Show: Fox’s Prison Break
Featured Characters: Michael Scofield and Sara Tancredi
Years have gone by, but Michael Scofield and Sara Tancredi are still one of the finest examples of a forbidden romance in a TV series. When I dove into Prison Break a few years after it was over and before the revival, I never expected to find one of the most memorable relationships within. The series grips viewers from the start, and when it comes to the romance it wants to showcase, it does so with such tender nuances that there’s no turning back after the initial meeting.
Prison Break had its faults, but for the most part, it handled Michael and Sara’s relationship with far more understanding of what matters in a romance than TV today does. We watched them go from point A to point B with subtle changes that made complete sense when they found themselves more established in Season 2. And to fully thrust forward as a couple in Season 4 after everything they’ve endured was a gift that kept giving until it stopped.
Michael and Sara became the kind of couple who’d take the sentiment of never giving up on each other to new heights, fully believing in the other’s capabilities in a way no one else could. After countless wounds, uncertainties, and battles with grief, they got to be happy—wholeheartedly.
Michael Scofield and Sara Tancredi: The Forbidden Romance
To talk about Michael and Sara properly, we must acknowledge the forbidden romance trope and the fact that they fall in the category where it works. The trope is a tricky one because, frankly, some romances are forbidden for a reason. A high school teacher should not, under any circumstances, fall in love with a student, and we need to stop romanticizing those types of relationships. A boss shouldn’t fall in love with an employee, but without severe power imbalances and drastic age differences, this can work perfectly fine and would play with the trope in all the right ways. Frankly, it’s a trope where there are a few scenarios where it’s done correctly, and it requires plenty of work to make it feel both believable and honorable despite the looming shadows.
Michael Scofield and Sara Tancredi are a shining example of a forbidden romance done right. He’s an inmate at a prison, and she’s the resident doctor. It’s easy to understand why they shouldn’t be together and how their circumstances are different than an actual occurrence, thus making their relationship feel refreshing and unique. As viewers, we know why Michael is in Fox River. We know he’s innocent, and as the story’s hero, we choose to believe that Lincoln is too because Michael is taking the risk for him. Thereby, as he attempts to pursue Sara, we know that while it’s part of his plan, it becomes easy to care for them when sincerity anchors their relationship.
And so, every time they meet, every stolen glance becomes far more demanding to cling to than to hold back on. There’s an undeniable stillness in those quiet moments where it’s achingly evident that neither of them has felt such contentment before. It became apparent early on that Michael’s routine visits for insulin were both his and Sara’s favorite time of day, leading to the “wait for me” after their first kiss.
The fascinating thing about Michael Scofield and Sara Tancredi’s story is that it was never meant to be as iconic as it is. In 2005, romance wasn’t the kind of roaring phenomenon that it is today. Yes, fans were loud, but the desires and unapologetic praises are vastly more influential today, making it much more engrossing that a series was able to reverse “deaths” the way Prison Break did. Game of Thrones followed afterward as a massive cultural splendor, yet, death was permanent. Somehow, fans not only brought Sara back from the dead in Season 4, but they did the same with Michael years later in Season 5.
It also boils down to how naturally the tropes were dealt with in a thriller. Every stepping stone in their relationship after Sara’s relapse and Michael’s escape led to one change after another, with the two of them deciding that amidst these unfortunate circumstances, they’re going to choose each other. So, when “wait for me” carries through as the crux of their relationship, their longing becomes that much more discernible.
She was explicitly told when starting her job to never fall in love with an inmate, and he went into Fox River strictly to break out his brother. A romance wasn’t in the cards for either of them, but desires don’t care about what we have planned—light born in the perils of darkness demands to stay on, and their adoration for one another needed to push through. So, after all those stolen moments, for a period, they got to try despite all the odds against them.
The Second Chance Storm
Michael Scofield and Sara Tancredi unknowingly continued to prepare for each other and the dangers that’d arise in the face of loving one another. When their son asks about Michael, Sara describes him as a storm, stating: “He was like a storm. He was beautiful and frightening. Mysterious. And he would show up in your life out of the clear blue sky, and he would disappear just as quickly.” But sometimes, storms come back, and on this show, thankfully, it was always the case.
There’s something riveting about how their love story pans out after Season 4. Again, the time this show was produced says a lot about the dialogue and the tone their relationship breezes through. Still, more than anything, when Michael and Sara are allowed to be a couple, nothing is more exemplary on the show.
There’s a softness to them that’s so rarely unveiled on television that watching it unfold through them is breathtaking. In those brief moments at the prison where they were getting to know each other, we could see the detail that they’re both willing to listen. We could write essays simply excavating the conversations they’d have in silence. And that willingness carried on to their future as we watched them trust each other through whatever storm struck. It’s why they were so hard to let go of because, as a depiction of an incredibly healthy couple, we know that there was nothing they needed to hold back from each other.
When Sara was tempted to drink again, she felt comfortable sharing it with Michael. There were no lies that would ever cloud their relationship unless they were forced to, such as the case in Season 5. Through their transparency, they tirelessly proved that their steadfast loyalty to one another was a steadfast anchor that gave them a home away from home—someone to trust and rely on when everything was too formidable. And though we never saw it on our screens, we know with utmost certainty that the strength they’d leave one another with would carry them through their grief.
Michael and Sara loved one another with unparalleled fervor, no matter the circumstances. They would always be home for one another, a place to fall and a place to stand firm in. They would be each other’s armor in dark times, stripping them from the heartaches that have ceaselessly plagued them in their past, only to leave them more satisfied and stronger. Like a storm, the home away from home would be there forever. The very idea of coming home to somebody after years away equates to love worthy of cherishing. And that’s what they’ve always been.
Michael ultimately shook Sara’s world with a life-changing storm from which she couldn’t walk away. Yes, she could rebuild and start over, but it’s imperative to consider that she chose to be beside him through it all. She chose to see that in a world where men lie and relationships don’t last, despite the detail that their relationship started from a fabricated rouse doesn’t change the fact that it became something real and powerful. As two people who’d never give up on each other, their love was nurtured into something worth fighting for. No risk was too big, and no outcome was too detrimental when it came to putting their lives on the line to protect each other.
Through every challenge, however, Michael and Sara both consistently allowed one another the agency to choose what step they wanted to take next. As much as they loved one another, neither would ever force the other into something that could break them as individuals, especially after Season 1. We see the ugly sides of their misunderstandings reasonably early in, but once they both realize how much they cherish one another, granting one another agency through everything takes precedence. We could’ve (and should’ve) seen far more of their development, but that wasn’t the genre we were going up against. Still, they stand the test of time as a couple that’s bound to be memorable no matter when a person decides to watch Prison Break.
Michael Scofield and Sara Tancredi are a forbidden romance intermingled with the delicacy of a second chance. They were meant to be together from the moment their eyes locked, finding themselves in a slow dance with someone whose soul could see every crescent light behind the other’s dark edges. They would choose each other every day if forced to do so, finding new ways to make the other happy in trying times. For five seasons, they proved to viewers that unlike any of the prisons they’d break in or out from, their love was impenetrable.