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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, and now finds himself drawn back into constant contact with his father as he must both use Dr. Whitly's insights to help the police solve particularly horrible crimes and battle his own inner demons.


Head here for the character page.

It's not the same as the fanfic based on How to Train Your Dragon.

Tropes in this series:

  • 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.
  • 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 reluctant, understandably.
    • 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 a mystery from his childhood.
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  • 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.
  • Driving Question: 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.
  • Engineered Heroics: In “Q&A”, another inmate at Martin’s asylum stabs a guard and Ainsley’s boyfriend/cameraman, 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.
  • Evil Mentor: Martin was this to the Junkyard Killer, encouraging his drive to kill and tutoring him on how to do so.
  • First-Episode Spoiler: 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.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: Malcolm and Gil have been friends ever since the night Gil arrested Martin after Malcolm turned him in.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Parental Title Characterization: Malcolm pointedly calls his estranged dad "Dr. Whitly" to maintain a sense of distance from him. 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 twenty-four to twenty-five 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.
  • 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.
  • Ship Tease: Malcolm and Edrisa awkwardly flirt with each other whenever they share a scene.
  • 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.
  • Wham Line: The end of “Q&A” when Malcolm receives a call from the junkyard serial killer who knows Dr. Whitley. He says “it was one hell of a camping trip”, showing that he is connected to the mysterious trip Malcolm cannot remember.
  • 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.
  • 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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