Since Prodigal Son is a series about a man who’s afraid he’ll become like his serial killer father, it isn’t a show that one would necessarily describe as “fun.” But something about this week’s episode was just that. It was still about murder, but it was fun, the tone of the episode set in the opener. I don’t know; maybe (like with our titular hero), that says more about me than it should, but I stand by that assessment.
It’s a Hard-Knock Life
Is there any part of Malcolm’s life that hasn’t been horribly traumatizing? That hasn’t scarred him? Did he have a puppy? Did the puppy die in a freak crock pot explosion? At one point, Dani asked him if something had happened to him in his past, and I actually laughed. Has she met Malcolm? He’s the only person who could have a traumatic experience cuddling kittens, and this was high school. High school is traumatizing for everyone. Full stop.
On that note, let’s talk about that boarding school. Maybe it’s my cynicism, but am I the only one who found it hard to believe Malcolm would have been kicked out of a “pay to play” institution? If the headmaster was willing to take bribes from the very rich for entry, I doubt he would actually kick out a student for anything less than mom and daddy’s Money Well running dry. And yes, that means I think he would overlook every crime up to and including actually committing murder, let alone just trying it. At best, I assume the bribe would just need to be increased – and I have no doubt Jessica would have paid it.
Setting aide what is to me the most ludicrous plot point I’ve seen on television to date (and don’t take that to mean I didn’t enjoy it), the entire story in the boarding school brought me an almost ludicrous amount of joy. Maybe it was Edrisa explaining the need for J.T. to give his wife some lovin’ for the good of the baby. And, no, I’m not okay with Gil cutting her off, because I was interested in her monologue. Then again, I think Keiko Agena is a gift, and I would happily listen to her awkwardly explain the virtues of dehydrated kale while ineffectually flirting with Malcolm for a straight hour with no complaints.
But I also enjoyed Malcolm’s first confrontation with the Hellfire Breakfast Club, supposedly led by Lex-Luthor-as-played-by-Jesse-Eisenberg’s older brother. Knowing that scenes aren’t really captured in one take, I couldn’t help but imagine the stagehand offscreen, repeatedly pouring buckets of water over Tom Payne’s head just before the director yelled “action!” It’s a hard job, but by god, someone’s gotta do it!
Villains, Villains Everywhere
High school kids are the worst. It doesn’t matter that they weren’t all murderers. They’re still the worst. The actual crime this week revolved around a cheating scheme orchestrated by a too-good-to-be-true professor. He was into old books and actually seemed to be nice to Malcolm. Clearly he had to be a bad guy. Give Malcolm a break for five minutes, show, I beg of you.
I’m also a little disturbed by Malcolm’s profile of his wolf-in-silver-fox’s clothing. Collecting books points to obsession, to intrusive thoughts and a need to control one’s environment? I really hope he never comes to my house to see my bookshelves. Or my DVD collection. Or my comic book collection. Or…you know what? I’m just going to stop myself there. I have no obsessions or a need to control my environment, and you cannot prove otherwise.
Back to Professor Delaney, for a man who collects a lot of books, he’s clearly never read one. Did he not know Louisa was a suspect? Because I don’t know about you, but when I know someone is suspected of murder, I stop eating food they prepared for me. I’m old-fashioned that way.
And, yes, it did turn out that Louisa was the actual murderer. She hurt Edrisa, so I knew she was bad news and wanted her to go to jail for that alone. Her motives weren’t that impressive. Blah, blah, blah, you want to escape your dad. Yeah? Well Malcolm’s dad is a serial killer. Check and mate. In the “My Daddy Is Worse Than Your Daddy” Olympics, Malcolm’s got her beat.
While she was dancing around how her dad’s expectations made her go full Annabelle, the final confrontation revealed a great deal about Malcolm’s past. He’s worried about becoming his father (at least in part) because he almost did. In a sense. He almost killed a boy who bullied him in school. I know, I know. Murdering your peers is bad. On the other hand, I’d probably be lying if I said I’d necessarily have held it against him if he’d followed through. I mentioned high school kids are the worst, right? I guess Malcolm isn’t the only one with darkness inside him. At any rate, it was this event that actually first triggered the hand tremble that’s plagued him ever since. I’m almost ridiculously happy that this wasn’t Martin’s doing. Mal’s got enough trauma to go around and show itself in fun and exciting new ways!
Whitly v. Whitly
As usually is the case, however, it was the familial interactions that I enjoyed the most this episode. The dynamic between Martin and Malcolm is always fun, and this episode had a couple of stand-out moments. Most notably, Malcolm demanding to know why his father did “it.” With a dad like the Surgeon, you’re really going to have to be a lot more specific about the nature of your accusation. I also loved Martin’s utter befuddlement in the face of his son’s apology. I’ve definitely seen that look on my older brother’s face when I decided to effusively apologize to him in an attempt to mess with his head. (What? It’s a sibling’s prerogative to turn an apology into a psychological experiment.)
But one of the episode’s best lines brings interesting into the dynamic between father and son. Martin isn’t entirely bad, which absolutely is a problem for Malcolm. It would be easier to cut Martin out of his life if he was 100% bad. But for all the evil she’s done and all the trauma he’s caused, he’s still Malcolm’s dad. Which doesn’t mean he won’t ever be able to extricate himself, but it understandably makes it a little harder.
Martin really is a strangely supportive father, bringing into question how much he is even capable of love. To the extent he is able, I have no doubt he truly does. Of course, that doesn’t change the fact that he’s also entirely narcissistic and self-serving. Still, Malcolm’s the only person he can’t hurt? Sucks to be Ainsley, I guess.
I do appreciate it when the show gives us the dichotomy between (a loose interpretation of a) loving father and absolutely terrifying psychopath. He’ll unapologetically murder someone who (foolishly) believes they’re sort of his friend to get what he wants. Yet even he knows the appropriate response to one of his fellow inmates asking if he wants to know about their family is to nope his way straight out of that conversation. He’s a sociopath. He’s not an idiot.
A couple of final thoughts:
- I know the opener was a dream, but, uh…they did actually block off their murder basement, right? Burned some sage? Maybe called in an old priest and a young priest? Something?
- The look on Malcolm’s face every time his mother is mentioned ends me every time. I love these two.
- Gil absolutely cannot separate professional and personal when it comes to Jessica. I suspect Jessica can’t really, either. What will make it even more interesting is when we discover Martin can’t either. Particularly once he makes good his escape.
Prodigal Son airs Tuesdays at 9/8c on Fox.