Prodigal Son





Emily Clark

TV Series Review

Learning at the tender age of 10 that your dad is a serial killer would be enough to put anyone into therapy. Being the one to actually catch him and call the police would be…well, devastating doesn’t seem like a strong enough word.

Malcolm Bright hasn’t seen his dad, Dr. Martin Whitly (a.k.a. “The Surgeon”) in 10 years—not since he joined the FBI as a criminal profiler. Unfortunately, a decade just doesn’t seem to be enough time to heal, and Bright’s neurotic tendencies (no doubt brought on by the severe post-traumatic stress disorder his dad’s former habits inflicted on him) get him fired.

Now he’s consulting for the New York Police Department. But after a copycat killer brings Bright face to face with his dad (who’s serving a life sentence in prison), he realizes there’s a reason he still has dreams about the Surgeon’s victims.

Somehow, Dr. Whitly managed to wipe some of the memories from the night Bright caught him. And if Bright wants to finally move on with his life, he’ll have to figure out what those memories are and why his dad wanted him to forget.

In the Murderous Mind

In some ways, this Fox series isn’t that much different from the bevy of other crime procedurals that live on television. Each episode largely stands by itself, even as it contains the thread of that central mystery—what happened to Bright’s memories—runs through the full season. What makes Prodigal Son different from most other murder mystery shows (now that Criminal Minds has concluded its run) is the focus on the mental state of the killers—and the sometimes thin differences between various conditions. Bright likes to remind people that his father wasn’t psychotic, he was a predatory sociopath. Although when you’re murdering people by the dozens, does it really make a difference?

According to Bright, it does. He manages to catch each culprit not by hacking into the victim’s computer or noticing things at the scene of the crime that nobody else does, but by placing himself into the same mindset as the suspect to figure out their methods and motives (which is still a little questionable and perhaps even dangerous for him, considering his mental state isn’t the best). But what really makes this technique so fascinating is that Bright is often able to talk down the murderers, causing them to feel genuine remorse and sometimes preventing them from committing more crimes.

Admirable as this is, the show still has some disturbing factors. Bright’s night terrors for one. The poor guy has to sleep with a mouthguard and restraints to prevent him from hurting himself or others. And while he insists that getting into the minds of killers helps with his psychosis, the show brings both Bright and audiences a lot closer to the darkness that invades a murderer’s thought patterns than you’d get on a regular procedural.

Then there’s the crime scenes themselves. Bright is investigating murders, so there’s nary an episode without a corpse or two, and sometimes they can be viciously mutilated. Violence can be another issue: Bright and the police often need to use force since most of these baddies don’t want to go down without a fight. People swear on occasion and take God’s name in vain. And we do see some skin (though nothing critical) in sex scenes. So other than a son returning to his father, Prodigal Son bears no resemblance to the biblical parable from which it gets its name.

Episode Reviews

March 16, 2020: “The Job”

Bright helps the NYPD track down a “thrill killer” after discovering a pattern in the murder victims in a string of robberies.

Several people are shot and killed with guns. A man is run over by a car. We see the body of a woman who’d been shot in the head, surrounded by a pool of blood. Blood also has splattered on the wall behind the corpse. A man is stabbed (but survives). Two people are knocked to the ground and one of them is kicked in the stomach several times. A man falls unconscious after hitting his head on the ground. Someone knocks a man to the ground with a suitcase. People are manhandled and held at gunpoint. Doctors perform surgery on a woman’s brain after she survives a bullet to the head. A man brandishes a knife at a woman. A terrified, half-naked woman (her top half hidden) is found locked in a trunk by 10-year-old Bright.

We see a man in his underwear and a woman covered only by a sheet post-coitus. A couple holds hands. There is a reference to infidelity. We hear several uses of “h—,” as well as “a–” and “b–ch.”

People drink wine and whiskey. People talk about a cocaine dealer. Extortion, robberies and lying all take place. Bright hallucinates seeing his dad out of prison.

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Emily Clark
Emily Clark

Emily studied film and writing when she was in college. And when she isn’t being way too competitive while playing board games, she enjoys food, sleep, and indulging in her “nerdom,” which is the collective fan cultures of everything she loves, such as Star Wars and Lord of the Rings.

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