‘Prodigal Son’ Bosses on Taking the Crazy to 13 & the Ongoing Fear After Endicott’s Murder

Tom Payne Malcolm Bright Prodigal Son Season 2 Episode 1
Spoiler Alert
Phil Caruso/FOX

[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for the Season 2 premiere of Prodigal Son, “It’s All in the Execution.”]

Nicholas Endicott may be gone but he’s not forgotten, nor is the actor who plays him, Dermot Mulroney, when Prodigal Son Season 2 begins.

Jessica Whitly (Bellamy Young), as her son Malcolm (Tom Payne) wakes from a nightmare about him, sings “I Say a Little Prayer” from My Best Friend’s Wedding, in which Mulroney stars. It’s a moment of lightness that Sam Sklaver credits to co-showrunner Chris Fedak. “Very few times does someone think of an idea and then you execute it and it’s more delightful,” Sklaver tells TV Insider.

But Nicholas’ body has been taken care of: Flashbacks show Malcolm chopping it up (it helps to have a serial killer — Martin Whitly, played by Michael Sheen — for a father when needing body-disposal advice). And he lies and tells his sister, Ainsley (Halston Sage), that he, not she, committed the violent act.

“Murder is the ultimate thrill,” Martin says to his son. “Maybe you’re all torn up inside because getting away with murder didn’t feel bad at all. No, it felt good.”

Meanwhile, Detective JT Tarmel (Frank Harts) is held at gunpoint…by the same cops who should be his unit’s backup, even as he identifies himself. (He’s head of Major Crimes while Lou Diamond Phillips’ Lieutenant Gil Arroyo recuperates from his Season 1 finale injuries.)

Here, Fedak and Sklaver take us inside the premiere and tease what’s next.

Malcolm, who covers up Nicholas’ murder, makes a split-level decision to tell Ainsley it was him. Will he come to regret it?

Chris Fedak: Oh, he’ll definitely come to regret it. However, I will make the argument that he did the right thing. Ainsley just killed a very powerful man in cold blood and there was a very good chance she’d be going to jail for quite some time, and maybe not even survive. From Bright’s perspective, he was like, “I have to use all my skills as a profiler to protect my sister.”

Michael Sheen Tom Payne Prodigal Son Season 2 Episode 1

Phil Caruso/FOX

From Bright’s perspective, there’s a degree of relief in Ainsley’s trauma, that her brain is essentially covering up the crime, protecting her from this crazy act she did. Ainsley’s protected in a way, and at the beginning of the season it’s almost like she’s OK. But as you know from watching the show, things don’t usually turn out OK. The fact Bright is gaslighting his sister is not a good look for our hero, but it does make sense.

I really liked the “said the serial killer” (Malcolm) “said the father” (Martin) exchange. Who is more beneficial when it comes to helping Ainsley and Malcolm right now: the father, the serial killer, or the father in the serial killer?

Fedak: It’s amazing you point out that scene because that scene encapsulates everything Sam and I love about the character of Martin Whitly, which is he’s a serial killer, but he’s also an excellent father. In that moment, he says two things: Thank you for saving my daughter — he’s right and he’s trying to tell his son, “Go easy on yourself, don’t torture yourself over this, you did the right thing” — and then within a few seconds, he’s also [bringing up] the issue that maybe Bright was good at this. That’s pretty much the thesis statement of Season 2.

Sam Sklaver:. It’s so interesting; for Malcolm Bright, the real trauma in his life isn’t necessarily that his father was a serial killer.

Fedak: It’s not a good thing!

Sklaver: The trauma in his life is that his father was a serial killer and was a really good dad. The trauma is that he loves this man. That is at the essence of the Malcolm Bright character and that’s why Tom Payne is able to bring so much pathos to the role all the time: Is he talking to a serial killer or is he talking to his father? Who he’s going to get in every conversation is what keeps the show so fresh for us.

Tom Payne Aurora Perrineau Prodigal Son Season 2 Episode 1

Phil Caruso/Fox

Season 2 continues exploring how much of Malcolm is like his father. He’s figuring that out himself, but those around him seem to be, too, from Jessica’s “Do I?” when he says she knows him, Dani [Aurora Perrineau] witnessing his more “Bright-ish than usual” behavior…

Fedak: Because of the actions at the end of Season 1 and what Bright did, Bright is essentially always trying to cover up what’s going on inside of him. He says it in Episode 2: “Usually when I say I’m fine, I’m lying.” He’s not fine. He’s a mess. These people who care about him the most, who know him best are always watching him a little with side-eye, just wondering, “Is he OK?” They know deep down that he’s a good person and is not like his father and is not a serial killer, but they also know this is a guy who chops off people’s hands. He’s driven to not be his father and sometimes that drives him to do crazy things.

We’re always finding, especially with Tom’s performance and our cast, but also in the storytelling, new gears. “Oh, we can take crazy to 11, 12, 13.” Our crazy from Season 1 gets only crazier, and so that intensity is something Tom is amazing at projecting, and the people around him are aware of it. It’s definitely something that’s going to have fallout. We’re not going to be shy in regards to this story. This isn’t the type of secret someone holds on to for five seasons. Things are going to happen. People are going to find out. And it’s not going to be the people you think.

JT’s at the center of the show tackling systemic racism.

Sklaver: [After] George Floyd’s murder, Chris and I realized we were going to have to put this in our world. Our cops are all people of color, which is an interesting different spin to put on it, but this is the world we’re living in and we needed that reflected in our show. So, very early on, Chris and I Zoomed with Frank, Aurora, Lou Diamond Phillips, and Tom, and we started talking about how we were going to address the political climate.

We realized because Frank is a Black man, there’s a different sort of racism that even as a cop he’s not excluded from and he’s not protected from, and what does it look like when the NYPD comes after their own, which is something we explore starting in our first episode. It was always very, very important to us.

Frank Harts Lou Diamond Phillips Prodigal Son Season 2 Episode 1

(Phil Caruso/FOX)

Gil says stopping killers gives Malcolm purpose. What if he doesn’t have that anymore?

Fedak: That speaks to Bright’s coping mechanism for how he deals with his life and where he comes from and to make sense of it: by solving crimes, helping other people, keeping murderers off the street. If he doesn’t have that, then he’s like a powder keg, and I think you see that in our pilot episode and also in his desperation here in Season 2 to stay on the case. We knew last year that Bright’s going to cover up a murder, but he’s also going to solve a bunch of murders in some ways to make up for what he’s done. That’s critical to Bright. He has to do this job.

Martin mentions that Ainsley killed a powerful man with powerful friends. How concerned should the Whitlys be about those friends? Or is it more about Martin trying to be needed?

Fedak: For us, it’s less about somebody’s friends or any vast conspiracies. We never really enjoy that. Our show’s a family show, so that’s where the tension lies for us. The more secrets Martin knows, the worse off we are. The more his son relies on him, or his daughter or even his ex-wife, the more trouble we’re in, so the real tension going forward is unfortunately, “the devil knows your secret.”

Sklaver: I want to be clear though that they have not gotten away with the murder of Nicholas Endicott. They are getting away with the murder of Nicholas Endicott. That’s a very different thing. The fear of being caught and the obstacles that are going to present themselves are real and we’ll see them throughout the season. There’s going to be a lot of looking over their shoulders for a lot of our cast for good reasons.

Prodigal Son, Tuesdays, 9/8c, Fox