In the latest of our continuing series of observations regarding TV’s treatment of religion. . . .
Last night’s episode of the Fox TV action drama Prison Break, "Bolshoi Booze," included a very interesting sequence in which the protagonist, escaped convict Michael, has just robbed a store and shoved the elderly clerk to the floor, staring down coldly as the man looks at him in terror. Michael stops in an alley, and in his facial expression and posture he shows great remorse over what he has just done. (The theme of the episode is how easy it is for people to allow themselves to let end justify means.) As his face contorts in anguish, Michael looks up and sees a cross on the steeple of a nearby church. He stares at this cross for several seconds, with the camera lingering on the cross as seen from his point of view.
Interestingly, Michael doesn’t return the stolen items. He desperately needs them if he is to make his escape to Mexico and save his brother’s life.
What he does do is go into the church, a Catholic sanctuary, and give his confession to a priest. The two discuss, in a very interesting exchange, what is at the heart of the problem: that Michael has allowed himself to justify wrongdoing to himself. In seeking a good end, his brother’s life and freedom, Michael has done wrongs and looked the other way while others did even worse things. He feels guilty about it, but he leaves the confessional without real repentance or any attempt to seek forgiveness.
Undoubtedly some viewers will see Michael’s failure to seek redemption as a failure on the producers’ part. I think quite the opposite is true. Michael’s reaction is just right for his character; it is what he really would do. In fact, it’s what just about anybody would do. And it is not the end of the story. Michael’s conscience is now definitely activated, and the sequence of events thus makes his character even more complex and interesting. That’s what good drama is all about.