanwhile in Michael and Sucre’s cell, not only has T-Bag discovered the escape tunnel, but one of Fox River’s guards has as well, so a tense three way standoff ensues between the guard, the rapist, and the aspiring escapees.
The high stakes of the plan are on full display in this episode, and we see a lot of people get killed before the end of the riot. Though Michael saves Sara, as he’s getting her free of the prison, snipers outside perceive him as a threat and fire on him. Their shot misses and the inmates hunting Sara wind up being one of the victims to be killed, though. Lincoln also gets some blood on his hands due to an inmate in Fox River being paid to take him out, so Linc has to defend himself and winds up ending the guy’s life. Finally, as the riot is being shut down by the prison guards, T-Bag takes it upon himself to make sure the guard who found the escape tunnel won’t tell anyone, stabbing the man to death.
3. MANHUNT (S2E1)
There could really be no other way to kick off season two than with an episode like this. Most fans probably weren’t expecting the prison break to happen within the show’s first season, but since it had happened so quickly, now the Fox River inmates needed to worry about staying free. The stakes were raised as we went beyond Michael and the others just worrying about Warden Pope; now the FBI was involved. This marked the introduction of agent Alexander Mahone, who would prove to be so crafty and deductive that he was an intellectual match for Michael.
The stakes were raised across the board as now the entire country posed a threat to the inmates since the a massive manhunt was on. The story also began to really branch apart at this point, with the inmates beginning to split up and seek out their respective families or places of refuge. And just when it looked like Lincoln could depend on his name being cleared due to Veronica finding the Vice President’s brother alive, she was killed and the truth seemingly died with her.
2. FLIGHT (S1E22)
The Fox River inmates had succeeded in escaping just one episode prior, but it was far from a smooth break. Before they had even made it over the wall, the alarms were sounding and the prison guards were alerted. Michael had been the last one over the wall, but now they had to get away from the prison before the guards hunted them down. The titular “flight” of the episode referred to fleeing from the prison, but also that the inmates’ best bet for getting away was a plane that Abruzzi had arranged for them.
The episode was filled with tension due to the constant chase, but there was also the problem that Michael’s plan had gotten too many people involved by this point. There were only a certain number of seats on the plane, so Michael needed to make sure they ditched anyone expendable or dangerous along the way. With Bellick and the rest of the guards in pursuit, the inmates were doing their best to stay one step ahead while simultaneously losing the likes of the psychotic Haywire, and the snitch Tweener. After Abruzzi got rid of T-Bag for them by chopping off one of his hands, it looked like they were all set to catch their flight and get away into the night. Then the plane took off without them, and the season ended with the inmates stranded on an airstrip as the guards closed in on them in the distance.
1. GO (S1E21)
While people might have other episodes that they call their favorites, there’s no denying this was the biggest moment of the series. This was the episode when Michael and his collaborators finally escaped from Fox River Penitentiary. What else could possibly compete with the eponymous prison break of the franchise? This wouldn’t be the only prison escape of the series, but it was the biggest one. Michael’s months of planning and the map hidden in his tattoos at last helped him free his wrongly convicted brother.
It was a huge episode all around with the inmates working against the clock to get out before Bellick or Pope were discovered incapacitated. There was the tension of whether Sara’s love for Michael would really lead to her leaving her door unlocked to help him escape. Then Westmoreland was slowly bleeding to death from getting stabbed during his scuffle with Bellick, and Haywire coerced his way onto the escape crew at the last second with the threat of blowing the operation. There were a dozen things that could have gone wrong to screw everything up, but despite it all, the nail-biting breakout was successful and Lincoln and Michael made it over the wall.
Are there any other great episodes you think deserve a mention? Share your favorite episode in the comments, and tell us what you think of season five so far!
Prison Break continues Tuesday with ‘Kaniel Outis’ @8pm on FOX.