‘Prodigal Son’ Bosses on the ‘Ripple Effect’ of Malcolm Visiting Martin
[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for the series premiere of Prodigal Son.]
What does it mean to have a serial killer for a father? That’s the question for Fox’s twisted Prodigal Son.
But the series also asks, what does it mean to have a serial killer for a father and be the one to turn him into the police? The pilot revealed that it was Malcolm Bright (Tom Payne) who called the police on his father, Dr. Martin Whitly, aka the Surgeon (Michael Sheen), in 1998. We also learned that young Malcolm saved the life of the officer who responded to the call, Gil Arroyo (Lou Diamond Phillips), the same detective who recruits him to consult for the NYPD.
Their first case? A serial killer who copied Martin’s work from back in the day. He just so happened to be a patient of the doctor’s and stole his notes from his cell.
Here, showrunners Chris Fedak and Sam Sklaver break down the key moments of the pilot and preview what to expect from the show they describe as “delightfully disturbing.”
Did Martin orchestrate everything? How much of the season will see Malcolm wondering exactly how much his father is doing from that room?
Chris Fedak: For us, it’s an open question in regard to how much Martin is able to do and how much he’s able to control. We’re not doing the supervillain story. There’s definitely times when Martin will have the ability to influence things outside the cell, but mostly, it’s a father/son story. It’s less a giant Machiavellian plan and more just a giant Machiavellian plan to see his boy.
Sam Sklaver: What we know is true is Martin has been without his son for 10 years. That doesn’t mean he’s been sitting like a monk. He’s been up to a few pieces of mischief, and this was just one of them.
Fedak: One of the reasons why Martin is so well taken care of in Claremont Psychiatric is he offers up his expertise to people who need a cardiothoracic surgeon. He’s still one of the best in the world, and so people will ask him for advice and other doctors will even look to him.
Has Malcolm ever regretted turning in his father?
Fedak: Like any son, he loves his father. His mom was always the distant, little bit scary mom, but his dad was warm, caring, understanding, and a person you could go to. He misses the way he used to think about his father, so he’s conflicted about the fact that in a way, by calling the police, he changed his life but he also was put in a situation where he had to.
Sklaver: Malcolm Bright knows that he did the right thing, but sometimes it might just not feel that way.
What’s the NYPD team going to be like moving forward, especially now that Dani and JT know who Malcolm is?
Fedak: Gil’s Major Crimes team is there to solve the most complicated cases. If the case is political, complicated [or] weird, you bring in Gil Arroyo, and he’s going to solve it. Having him have his own profiler makes sense and is fun. The more messed up the crime, the better it is for them. They’re the best at this.
Then when it comes to the inner dynamics of the team, Gil is the guy who hand-selects his cops, so Dani and JT have very specific backstories in how they wound up with Gil. Some share things in common with Bright. Gil finds people he likes who are special and he becomes their sensei.
Sklaver: Dani and JT are very interesting complicated characters with skeletons in their closet. You don’t really want a profiler hanging around you all the time trying to figure you out, which is exactly what Bright’s going to do. We’ll get them to a really nice place, where it is a team [and] an extension of his family, but as most people are with their siblings, Dani, JT, and Bright could definitely get on each other’s nerves in a very fun way.
Malcolm’s relationship with Gil is obviously important to both of them. Will we see more flashbacks of the two? Could the fact that Malcolm saved his life perhaps cloud Gil’s judgement a bit? He did cut off a guy’s hand in the first case.
Fedak: But he saved Nico’s life! He had to do it.
Sklaver: You’re right, it does complicate things. We definitely are going to see back in 1998 and we’re going to learn more about Bright and his relationship with his good father in Gil Arroyo. There are times when Gil is going to realize that maybe his judgement is a little clouded because he sees Bright as something of a son. Those are definitely things that are going to complicate matters in the best way possible. We can’t wait until Gil and Jessica start to see each other again, just the two of them in a scene together.
How important is every single part of Malcolm’s morning routine — the mouth guard, restraints, pills, and cards with the daily affirmations? How much does he need that?
Sklaver: It’s the structure he’s been building in his life to help him function, so it’s pretty important to follow all of these steps. When we meet him in the pilot, he’s in a pretty good place because he hasn’t seen his dad in 10 years. Life is not going to get better for Malcolm Bright mentally with his complex PTSD and all of the demons he deals with. His morning routine is important, but now that Martin is back in his life, all bets are off.
Will we see anything more between Malcolm and the FBI moving forward?
Fedak: You will see more, but I don’t want to say more.
Will we see that sheriff again? He seems like he could be an antagonist for Malcolm.
Fedak: We haven’t figured that out, but that’s a really fun idea.
Now that Malcolm’s consulting for the NYPD, how is that going to change his relationships with his mother and sister, especially with his sister’s job?
Fedak: The family relationship between all of the Whitlys is the heart of the show. It’s not just solving a case each week. When Bright goes back to see his father after 10 years, it essentially causes a ripple effect. In our first couple of episodes, we really lean into what that means, how it affects them, and how it’s going to change their lives moving forward.
Since Martin’s back in their lives through Malcolm, will we see Ainsley wondering if she would have turned her father in if she had been in that position?
Fedak: We love that question. That question haunts the show, and it’s going to be something we definitely address over and over again here in Season 1. In the past, what happened? Why was it Bright who called the police? Why was it Bright who figured that out? What else did everybody else know? And what would they have possibly done if things had been changed? And also, what really did happen in the past? Bright doesn’t always have the most reliable memory when it comes to these things.
Ainsley, in a way, is the most protected of everyone because she was so young. But that’s going to change, too. For Jessica, it’s such a huge story. When the Surgeon was arrested and put on trial, this was the big case of the late ’90s in New York. What does the wife know? We love exploring that question and seeing what really happened.
Prodigal Son, Mondays, 9/8c, Fox