Clarissa’s Not Buying What You’re Selling, Matt Olmstead
TVGuide.com: At what point during the four-year run did you decide that Michael would die in the end?
Matt Olmstead: At the beginning of this season, we had a debate about it. I was on NYPD Blue and I came on during Season 6, which was Jimmy Smits’ last arc – and it was some of the best TV ever. They had the thought that when a character goes that’s beloved, if you drop a safe on his head, the audience is going to hate you, because they haven’t had a chance to mourn. So let’s show up early that the character has a [health] problem. [NYPD Blue creator] David [Milch] did it brilliantly [with Smits’ character dying of heart failure], and I always remembered that. So when we met with the writers after the [WGA] strike, we asked ourselves: Is Michael going to last? Either way, let’s [give him] a nosebleed in Episode 1. That way we can kind of suggest that something’s up, and it also gives us the opportunity to play some scenes – if we want to go down this road – where Sara can mourn it, Lincoln’s aware of it, and the audience is aware of it. Then they too have a chance to mourn the loss.
TVGuide.com: What was Wentworth Miller’s take on the matter?
Olmstead: He ultimately liked it. He had heard rumblings, and when that script went out, a complimentary email came back from him, because he saw the merits of it. The idea of Michael not making it stemmed from a conversation he and I had in Season 2. He said that at this point [Michael’s] hands were as dirty as anyone’s, and that was something we addressed along the way, this mounting guilt. “I broke my brother out of prison, the ramifications of which have included people getting killed” – neither he the actor nor the character were ignorant or dismissive of that. So the idea of a finale where [in the coda] he doesn’t make it but everyone else does was the right ending for him as an actor. For Michael to have traipsed off into the sunset with Sara may have seemed a little like, “Hey, good for you guys.”
TVGuide.com: But the network fought you on the death, right?
Olmstead: It was split over there; half the people wanted to see Sara and Michael together, and half saw the merit in Michael not making it. Once they saw the scripts, they agreed unilaterally that it was the right move to make.
TVGuide.com: It should be noted that Michael is alive in Prison Break: The Final Break (a two-hour standalone movie slated for a July 21 DVD release).
Olmstead: Right. The Final Break takes place shortly after everyone’s exoneration, so we go back and see Michael alive.
TVGuide.com: That was a nice little wink you had there with Michael Jr. getting a fake tattoo.
Olmstead: Yeah, it was [writer/co-executive producer] Nick Santora who had that idea.
TVGuide.com: Let’s talk about the returns. Did Paul Adelstein (now on Private Practice) foresee your phone call coming? I have always told him that Kellerman would one day resurface.
Olmstead: I’ve run into him occasionally, and I’d say, “One day you’ll get a phone call.” He was always enthusiastic about it. We didn’t know obviously what the storyline was going to be, but we increasingly wanted to save it for the finale.
TVGuide.com: Rockmund Dunbar [who plays C-Note], I have to imagine, was a bit more surprised.
Olmstead: I think so. We knew that this was [the end], and who did we the writers want to see back? Who would make a nice impact in terms of the viewers? We didn’t want to just bring him back in a service role; we wanted him to come back for a plot twist.
TVGuide.com: Did you consider bringing back Patricia Wettig’s disgraced President Caroline Reynolds?
Olmstead: No, no…. That character is done.
TVGuide.com: And were none of the various Maricruz actresses available?
Olmstead: We thought about it, but all that we really see is probably her holding the child, or saying one line. It just wasn’t worth our while – and I doubt the actresses would have been interested either.
TVGuide.com: Robert Knepper told TV Guide Network’s Hollywood 411 that the fate you chose for T-Bag was the “greatest” of all the options.
Olmstead: I think it wasvery poetic. For us [the coda] was the right combination of people getting just desserts, sweet surprises and tragedy. People were saying that you couldn’t have T-Bag still on the loose, that you couldn’t do the Hannibal Lecter version of it, because that would put a black mark on Michael. That he unleashed this monster on the world. Nor could you kill T-Bag, because ironically he was too loved by the audience. So we put him back where he started, but with a heartache. He overhears this thing about GATE and it strikes a chord. It reminds him of what he almost had.
TVGuide.com: That was an interesting romantic twist you did there with Mahone.
Olmstead: That was one of the surprises. Here he is, sending a birthday card to his ex-wife, yet now he’s with his former [FBI] colleague [Felicia Lang]. We provide more “what happened” information on that in The Final Break.
TVGuide.com: When last you and I spoke, you said that Michael’s overnight tattoo removal was your least-proud moment. Looking back on the show’s run, what are you most proud of?
Olmstead: The thing I am by far the most proud of is that the [writing] staff was pretty much the same through all four years. There were people who were there from the beginning to the very end – Zack Estrin, Nick Santora, Karyn Usher – and we had other writers who came up through writers’ assistants and then got staffed – Seth Hoffman, Kalinda Vazquez, Christian Trokey…. It was a very tight group, and everything was done collectively, because it is such a serialized show. Every outline was tabled as a group, every script was tabled as a group, every cut was watched as a group…. We got to see people evolve and flourish and evolve, and as luxury to me, I had eight people who were all heavy hitters. At the beginning of this season, we were at a crossroads with the network and the studio – it was post-strike, an accelerated process – about what we were going to do. We had to really show them something, and everybody pitched in and we solved it.
TVGuide.com: Is there any ratings number you can hit with the series finale that will get The Final Break broadcast on Fox?
Olmstead: I really don’t know. I don’t even know if they’ve seen it, being busy preparing for the [May 18] upfronts. But we’re really proud of it, and I hope you like it.
Why’d you have to kill him?
!MATT OLMSTEAD: It started as a discussion with Wentwoth [Miller] around Season 2. He brought up a good point: His character’s hands are as dirty as anyone’s. If you look at the initial act that he committed — robbing a bank to get into prison to break his brother out — there were ramifications to that; a lot of people got hurt. Not by them, but when they rattled the cage of the company that was after them, the body count started to pile out. And Michael was aware of this. And we’ve addressed his guilt throughout the show. But at a certain point, it felt nobler to have the character die so that others could live. 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.
Michael-Sara fans will argue that they deserved a happy ending after watching these two go to hell and back for four seasons. What would you say to them?
OLMSTEAD: For me, it is a happy ending. Look at the very first episode of the season when Michael realizes Sara’s alive. They have a chance to run away, and they both elect not to because, as two people of conscience, they can’t live with what they both now have experienced. And at the end of the finale, when they’re on the beach and talking about the baby that’s coming, that’s a huge victory in that they both stood their ground and, with the help of other people, brought down the ultimate antagonist. So they have their moment.
Can we assume that we’ll learn more about the ultimate sacrifice Michael made in the two-hour direct-to-DVD prequel movie [due July 28]?
OLMSTEAD: Yes, it dramatizes what happened to Michael. The nose bleed that reared its ugly head at the end of [tonight’s finale] was a factor in his ultimate demise in that he knew that he probably didn’t have that long to live, but it wasn’t the sole factor. It informed certain decisions that lead to his demise.
The two-hour movie picks up right after the finale, right?
OLMSTEAD: Yeah, it takes place fairly soon after they’re exonerated.
What’s the premise?
OLMSTEAD: Sara is on the hook for [killing] Michael’s mother and she gets locked up while pregnant. The tables are turned… once a doctor in prison now imprisoned, and Michael’s on the outside. The majority of the cast is back. It’s Michael, Lincoln, Sara, Sucre, T-Bag, Mahone… all the heavy-hitters.
Seeing Paul Adelstein back as Kellerman was a nice surprise. How’d that come about?
OLMSTEAD: We reached out to Paul and pitched him the idea of what his character would be doing, and he liked it very much. And then I told him that we would be jumping ahead four years to show where all the characters are, and I asked him where he would want [Kellerman] to be; he was included in the [creative process]. We traded a lot of e-mails and the ideas ran the gamut. We ultimately arrived at what it was, which is he rose to a position of power, but that the widow of his [former] partner that he killed revisits him. In the scene I wrote, she spits on his shoes. [On the day of shooting], I got a call from the director, Kevin Hooks, and he said, “Paul’s here, and he [thinks] she would spit in his face.” And I said, “Have at it.” So she spit in his face. And then he’s in the limo afterward and you can see that private moment where [he realizes] he can never outrun his past. That’s one of my favorite sequences in the flash-forward. He played the self-loathing and regret beautifully.
Did you encounter any problems getting ABC to loan him to you since he’s now on Private Practice?
OLMSTEAD: Everybody was very accommodating, and I think it all stems from a universal goodwill towards Paul as a person. He’s a really good guy and people wanted to do him a favor. And we were able to get all his scenes done in one day.
Was there anyone you wanted to get back for the finale and couldn’t?
OLMSTEAD: The only person we couldn’t get was Marshall Allman, who played Lincoln’s son. We would have loved to have gotten him.
Looking back on the four seasons, anything you would have done differently?
OLMSTEAD: I don’t have a whole lot of regrets. [Another journalist] wrote that we left it all out on the field by the end of the series, and I feel the same way. Every story was exhausted. Every creative juice wrung out. It was a completely worthwhile experience, and I know the other writers [agree]. It was a difficult show to pull off, and we did it.
I think I just hate this whole “Michael’s hands were as dirty as anyone else’s, so it seemed right for him to die for his sins”. Just because Michael was the catalyst for this whole thing (ie. he robbed the bank, ended up in Fox River and initiated the break out) doesn’t mean he should have been the one to ultimately suffer for it. Why not kill Lincoln? Allow him to make the ultimate sacrifice in exchange for what his brother did. Or would that have simply negated Michael’s initial sacrifice?
It just bugs me that Michael was essentially a martyr for the series. Here’s a guy who sacrificed so much and felt guilt for actions beyond his control and then he has to die for them? Maybe I’m wrong, but ultimately I’d like to think the world is a little bit more fair than that. Or maybe it’s not. Maybe life really is just a b*itch and then you die. Bottom line: you can try to justify all you want, Matt Olmstead, but you broke my heart. And now you’re on my list.