“Pilot” (Episode 101)
September 23, 2019
We are already big fans of Prodigal Son, as you can see in our (Spoiler Free) Love It Or Leave It? Review Here, so it’s great finally getting to recap the episodes for you!
Read on for our recap of the Pilot episode of Prodigal Son … BEWARE OF SPOILERS!!!
A Note on the Timeline: This episode of Prodigal Son utilizes flashbacks. For some shows, I’ll describe an episode chronologically (like, in LOST ), putting all the flashbacks upfront. But for Prodigal Son, it makes sense to address them as they arise in the flow of the episode.
1998. New York City. Michael Sheen (rocking a great beard), is eye level with his son, Malcolm, telling him that he’ll always love him. Sheen is uneasy but keeping a smile on his face, he looks a little crazed. Bellamy Young, holding a young girl, orders for Michael Sheen to be taken away. The camera focus pulls back and we see this entire scene is happening in the middle of a crime scene. Michael Sheen gives his son a big toothy grin as police officers drag him.
“You’re my son. And I love you. I will always love you. Because we’re the same.”
Something really fucking bad happened here.
Outside, we see Michael Sheen loaded into a police car as a news reporter fills in some gaps … Michael Sheen is Dr. Martin Whitly and he’s been arrested on at least 23 counts of murder. He is suspected of being the serial killer known as, “The Surgeon.” The last bit of useful exposition from the reporter is that the Whitly’s are a prominent New York family.
That will make career day very awkward for young Malcolm.
2019. Sevier County, Tennessee. We come back to the present and Malcolm Bright (Tom Payne) is all grown up, a special agent for the FBI, and working on a criminal profile case with local law enforcement. These hard nosed sheriffs want a cohesive plan to bring down Claude Springer, a militia man-type I think, holed up inside an abandoned meat processing plant with hostages. Malcolm is all about it and heads inside with the sheriffs. Instead of following the officers, he heads off in his own direction and gets electric cattle prodded for his troubles.
The electric jolt propels Malcolm back into another flashback.
1998. Sometime not too long after Dr. Whitly has been arrested, Young Malcolm goes to visit him. He asks his dad why he killed all those people but Papa Whitly doesn’t really have a handy answer. He invites Malcolm to work with him on figuring it all out. Malcolm mentions that everyone is calling him a monster. Are you, Young Malcolm asks?
“No, my boy. There’s no such thing as monsters.”
2019. Back in the present, Malcolm comes to on the dirty floor of the plant. He sees two hog tied hostages (still alive) and a jar full of human heads (not still alive). He radios his status into the local law enforcement. He also finds Claude holding a shotgun on him. “How’d you find me,” Claude would like to know?
In response, Malcolm, as we’ll see is his style, goes on a detailed explanation of Claude’s pathology to Claude and makes some educated guesses about Claude’s psychological origin story. Short story: Claude was sent to a slaughterhouse as a ward of the state, to be raised (and damaged) and he picked his victims as a butcher would pick a choice piece of veal.
“No one is born broken. Someone breaks us.”
This gets through to Claude and he drops his shotgun when Malcolm promises to explain to Claude why he is the way he is. It’s a really interesting moment of connection between these two strangers. The moment is ruined, however, when a gun blasts opens a whole through Claude’s torso.
The head local sheriff has killed Claude from behind and basically starts doing a touchdown dance for being the one that brought down Claude The Serial Killer. Malcolm is horrified, the man had lowered his weapon after all, but Sheriff Dipshit doesn’t want to hear any of that. Sheriff Dipshit refers to himself as a “damn hero.”
Malcolm calls Sheriff Dipshit a cold blooded killer and Sheriff Dipshit doesn’t like that all. Sheriff Dipshit grabs Malcolm and informs him that he just saved Malcolm’s life, “son.” Malcolm punches Sheriff Dipshit in the face.
“I am not your son.”
We come back to Malcolm Bright facing a disciplinary hearing at the FBI. He acknowledges that punching a sheriff violates a rule, even if it’s just an implied rule. The FBI Bigwigs think it’s more than implied and go on to lambaste him for generally being an impulsive, disobedient, unstable asshole. They also say they are worried that Malcolm has his dad’s psychotic killer gene and fire him from the FBI.
The mention of his father triggers Malcolm; we notice a tremor in his hand begin to shake. Malcolm cannot hide his indignity and anger, he saved those hostages from Claude Springer lest anyone forgets?!?
“Just so you know, ‘The Surgeon’? He’s not a psychopath. He’s a predatory sociopath. Not that you should know the difference, it’s ONLY YOUR JOB.”
Malcolm stands up and returns his badge and gun. He advises the FBI to be more careful about calling someone crazy while they’re armed.
2009. Claremont Psychiatric Hospital. I think this place’s name is an homage to the “Claremont Mental Hospital” which operated during much of the 20th Century in California. In flashback, we see a college aged Malcolm (he’s wearing a Harvard sweater) visiting with his father. They’re having a discussion about whether psychopathy is a disease or a kind of. There is some wonderfully dark humor about Jeffrey Dahmer and his human body part groceries.
Malcolm prepares to leave and Dr. Whitly tells his son that he cherishes these times together. Malcolm is all cool about this and says that he’s fascinated by the criminal mind. His father shrugs this apathy off, noting that they talk about death like other fathers and sons talk about sports. When he notices Malcolm’s tremor, he asks his son what it is he has to tell him? Malcolm announces that this will be his last visit with his dad, he’s joining the FBI and he needs to not be hanging around his serial killer father.
Dr. Whitly doesn’t take this well at all, saying that he needs Malcolm in his life, that he’s his only connection to the outside world. Whitly explodes that this is not what he wants and Malcolm turns to leave, only to find the cell is locked. The chains drop from Dr. Whitly and he’s suddenly on his feet, at his son’s side. Malcolm starts to mutter that this can’t be real, he walked out of this cell, this isn’t how this happened. Whitly is in his face now.
“I won’t let you go. Remember. We’re the same.”
Malcolm wakes up screaming in his own bed. Note that he wears a mouth guard and is restrained in his own bed. Either Malcolm’s got a serious kink or he suffers from intense night terrors and/or dangerous sleepwalking.
Malcolm starts his day with a series of pills and a daily affirmation card. Whatever helps you get through, buddy. He’s also got a parakeet named Sunshine.
Back in New York, we meet Malcolm’s sister, Ainsley (Halston Sage). This is the young girl we saw in the opening scene. Al grown up now, Ainsley is outraged that the FBI fired Malcolm because of their father but also says that maybe it’s a not bad thing. She thinks her brother should take a break from death and murder. We learn Ainsley is a television news reporter and she gets called away to an urgent news thing. She says it’s just a “white collar” case but Malcolm gives her a look. They say goodbye and Malcolm is quickly intercepted by Detective Gil Arroyo (Lou Diamond Phillips with an excellent salt and pepper goatee going on).
Gil hugs Malcolm and admonishes him for sneaking back home (to New York) and not telling him. He notices the look on Malcolm’s face and our Boy Genius relives his final moment with Ainsley, he tells Gil that his sister just lied to him … which makes him think she got called away for a murder report. Malcolm puts two and two together and realizes that Gil appearing is no coincidence, a murder big enough for Ainsley to cover is big enough for Gil to pull Malcolm into as a consultant.
“I need a profiler.”
Gil isn’t worried about Malcolm being fired by the FBI or about the fact that his father was a serial killer. Gil seems to be well informed on Malcolm’s backstory.
Swanky New York Highrise Apartment. One of Gil’s detectives, Dani Powell (Aurora Perrineau), gives him and Malcolm the 411 as they load into the elevator. The dead body is Vanessa Hobbs, a VIC (“Very Important Cadaver”), and as a result, will be a high profile case. As the elevator closes, Malcolm very excitedly grabs the medical examiner’s initial report. Gil makes introductions.
“Dani Powell, this is Malcolm Bright. Psychologist, forensic profiler, acquired taste.”
Inside the posh apartment, we meet Gil’s other detective, JT Tarmel (Frank Harts), who gives the team the rest of the backstory on the dead body. JT and Malcolm instantly clash cause, you know, Malcolm is a weird dude. He’s also a real genius and begins to assess the crime scene. It’s shot very beautiful mind style and we see Malcolm’s eyes falling over every part of the dead body and surrounding area. Dani notices Malcolm’s gesticulating hands and he explains that he imagines the crime from the killer’s point of view.
“Helps me understand his state of mind.”
Totally not a creepy thing to say, Malcolm. Dani isn’t impressed with thinking like a killer but Malcolm insists it’s a gift. His assessment complete, Malcolm walks the team through the crime. As Malcolm explains what happened, we see the crime unfold in a transparent sort of a flashback; like the past events playing out in the present. It’s a very cool visual effect.
Malcolm explains that Vanessa was waiting for a lover to arrive but someone else showed instead. She struggled but only briefly. Vanessa was quickly subdued and Malcolm realizes she was injected with a paralytic agent. Malcolm explains that using a paralytic is much more difficult than knocking someone out so its use is a very specific move; the killer wanted the victim to experience her death.
As Malcolm continues to explain the crime, he realizes that the killer had to have training and medical skills … he’s seen this kind of crime before. We see a quick flash of Dr. Whitly’s face. Malcolm finishes his assessment by indicating where the injection site will be located. It’s very specific and he explains that this is a copycat crime … a copy cat of a murder committed by The Surgeon. Malcolm leaves as Gil looks more than a little flustered.
We come back and Gil apologizes to Malcolm. He didn’t want to awaken any demons but he also needed to be sure that these were copycats of The Surgeon. Malcolm tells Gil that this new serial killer is copying “The Quartet,” a string of four specific murders his father committed back in the day. Gil says they’ve only had three and Malcolm advises his friend that this means the killer isn’t done yet. Gil notices Malcolm’s hand is all tremor-y. Hil asks Malcolm if he’s seen his dad and Malcolm cuts to the chase, saying he cannot go see his father. It’s too toxic. Gil gets all that but he also needs to find this serial killer. Malcolm promises to start working on a profile.
Malcolm’s Apartment. Malcolm finds a visitor in his apartment. Meet Jessica Whitly (Bellamy Young), Malcolm’smother (who we saw briefly in the opening scene). Jessica, like Ainsley earlier, is happy to know that Malcolm is out of the FBI murder game but also takes a moment to chastise her son’s use of “Bright” as an alias. She says that drinking through the family shame was the much better course. These are definitely old conversations that these two have had several times before. Mama Whitly explains that she’s had someone come clean up Malcolm’s apartment (including wiping down his restraints!) and she’s contacted his old therapist.
Malcolm interrupts his mom mid-Momming and tells her to really truly, butt out of his life. She tells her son that she knows he isn’t sleeping and suggests Chamomile tea and pills will him knock him out. She offers him any of her pills, as any good mother would, though she really doesn’t want to part with her Quaaludes (left over from the ’80s). Malcolm has a throw away line, asking his mom what the tea is laced with. “Love,” she says. As she leaves, she tells Malcolm to join her and Ainsley for dinner the next night.
Finally alone, Malcolm gets to work on his profile. This entails opening up a horror box, a collection of press clippings and notes from The Surgeon’s murderous reign as well as notebook where he has copious notes.
The next day, Gil and the Team head to the medical examiner’s office. Meet Edrisa (Keiko Agena), a whip smart ME who has the same kind of fascination and fondness for death as Malcolm. Malcolm enters as Edris is summing up the agony that the victims must have been in. Malcolm announces that he has a preliminary profile. JT whispers to Dani that he’s pretty sure Malcolm is the killer. It’s some great snark.
Edrisa and Malcolm are something of kindred spirits and Malcolm gushes over her prodigious skill with autopsy knife work and stitching.
“You’re like Picasso with formaldehyde.”
Edrisa is all smiles and blushing and compliments Malcolm on being … “very slender.” Their flirt game is troubling. This whole exchange is another great example of this show’s macabre sense of humor.
Malcolm holds court and gives his profile. Bullet points: The killer is smart, a high functioning psychopath, and a serial killer superfan. Probably a white male of average size and height. Malcolm continues that the killer feels inadequate which is why he mimics murders instead of using his own method. His victims are all over 40, wealthy white women.
They are strangers with nothing in common except they also use a sex domination/BDSM call service. Malcolm deduces this by a specific type of markings on their wrist indicating the same type of uncommon bondage technique. Edrisa is all about this conversation.
Dani tracks the money trail and finds the guy that all three women paid for his BDSM services. At the Dom’s apartment, Dani, JT and Malcolm kick in the door and find the place kind of run down and abandoned looking. It’s very dark. There is a table where someone has been fiddling with electronics and also compounding their own drugs.
This wasn’t anything from The Surgeon’s murders and Malcolm gets worried that his profile is wrong. On the other side of the room, behind some plastic sheeting, the team finds a naked man gagged and strapped to a chair. With his eyes, this man indicates the person who did this to him is still in the apartment. Shots ring out as Dani pursues the bad guy. JT and Malcolm are left to free the naked dude.
The naked dude turns out to be Niko the Dom and he was just a pawn of the real killer. The Dom is chained to the chair which is bolted to the floor. Malcolm discovers a bomb strapped to the bottom, wired to explode in 72 seconds. With only a few seconds to go, Malcolm finds an axe and chops the Dom’s hand off, freeing him from the explosive device. It’s super intense but also really funny as Malcolm is trying to psych the Dom (and himself) up for the hand displacement that’s about to happen. “Deep Breaths.” For his part, JT is following Malcolm’s lead and prepping a cooler and ice. Yikes!
Out on the street, Dani loses track of the killer as Gil arrives on the scene (Dani called him when she began her pursuit). She starts to fill him in as the corner apartment explodes. Dani starts to freak out as Gil looks on in shock. A few moments later, JT and Malcolm emerge from the smoke, JT helping the handless (and mostly naked) Dom to an ambulance. Dani tries to see if Malcolm is okay. He’s staggering and very off balanced by otherwise fine. He looks kind of exhilarated in fact. He passes by her to head to the ambulance, the cooler in his hands.
“I’ve got to give them a hand.”
We come back from break and Malcolm is trying to compose himself in the bathroom of the police station. His hand is trembling.
Malcolm gives his full profile to Gil and Dani. He explains that the killer’s motivation is revenge; he’s looking to inflict maximum pain which explains why he is using The Quartet murders. Malcolm explains the Quartet was an “experiment to find the most agonizing way to kill someone.”
Gil wants to know what else.
Malcolm surmises the killer is in his 40s or 50s, white, rich, likely bald, and a romantic. Why bald, Dani asks? Malcolm says he believes the killer’s psychology indicates dysmorphia. Since the guy they saw at Niko the Dom’s was large and imposing, he’s guessing the thing the killer doesn’t like about himself is baldness. Through this conversation, Malcolm rejects a call from his sister and then she sends him a text indicating he needs to get to his mother’s place.
The Whitly Apartment. That night, Malcolm has dinner with Jessica and Ainsley. These people are rich. Like richy rich. Jessica is going on about a possible mate she’s found for her son but she notices he’s distracted with his phone (Gil is texting). Malcolm tries to say it’s nothing but like everyone else in this family, Mama Whitly knows when someone is keeping a secret.
Getting nothing from her son, Jessica turns to Ainsley. Sister rats out Malcolm working with the NYPD on the new serial killer. There is a funny bit in her about how Jessica doesn’t watch her daughter’s news reports with the sound on. Malcolm can’t believe that Ainsley ratted him out but he doesn’t deny it either.
Jessica is incensed that he’s still in the murder business and wonders why he can’t move on from his father. Malcolm tells them that the new killer is copying The Surgeon’s Quartet murders. Jessica cuts her son off with the names of the original victims … she may be a drunk and very “over” her murderous husband but clearly, the emotional wounds from 20 years ago still lay very fresh for Jessica.
Jessica warns her son that his father would love nothing more than for Malcolm to try and solve his old murders. She forbids him from going back to see his father.
“He is a cancer. He will destroy you. Take it from me.”
Jessica storms out of the room, bidding her kids a goodnight.
The Police Station. Malcolm sits down in a chair opposite the murder board and starts to flashback to when he was younger, memories of his father teaching him about human anatomy. Dr. Whitly’s office was in the basement of their house. He sends his son back upstairs to finish his hot cocoa but we see Young Malcolm head to another side of the basement. A large trunk is luring him there. In the present, Malcolm is starting to mutter in his sleep, warning his younger dream self to go no further, to not open the trunk. His hand is full on shaking.
In the flashback, Young Malcolm arrives at the trunk and kneels down to open it. Sleeping Adult Malcolm is almost shouting “don’t open it.” Dani hears a noise and starts walking to Bright’s office to investigate. In the past, Young Malcolm opens the trunk and sees a woman’s body folded into the case and begins to scream. In the present, adult Malcolm bolts from his chair, screaming. Young Malcolm takes off running. Adult Malcolm takes off running and runs directly into Dani knocking her over. She cradles him as the surrounding cops all pull their weapons. She tells them to stand down; she understands he’s asleep, he’s having some kind of night terror.
That was fucking intense and so well acted by Payne and Perrineau.
“They’re called pavor nocturnus. Night terrors. And they’re not fun. But on the bright side, they’re ruining my life.”
It’s the next day and Bright is explaining himself to Gil. He asks if Dani is okay and Gil assures him that Dani is tougher than both of them. Malcolm compares Dani to “Jackie” who is clearly Gil’s wife but it’s not clear if she is still alive or if they’re still together. Gil grabs his wedding ring and gets very uncomfortable for a second. Nothing more on that for now.
Malcolm assures Gil that he’s fine and under control. Gil disagrees. Chopping off a man’s hand? Serial Killer copying his father’s murders? A night terror that almost caused 6 cops to shoot him? .This does not paint a picture of “in control.”
Malcolm doesn’t really disagree but says there is going to be a fourth victim and he knows he can save her. Gil gives a look and Malcolm knows there is something he’s not being told.
Gil shows Malcolm detailed drawings of the first three murders of the Quartet and techniques used in them. Malcolm identifies these scrolls as being drawn by his father, as coming from his father’s study. These pages, torn from a book, were found in Niko the Dom’s apartment. There is a more direct connection between The Surgeon and this new killer than we realized. Malcolm tells Gil he’s going to see his father to find out more. Gil isn’t okay with this but Malcolm tells him he’s not really asking his permission.
Claremont Psychiatric Hospital. Father and son come face to face for the first time in ten years. Whitly is gleeful and says, “Malcolm, my boy.” All toothy smiles. Malcolm is more reserved, referring to his father as Dr. Whitly. The good doctor, it should be noted, is wearing a smart sweater over his chains and his white prison jumpsuit. He’s also in a study-like room.
Malcolm also notes the nice digs and Dr. Whitly explains that Saudis will pay lots of money for the services of a disgraced cardio-thoracic surgeons.
How does that work? Is Whitly being allowed to perform black market surgeries inside his jail cell?!? I have questions. We’ll get back to that later.
Dr. Whitly remarks that his son looks exhausted and Malcolm counters that it’s funny because his murderous father looks “fresh as a daisy.”
“Well, I’m a vegan now. And I haven’t seen your mother in twenty years.”
Goddamn it, Whitly is very charming and more than a little funny. Down to business, Malcolm informs his father that he’s got a copycat. Dr. Whitly laughs before realizing that was the wrong reaction and puts on a false frown of sadness. Malcolm accuses his father of helping this new killer, of making the murder drawings for him. Dr. Whitly denies it and says they are from his study, “Journal 19, top shelf.”
Malcolm pulls the appropriate book and low and behold, the missing pages fit. Dr. Whitly feigns outrage at being robbed and when Malcolm chastises him that three women have died, corrects himself that there can be multiple outrages. Whatever the case, he didn’t do anything wrong and is not allowed visitors. Malcolm is thinking on his feet and realizes that the killer must have been a patient of Dr. Whitly’s.
Malcolm grabs a box of Whitly’s patients and begins whittling down suspects from over 40 to just 2 possibles. Dr. Whitly seems very impressed at his son’s forensic skills. He asks Malcolm who the bad guy is, he’s on the edge of his seat with anticipation. Malcolm isn’t sure, he needs his father to give him more background on the final two candidates, fill in the story that wouldn’t be in a case file? Dr. Whitly initially refuses on the grounds that helping the police goes against everything he stands for.
Malcolm looks at his father. Closely. Maybe for the first time. He realizes his father is afraid. Not of the police or the killer but that Malcolm might leave him again. And not return. Malcolm makes his father an offer.
“Help me … and I’ll come back.”
Dr. Whitly approaches his son, the first time he’s really seemed menacing (other than in Malcolm’s dream). There is no smile upon his face. He’s kind of terrifying, really. Dr. Whitly identifies Carter Berkhead, a rich developer who had a heart attack while whipping a submissive in a sex dungeon.
Berkhead Tower. Malcolm arrives at Berkhead Tower and meets up with Dani. There is a high society party in progress and Malcolm realizes his mother might be at this same party. Awkward. Anyway, Dani gives the 411 that the Berkheads are old money and Carter is, in fact, bald. They head out to find him. Two steps and Malcolm does in fact spot his mom. He suggests he and Dani split up to try and avoid his mother.
Dani finds Blair Berkhead (Brette Taylor) and asks after her husband. It’s regarding Niko the Dom. Blair suggests they have a private word. They head to Carter’s GIANT office. Blair tells Dani that Carter is out of town.
Meanwhile, Malcolm gets a call from Gil. Niko the Dom woke up and told the police that Blair Berkhead was one his clients. Malcolm puts it together that she was cheating with another Dom … Blair is going to be Carter’s fourth victim.
Back in Carter’s office, Dani wanders over to his desk and finds an array of drugs and syringes. She goes for her gun as Carter (Michael Cerveris) emerges from the shadows and knocks her out. Blair is shocked that her hubby is there. Carter chloroforms his wife as we head to commercials, the strings of doom shrieking on the soundtrack.
We come back and Carter is getting ready to complete his Quartet. When he hears Dani coming to, he grabs her gun and raises it to kill her. Malcolm enters the room and tells Carter that he has some decisions to make. The gun is too loud and he guesses that Carter doesn’t have enough paralytic agent for both women.
Much like we saw him do at the beginning of the episode with Claude, Malcolm begins to talk to the killer, to empathize with him and relax his guard.
They discuss Carter’s motivations and desires; his need for control and the loss of it when Blair cheated with Niko the Dom. Of course, Malcolm says, Carter would become obsessed with the surgeon who saved his life, gave him back his control.
Dani makes a play to disable Carter but he catches her first and stomps on her. Carter villain monologues that he learned how to inflict pain from The Surgeon’s lessons and goes to shoot Dani but Malcolm regains his attention by holding the paralytic syringe to his own arm.
This gives Carter pause. He is freaking out that the paralytic agent is meant for Blair, that Malcolm doesn’t deserve it. He’s near tears as Malcolm scolds him for needing to finish the Quartet or else, he’ll be a failure in The Surgeon’s eyes. But no worries, Malcolm assures Carter that as The Surgeon’s son, he definitely deserves the painful death Carter was looking to inflict on Blair.
Malcolm monologues now, making periodic eye contact with Dani, about being Dr. Whitly’s son and needing to distance himself from his father. That he was afraid that he was like his father and that turned to law enforcement to hunt down people like his father. Malcolm refers to himself “betraying” his father. He’s near tears and it’s possible he’s not even aware other people are in the room at this point. He’s lost in his own speech, flashbacks of the night Dr. Whitly was hauled away playing in his mind. He stands on his two feet and dares Carter to kill him.
“Now’s your chance to kill me. His prodigal son. I’m willing to let go.”
From the ground, Dani is pleading for Bright to not do this but Malcolm has put Carter in a trance. He switches the gun to his other hand and starts towards Malcolm, he’s going to push the plunger in. He starts to depress the plunger and Gil and his cops bust in the door, putting bullets into Carter’s chest.
Malcolm kind of collapses to the floor and Dani is there, asking him if he’s okay. She’s trying to get confirmation that he wasn’t really going to let Carter kill him just now.
“Of course not, that’d be crazy.”
Dani doesn’t look like she’s buying it and leaves him there on the floor. Gil looks on and seems very disturbed by everything he just briefly witnessed. Malcolm is on his knees, near tears.
Outside, Ainsley is on the scene reporting on the Carter Berkhead murders. By an ambulance, JT is giving Gil shit for bringing on The Surgeon’s son. Dani is there and asks who Malcolm is to Gil?
BACKSTORY! We’re back to the night that opened the episode. Gil is a uniformed cop, called to the Whitly home on a prank call made by a kid. Dr. Whitly invites him in and offers to make him some tea while they sort it all out. In the present, Gil explains that Dr. Whitly paralyzed his patients with Ketamine-laced tea. Young Malcolm approaches Gil the Uniform Cop.
“You should take out your gun.”
“My father, he’s going to kill you.”
Back in the present, Dani realizes that it was Young Malcolm that called the cops on his father. Gil tells his team that Malcolm saved a lot of lives that night and, while he’s different, he’s one of them. In the past, Gil the Uniform Cop hands Young Malcolm a green sucking candy and tells him that he is a hero and that he should never forget that. A friendship is born. In the present, we watch Malcolm head … somewhere, popping a sucking candy into his mouth.
Never underestimate the impression you can have on a child.
Claremont Psychiatric Hospital. The next day, Malcolm is upholding his end of the bargain and is visiting with his father. Dr. Whitly is so pleased, at how it all worked out and more, that his son is back here with him. Malcolm is less pleased and has some questions for his dad. Questions such as, how did Carter Berkhead know which pages to take from dear old dad’s journal? Or, this one …
“Did you orchestrate all of this this just to get me back? Carter? The Quartet? Everything?”
Dr. Whitly scoffs at this but when Malcolm gets up to leave, the smile leaves the good doctor’s face and he leaps to his feet.
“You can’t leave.”
Hearing this phrase from his dream, Malcolm turns on his father, fear on his face. Dr. Whitly steps down his emotion and apologizes to his son. For not being more supportive of his joining the FBI and for costing them 10 years together. He proposes that he and Malcolm work together.
“There’s so much more I can teach you about murder. And maybe we can solve a few … together.”
Malcolm isn’t sold and tells his father, “Goodbye Dr. Whitly.” As the good doctor watches his son walk out of the facility, his fallen face turns back into a smile.
Pilot episodes are tricky affairs. Designed to sell a show, they tend to spend less time on telling a cohesive narrative story in exchange for massive character introduction and giving us the overall plot concept. When you look back on your favorite shows, most likely the Pilot will not be in your top ranking of episodes. They almost never hold up as good or great examples of what a show can be week in and week out. Even in the best shows. Exceptions exist. I am thinking of The West Wing Pilot which, though not one of their best, remained an example of a what a typically great TWW episode looked like.
This Pilot episode of Prodigal Son is one of those rare exceptions. It works as a strong pilot, giving us a deep introduction to our two main characters while also being a wholly formed episode, an hour of solid narrative and story telling. I was gripped by this Pilot, from the first seconds, when we see Dr. Whitly is being hauled away by the police and is still all toothy smile. And the episode didn’t let go of me until that final, “My boy” and the cut to black.
Working with a strong (and original) premise, solid writing and directing, and anchored by one of the strongest casts on television right now, Prodigal Son is a mind fuck of the best kind. It’s a psychological thriller that gives you goose flesh but, with its dark sense of humor, constantly makes you split into a Dr. Whitly-worthy toothy grin. Sheen and Payne, outstanding actors in their own right, explode on screen together and hit all the right notes of a broken father and son, who may be more alike than the son ever wants to admit. Exploring their relationship is going to be one of the most exciting things we get to watch on TV this year, I am sure of it.
Backing these two juggernauts is Phillips, Perrineau, Young, Sage, and Harts, and they all bring some level of sizzle and spice to the mix. I want more Bellamy Young for sure and I really want to explore her relationship with both Malcolm and her estranged (and murderous) husband. She’s too good an actress to waste with periodic drop ins.
There are some logic leaps I hope the show fills in, namely, how has the Whitly name and fortune remained in tact after 20 years of being associated with The Surgeon. Jessica Whitly still seems fabulously wealthy and Ainsley has made a very public career using a surname that has to be tainted. It’s crazy to me that only Malcolm has changed his name. Second, I need more details on how the Saudis come into play with the fanciest prison psych cell. I don’t understand what kind of work this disgraced cardio-thoracic surgeon is doing from a mental hospital?
But those are just quibbles, I am on board for Prodigal Son and I hope you are too!
Prodigal Son airs on Fox on Monday nights at 9pm (ET/PT). We’ll be Live Tweeting this show so please, join us!
Make sure to follow PopCultureReview on social media so you never miss an update on Prodigal Son or any of our television coverage. Follow us on Twitter @popcultureview and Instagram at pop_culture_view! And thank you for reading.