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Series / Prodigal Son

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Prodigal Son is an American crime drama that premiered on Fox on September 23, 2019.

The series centers on Malcolm Bright (Tom Payne), whose father, Dr. Martin Whitly (Michael Sheen), is the infamous serial killer known as "The Surgeon". Malcolm was the one responsible as a child for enabling the police to arrest his father, and has not (of his own volition) seen his father in 10 years.

Now a profiler, formerly with the FBI (until he was fired) and currently working with the New York City Police Department, Malcolm is forced to confront his father after a copycat serial killer uses Dr. Whitly's methods of killing. Malcolm finds himself drawn back into constant contact with his father as he must use Dr. Whitly's insights to help the police solve particularly horrible crimes... and battle his own inner demons.


The second season began airing in early 2021.

Head here for the character page.

Completely unrelated to the fanfic based on How to Train Your Dragon.

This series provides examples of:

  • Asshole Victim: Nicholas Endicott gets his throat slashed and then is stabbed to death by Ainsley. He was a corrupt businessman who had gotten away with murder more than once, and openly boasted that he'd do so again this time.
  • Atrocious Alias: Martin admits at one point that he doesn't particularly care for the nickname of "The Surgeon" that the media gave him.
  • Batman Gambit: How Malcolm brings down the killer in "Designer Complicity". He confronts Axel seemingly on his own, knowing that his stalker will come to his defense and expose himself, at which point Gil and the others swoop in to arrest him.
  • Bury Your Gays: Twice in 'Silent Night'. The episode revolves around the murder of a decorated officer who's revealed to be gay, and his former partner and lover decides to come out of retirement and help Malcolm find the Junkyard Killer, ending up murdered offscreen while going undercover with Malcolm in the Junkyard Killer's house.
  • Car Fu:
    • In "The Job", Vijay saves Malcolm by running over the killer of the week with his car. He had earlier shared a story with Malcolm about how his drug runner father once ran over someone the same way, which Malcolm discreetly references to tell Vijay what to do.
    • In "Like Father...", Jessica rams Gil's car into the getaway vehicle that one of Endicott's Mooks is using to dispose of the Not Quite Dead Gil in order to save him.
  • Clear My Name: Malcolm has to do this in "Like Father..." after Eve's killer is murdered in his hospital bed and Malcolm's DNA is planted on the body.
  • Consulting a Convicted Killer:
    • The series has the protagonist Malcolm Bright, a criminal profiler, doing this with the twist that the killer is his father, who he turned in to the police. His father doesn't appear to hold a grudge and is just happy to see Malcolm again while offering him insights. It's Malcolm who's understandably reluctant.
    • Then he realizes that Martin orchestrated the events of the pilot as part of a plan to get Malcolm to visit him again after a decade. Malcolm promptly leaves and the show focuses on Malcolm's entire family and his investigation into the mystery from his childhood.
  • Dark Secret: As of Season 2, there's the matter of Ainsley killing Endicott and Malcolm disposing of the body to protect her.
  • Didn't See That Coming:
    • Invoked when Malcolm does a fantastic sting on a corrupt shrink. About to be arrested, the man snarls "did you see this?" as he points a gun in Malcolm's face. Malcolm is forced to admit "No, I did not."
    • Happens again in the cold open of the first episode of the second season:
      Malcolm: I profiled you. That's how I knew you'd come here tonight, to kill the Rose family. Slit their throats, like you did the Catlins last week. You're the Penthouse Slasher. But when you got here tonight, something spooked you. So you ditched the knife, climbed out here, onto my ledge. ... Except you're smiling. ... Oh. You didn't ditch the knife.
  • Distant Prologue: The first scene of the series is a flashback to the night Martin was arrested. It then cuts ahead to the present day.
  • Dream Sequence: Martin spends most of "Death's Door" in a coma, after having Malcolm stab him in the previous episode, with his mind conjuring up vivid hallucinations as a result. It starts as him reliving his memory of the day he killed "the girl in the box", only for it to suddenly shift to her stabbing him and swearing to kill his family as revenge for what he did to her. He eventually realizes he can take lucid control of the vision, and turns the tables on her just before he wakes up.
  • Driving Question:
    • Did Malcolm inherit his father's murderous tendencies? It turns out he didn't, but Ainsley did.
    • For Malcolm, it's what happened during the period of his childhood that he can't remember, specifically the time between when he found an abducted girl in his father's kill room and when he made the call to the police turning him in. And as an addendum to this, he wants to know what happened to the girl, as the police never found her.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: In between "Scheherazade" and "The Professionals", Eve is killed offscreen by an assassin sent by Endicott.
  • Engineered Heroics: In "Q&A", another inmate at Martin's asylum stabs a guard and Ainsley's boyfriend/cameraman Jin, causing a lockdown while both Ainsley and Malcolm are visiting Martin. Martin uses his surgical skills to save Jin, which impresses Ainsley, but as Malcolm figures out by the episode's end, Martin goaded the inmate into doing it in the first place during one of their group sessions.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Martin is a psychotic serial killer, but he's also still a doctor and never deliberately killed any of his patients. When accused of having done so in one case, he takes great offense at the suggestion.
  • Evil Mentor: Martin was this to the Junkyard Killer, encouraging his drive to kill and tutoring him on how to do so.
  • Eye Scream: Martin uses his thumbs to gouge out the eyes of the assassin sent after him.
  • First-Episode Twist: A young Malcolm was the one who called the police on his father.
  • Forced to Watch: The killer in "Annihilator" makes his primary target watch as his whole family dies from poison, before poisoning him as well.
  • Foreshadowing: Early in the Season 2 premiere, Dani mentions the world's renewed focus on systemic racism in police forces. During the episode's climax, JT is confronted by beat cops who mistake him for a perp.
  • Frame-Up: Malcolm is framed for murdering Eve's murderer with DNA planted on the guy's body. Although reluctant, the police arrest him for it and he's forced to find evidence exonerating himself.
  • Hollywood Law: Martin's defense lawyer boasts how he saved Martin from an end in the electric chair. New York did not use the electric chair when Martin's case occurred, and no one was actually executed since 1963 even after the death penalty had been reinstated (before its abolition), making it very questionable just how much danger he was even in. Of course, as he's boasting that may well be the point-it's hyperbole.
  • If I Wanted You Dead...: In "Wait and Hope", when Malcolm accuses his father of trying to kill him as a child, Martin responds that if he'd intended to kill Malcolm, Malcolm would be dead.
  • I Never Said It Was Poison: Malcolm is being questioned by a shrink on his fitness on a case involving a person named Andy kidnapped by a ruthless cult "deprogrammer." The man declares Malcolm unfit and heading out. When Malcolm asks what will happen to Andy, the doctor replies "someone else will have to find her." Smiling, Malcolm points out that at no point in this story, did he ever say Andy was a woman. The man himself is the deprogrammer and this whole thing has been Malcolm's attempt to expose him.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: Malcolm and Gil have been friends ever since the night Gil arrested Martin after Malcolm turned him in.
  • In the Blood: Malcolm lives in fear that he's inherited his father's murderous impulses. "Like Father..." makes it clear that he hasn't... but Ainsley has.
  • Jurisdiction Friction: After the NYPD is unable to stop the Junkyard Killer, the FBI comes in and takes over the case. They explicitly do not want Malcolm anywhere near the case anymore.
  • Life-or-Limb Decision: In the pilot, Malcolm and JT find a victim of the copycat killer chained to a chair that has a bomb attached to it that's about to explode. With no time to get the victim free, Malcolm resorts to chopping his hand off with an ax so that they can slip him out of his restraints and get to safety. He sticks the hand into a cooler so it can be reattached. This process is shown to be successful when the victim reappears eight episodes later.
  • Luxury Prison Suite: Martin's cell is spacious and well-furbished, thanks to some rich clients (primarily Saudis, apparently) who don't mind employing the services of a doctor who happens to be a psychopathic serial killer. This turns out to be a lie — the cell was actually paid for by Nicholas Endicott, in order to buy Martin's silence over his knowledge of Eddicot's crimes.
  • Mouth Stitched Shut: The father of the family found dead in "Annihilator" had his mouth wired shut after death. This was done because the killer stuffed the corpse's throat with venomous snakes, which emerge when Edrisa cuts the wires.
  • Mushroom Samba: In "The Trip", Malcolm is accidentally exposed to a pile of cocaine, and spends the next several scenes high as a kite. Then the trip goes bad, as his subconscious manifests as a hallucination of himself dressed like his father to provide him hints towards his missing memories, which scares the hell out of him.
  • Never Suicide: Eve is drowned by Endicott's assassin, who then tosses her off a bridge to make it look like she killed herself.
  • Old Flame: It turns out that Gil and Jessica had a fling back in the day, but she pushed him away due to feeling too emotionally damaged from her relationship with Martin. They finally share a passionate kiss in "The Professionals".
  • OOC Is Serious Business: In "Death's Door", Malcolm calls Edrisa to apologize for an Innocently Insensitive remark he made earlier in the episode, only for her to act very curtly and hang up. Both Malcolm and Dani note how unusual it is for Edrisa to not want to talk to Malcolm, and quickly realize something's wrong. In fact, she's being held at gunpoint by the killer of the week.
  • Parental Title Characterization:
    • Malcolm pointedly calls his estranged dad "Dr. Whitly" to maintain a sense of distance from him. The only time he calls Martin "dad" is in a panic when Eddicot's assassin is trying to kill him in his cell.
    • He also doesn't have a very close relationship with his mom, whom he calls "Mother".
  • Playing Gertrude:
    • Michael Sheen (Martin Whitley) is only thirteen years older than Tom Payne, who's playing his son Malcolm Bright. It isn't very noticeable though since Sheen is made to look older and Payne appears youthful enough to be around a decade younger than his true age.
    • The same goes for Bellamy Young, who plays Malcolm's mother Jessica and is also only 13 years older than him. It's more noticeable in her case, as she doesn't look old enough to have children in their 30s unless she had them in her very early 20s or had a lot of plastic surgery.
    • On the other hand, Halston Sage is 24/25 years younger than her on-screen parents. It seems that her character is meant to be older (just a little younger than Malcolm). She's actually a decade younger than Payne, portraying her brother.
  • Prison Riot: Martin gets caught up in one on Ryker's Island in "Like Father...". While not actively partaking in the fighting, he does seem to be enjoying the chaos.
  • Profiling: JT is a victim of this from White police officers in the Season 2 premiere, who assume he's involved with the crime absent evidence at all, just because he's Black. After they draw their guns on him (and one calls him "boy" to boot) he's in great danger before Dani arrives, rescuing him by revealing that JT's a detective. He's outraged about it afterward, but afraid they'll claim he assaulted them in defense. Gil assures him he'll back up what he says though.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: Martin earns his transfer from Ryker's back to Claremont by helping the prison deal with the COVID-19 Pandemic.
  • Reality Ensues: When J.T. is put in charge of the unit, he does his best but it's clear he's having issues handling leadership after so long as just a regular detective. He's also horrible dealing with the press.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: In "Wait and Hope", the killer of the week is targeting everyone involved in the cover-up of a rich heir's drunken boating escapades which led to the death of his girlfriend. Said girlfriend, who survived, is the killer.
  • Rooftop Confrontation: Malcolm has a brief fight on a building ledge with a serial killer in the Season 2 premiere.
  • Serial Killer:
    • Martin was a serial killer known as "the Surgeon" for his precise methods of capturing and executing people. The antagonist of the pilot is a copycat emulating him.
    • Malcolm's first present-day scene has him helping the FBI catch a serial killer whose MO is apparently taking people to an abandoned slaughterhouse in the woods and butchering them there.
    • The Junkyard Killer, a protege of Martin's, becomes a recurring antagonist later in the season. His MO is targeting people he feels are sinners, abducting and torturing them before killing them; the majority are crushed in a car compactor in his junkyard (hence the name), though he changes the methods of execution once his kill grounds are discovered.
    • Season 2 opens with the team arresting "the Penthouse Slasher", a serial killer who breaks into high-rises and kills the occupants.
  • Shipper on Deck: As soon as he meets Dani, Martin stays shipping her with Malcolm.
  • Ship Tease:
    • Malcolm and Edrisa awkwardly flirt with each other whenever they share a scene. Though it seems as though any actual romantic intent is only on Edrisa's part.
    • Malcolm and Dani's interactions start to show romantic chemistry as the series goes on.
    • There's hints of UST between Gil and Jessica throughout the series.
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: In the final scene of "Like Father...", Endicott is gloating to Malcolm about how his money and connections make him untouchable, only for Ainsley to come up behind him and slit his throat.
  • Sympathetic Murderer: Although Ainsley brutally murders Nicholas Endicott, he's such a colossal asshole who'd already gotten away with murder many times and gloated about doing the same thing again, it isn't difficult to sympathize with her. Malcolm's disturbed that she's got the propensity toward violence their father has in her too though.
  • That Came Out Wrong: In "The Trip", Malcolm states that "murder is the only thing keeping me sane". When the whole precinct turns to stare at him, he quickly clarifies that he meant solving, not causing.
  • We Used to Be Friends: "The Job" features Malcolm's childhood friend Vijay, whom he had a falling out with due to Malcolm's trust issues. They patch things up in the present.
  • Wham Episode:
    • "Eye of a Needle": In order to set up a sting to catch the killer of the week, who is obsessed with the Whitlys, Malcolm stabs Martin using a tactic the latter taught the former when he was in university. He survives, but ends up in a coma.
    • "Stranger Beside You": Eve reveals that she got close to the Whitlys because she believes the girl in the box is her long-missing sister. Upon seeing her picture, Malcolm confirms this.
    • "Scheherazade": Malcolm and Eve confront Martin, with an unexpected twist: Her sister Sophie, before Martin killed her, managed to reveal some Dark Secret about a powerful figure. Martin then spared her as she proved to be more useful alive... oh, and the figure in question is Nicholas Endicott, Jessica's new Love Interest whom Sophie claimed to be even worse than Martin.
    • "Like Father...": Gil is stabbed on Endicott's orders and left comatose in the hospital. Endicott gloats to Malcolm that there's no evidence of his involvement in this or anything else, only for Ainsley (apparently having a psychotic episode from the stress of the situation) to slit his throat and stab him to death.
  • Wham Line:
    • The end of "Q&A" when Malcolm receives a call from the junkyard serial killer who knows Dr. Whitly. He says "it was one hell of a camping trip", showing that he is connected to the mysterious trip Malcolm cannot remember.
    • Martin's final flashback in "Scheherazade" contains a single line that seriously changes things: the name of the powerful figure Sophie claimed was worse than Martin — Nicholas Endicott.
  • Wham Shot:
    • The end of "Pilot" suggests that Malcolm will keep seeing Martin despite his objections.
    • The end of "The Annihilator" shows that Jessica keeps tabs on Malcolm secretly in case he could meet her husband. A bribed orderly mentions to her that he's secretly meeting him in his cell.
    • The end of "Fear Response" has Malcolm recover one of his repressed memories, recalling that after his father drugged him following his discovery of the abducted girl, his mother angrily warned him to never speak of it, suggesting she knew about her husband's actions.
    • At the end of "Designer Complicity", Ainsley visits Martin in his cell.
    • In the final scene of "The Job", Eve seeks out the box where Malcolm saw the girl, cries, and climbs inside it, indicating that she is somehow connected to the girl.
    • In the final scene of "Like Father...", Ainsley suddenly slits Endicott's throat, before violently stabbing him repeatedly in a rage.
  • What the Hell, Hero?:
    • Gil isn't happy with Malcolm over the Life-or-Limb Decision mentioned above.
    • Dani and JT are initially upset with Gil for withholding the fact that he had them working with the Surgeon's son, though they seem to come around when Gil reveals how Malcolm turned in his father.
    • Jin is coldly furious with Ainsley when he learns that she taped his life-saving surgery at Martin's hands for the sake of the story.


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