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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. Due to low ratings, Fox canceled the series the week before that season's finale. However, Chris Fedak and Sam Sklaver have mentioned that they are in talks with TV and streaming networks that are willing to back a potential third season. So far, HBO Max (which is owned by WarnerMedia, itself owner of show producer Warner Bros.) has said no to backing for a third season.

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.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: A constant in the series as so often, a seemingly mild-mannered and innocent figure is the killer.
    • The best example is Vivian, presented as a bright eager nurse seduced by Martin...until she kidnaps him and stabs herself as a frame job. To top it off, when the cops figure out the truth, it turns out she's responsible for eleven deaths at her various hospitals.
    • Martin Whitly was an example himself before being exposed. He was a nice, seemingly normal family man and respected surgeon, but secretly a vicious serial killer. Even now, he's very affably evil and a charming man, who's quite manipulative, insisting that his time in a mental institution worked to cure him. Martin claims he's remorseful and wants to make up for his actions, but Malcolm never buys it (nor the "cured" claim).
  • Borrowed Biometric Bypass: In the pilot, Malcolm cuts the hand off of a man who's tied to a chair in order to use his handprint to defuse a bomb when he doesn't have time to untie the man. He then puts it in ice and makes sure it goes to the hospital with the victim in the hope of reattachment surgery.
    Malcolm: I've just got to give someone a hand.
  • 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.
    • In "Exit Strategy", Dani saves Malcolm and the witness from the killer by ramming the latter with her car.
  • Chewing the Scenery: Michael Sheen is clearly having a lot of fun playing Martin Whitly. He gets the best lines in the show.
  • 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.
  • Cliffhanger: Assuming that the show isn't renewed for a third season, then the series ends on a major one: Malcolm stabs Martin in self-defense, seemingly fatally, just as Dani comes across the scene.
  • 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. This is even a secret to Ainsley herself, as she blacked out the killing and Malcolm told her he did it so she wouldn't have to live with the guilt. Even with Jessica finding out about it, Malcolm tries to ensure that she doesn't have to kill again.
  • Demonic Possession: In "Speak of the Devil", two different people are convinced they're possessed by a demon. In one case, his psychosis is kept relatively under control by rituals that convince him it's restrained. The other though was a killer, driven to commit ritual murder after lead poisoning caused him to develop delusions. He too though is stopped by Malcolm performing an exorcism with a friar's instruction since it's something that the killer (a Catholic too) believes works. It's also mentioned that the modern Catholic Church only quite rarely performs an exorcism, since so many cases are like this, the result of delusions.
  • 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. [Beat] Except you're smiling. [Beat] Oh. You didn't ditch the knife.
  • Dirty Cop: The second season has Malcolm and Martin investigate the Woodsman, a serial killer hiding in Vermont. He also happens to be married to Sheriff Cooley, who's protecting him by using her law enforcement powers to make sure no state or federal law enforcement officers would go to the area.
  • Disposing of a Body: As we learn at the start of Season 2, Malcolm hid Endicott's body by chopping it up and shipping the pieces to Estonia (via a disposal service Endicott himself used), where the remains were dumped into a lake.
  • 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.
  • Dramedy: While the tone is generally serious, the amount of Black Comedy pertaining to Malcolm's cloudcuckoolander tendencies, as well as the interplay between the characters takes the series into this territory.
  • 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.
  • Electroconvulsive Therapy Is Torture: Inverted — in the Season 2 opener, Dr. Whitley attempts to torture his obnoxious, insensate, mentally ill new roommate with a stripped cable stolen from the prison's TV cart plugged into their cell's outlet. While painful, the jolts miraculously cure his roommate's unnamed mental illness.
  • 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 Loved Ones: Psychopath though he may be, Martin still loves his family. And in Season 2, he develops a seemingly genuine relationship with Dr. Vivianne Capshaw and seems legitimately upset about having to manipulate her for his escape plan.
  • 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.
  • Everyone Can See It: By mid-Season 2, pretty much everyone can tell that Malcolm has feelings for Dani.
  • 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.
  • Gaslighting: Near the end of "Face Value", Malcolm realizes that Ainsley faked her second blackout and covered herself with pig's blood, to get back at him for lying to her about her role in Endicott's death.
  • Great Escape: In Season 2, Martin, Friar Pete, and another inmate start plotting to escape from the hospital. They succeed in "Exit Strategy".
  • Ham-to-Ham Combat: Martin and Hoxley butting heads in "Ouroboros" seems to be as much a competition to see who can chew the most scenery as it is about Hoxley pressing him over Endicott's murder.
  • 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.
  • It's a Wonderful Plot: In "Head Case", Malcolm is thrown down an elevator shaft by the killer of the week. The resulting concussion-induced Dream Sequence sticks him in a world where he never discovered and exposed his father's crimes — Martin's still free and respected, the Whitlys are a happy family, Ainsley is a doctor instead of a reporter, and Malcolm became a detective instead of a profiler (and is in a relationship with Dani). On the down side, Gil is the one locked up in the mental hospital, as Martin apparently covered his tracks by drugging him into insanity.
  • 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.
  • Large Ham:
    • Michael Sheen as Martin Whitly. He has a very theatrical way of speaking and he is as Affably Evil as they come.
    • Sheen's not to be outdone by Alan Cumming as Europol's Simon Hoxley, a Sherlock Holmes Expy who is the epitome of I Am Very British.
    • Catherine Zeta Jones gets her chance as Vivian Capshaw especially when she starts to... do things to him.
  • 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 Endicot'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.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: In "Ouroboros", Natalie falls to her death trying to kill Malcolm. With her being the only witness to Malcolm dropping off Endicott's body at the start of the body disposal chain, this allows him to present her as the one who killed Endicott in the first place, ending the investigation.
  • Not Me This Time:
    • When a patient at the asylum is killed a few feet away from Martin, he has to repeatedly protest that he had nothing to do with it. Martin was in chains and watched by an orderly at the time, so he could not have physically committed the crime, but Gil and Malcolm still suspect that he manipulated the situation somehow. Martin was innocent of the crime, but still used it for his own ends.
    • Martin gets hit with this again near the end of Season 2, when everyone thinks he manipulated Vivian into helping him escape and then kidnapped her, when in reality she kidnapped him.
  • 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".
  • O.O.C. 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.
  • Out-Gambitted: As of the end of "You Can Run...", it would appear that Martin's escape attempt has been intercepted by Vivian, who is keeping him prisoner for herself. This is confirmed by the following episode, which shows that she jumped and sedated him as he was fleeing the hospital.
  • 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"
  • 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.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: Season 2 takes several plot points from real life events that occurred in-between seasons.
    • Martin earns his transfer from Riker's back to Claremont by helping the prison deal with the COVID-19 Pandemic.
    • An ongoing Story Arc is JT having to deal with the complicated position of being both a cop and a black man, reflecting the real life social unrest that erupted over the course of 2020 regarding systemic police racism.
  • 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.
  • Saying Too Much:
    • A common bit is Malcolm figuring out the killer by something they shouldn't have known.
    • Malcolm himself is hit by this when he makes up a cover story for Endicott's murder by telling his mom a major story of he and Ainsley spilling wine on the rug. But she realizes something is off...
      Jessica: If you spilled a bottle of wine months ago, would you remember the exact vintage? No, you wouldn't, unless it was a story you'd rehearsed a thousand times.
      • When Jessica calls Martin about it, he just laughs at how crazy it is as "you think they killed him and shipped his body to Estonia?". She's initially swayed by this, but his follow-up attempt at trying reassure her over her paranoia ("They are my children after all") gets Jessica thinking...
    • Jessica then falls into the same trap about the same subject in "Ouroboros", when she sarcastically suggests to Hoxley that she killed Endicott in her home when ridiculing his investigation. Since Hoxley never suggested that Endicott's murder was on the Whitly property, he takes note of her bringing it up and quickly starts piecing things together.
  • Self-Disposing Villain: In "Ouroboros", the killer is dangling over the edge of a yacht. Rather than let Malcolm pull her up to safety, she tries to shoot him, causing him to instinctively drop her, causing her to fall onto some equipment which impales her.
  • 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 in the first half of Season 1. 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.
    • The episode "Bad Manners" features a killer dubbed the "Debutante Slayer", who targets graduates of a prestigious charm school. The killer turns out to be the daughter of the school's headmistress, killing those she feels have strayed from her mother's teachings.
    • The episode "Head Case" mentions a killer known as the "Bowery Ripper", who was active in the 60s with an MO of killing people with found objects and who was never caught. He, now elderly, turns out to be the killer of the week, having killed the architect redesigning the building he lives in because the man found the hidden body of one of his victims.
    • The Season 2 finale has a killer known as "the Woodsman", who abducts women, holds them prisoner for two weeks, then kills them and leaves a sapling in their body.
  • Sherlock Scan: Interpol agent Simon Hoxley prides himself on doing this. Malcolm turns it around by noting how Hoxley's expensive watch is just a cheap replica and "your scarf is showing its age" meaning Hoxley is nowhere near as wealthy and successful as he claims to be.
  • 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.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: 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.
  • 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.
    • "Exit Strategy": Martin and other inmates manage to escape from the hospital.
    • "Sun and Fun": Vivian frames Martin for "kidnapping" her, and Malcolm escapes with Martin since he was injured from an attempt by Vivian to intentionally botch a surgery op.
  • 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.
    • At the end of "Head Case", Malcolm tells Ainsley the truth about her repressed memories of Endicott's death, only for her to reveal that her blouse is covered in blood, meaning that she's killed again.
    • In "Sun and Fun". When was the last time you mitigiated an embolism?
  • 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.
  • Wrong Assumption: Malcolm is racing to save Capshaw, who he feels is "a victim brainwashed by Martin" into helping him escape. Over the course of the case, Malcolm soon discovers Capshaw is actually a twisted killer herself who kidnapped Martin.
  • Your Approval Fills Me with Shame: If Martin starts to approve of your actions, you should probably seriously re-examine what you are doing. It is a constant fear of Malcom's and he becomes really concerned about Ainsley when Martin expresses his pride of her actions. In contrast, Gil seems to take great comfort in how much Martin disaproves of him.