It’s 1998. We see a young Malcolm and his father, who’s leaning in to impress upon the boy that “you’re my son, and I love you. Because we’re the same.” The boy says nothing as his father is yanked away by police in a hail of flashbulbs, and it is revealed that his father is Dr. Martin Whitly (Martin Sheen), the notorious serial killer known as “The Surgeon.”
Flash forward to 2019. Malcolm Bright (Tom Payne) is now a special agent with the FBI. He is leading a tense hostage rescue, but he’s completely calm and a little too collected. Malcolm is assaulted and has a flashback to when he visited his father in prison as a child.
We launch back to the present as Malcolm gasps, having been tased by the killer. He wakes up in a room filled with hostages and body parts in jars. The killer, Claude, enters the room and demands to know how Malcolm found him. Malcolm, totally calm and even a little cocky, replies “short version?” before launching into a spot-on account of Claude’s life designed to get him to drop the gun. Just as Malcolm breaks through, Claude is shot by the sheriff, who is delighted to have murdered the serial killer.
Malcolm reacts angrily, insisting that Claude had put his weapon down. The sheriff also reacts, stating that he saved Malcolm’s life and is “a goddamn hero.” Malcolm mutters that he is a cold-blooded hero and punches the sheriff in the face, not bothering to contain his rage.
Malcolm is in the FBI office, back to his smart aleck self as he tries to talk his way out of the sheriff’s assault. The agents are not amused. One informs Malcolm he’s fired. The agent worries that between his narcissistic tendencies and PTSD, that he may end up like his father. This enrages Malcolm, who insists on calling his father “The Surgeon.” He strides up to the table and throws down his gun as he leaves.
Flash back to 2009. Malcolm is visiting his father. Malcolm appears distracted. Martin sees his son’s tremors and coaxes Malcolm to tell him what’s on his mind. Malcolm informs him that he has applied to Quantico. Martin is concerned with how Malcolm will be perceived, considering his father’s notoriety. Malcolm informs him that he will no longer visit. Malcolm goes to leave, but the cell door has shut behind him. The scene flashes as Martin stands, suddenly without his shackles. Malcolm is hallucinating. He wakes up in his apartment, greeted by his bird and self-restrained in his bed. It is cold, grey, and clinical, less a home than a place to sleep. He heads out to meet Ainsley (Halston Sage)–his sister and a reporter–for a walk.
Ainsley is upset that Malcolm was fired because of their father. He does his best to reassure her, trying to mask his sadness with sarcasm. She worries about his nightmares. She was only five when Martin was arrested, so she’s less attached to their father. She expresses hope that Malcolm will leave the FBI behind and start fresh.
Ainsley leaves when she gets a call from work, and Malcolm runs into Gil (Lou Diamond Phillips), an NYPD officer and friend of Malcolm’s. Gil instantly picks up on Malcolm’s discomfort, noting that he has “that scared puppy dog look going on.” Malcolm reveals he thinks Ainsley is lying, wanting to keep him in the dark about covering a serial killer. He realizes that Gil has sought him out for the same reason. Malcolm agrees to help on the condition that no one find out about his father.
We are ushered into an apartment as a group of reporters surround Gil and Malcolm. Dani Powell (Aurora Perrineau) meets them and describes the victim, Vanessa Hobbs, as a “VIC,” or very important cadaver. She takes out the case files, and Malcolm confidently takes them. She shoots Gil a quizzical look. He explains that Malcolm is there to work on the case (adding that he is “an acquired taste”). She doesn’t seem amused.
JT (Frank Harts) approaches the group and describes the situation. Malcolm cannot contain himself and immediately starts working the scene. Malcolm begins thinking like the killer, visualizing the fight in his mind. He sees that the killer injected a paralytic into his victim. He instantly realizes the M.O as his father’s, and decides the killer is a copycat. Dani expresses disbelief at Malcolm’s familiarity with the killer’s methods. Malcolm retorts that he “is almost like family” and leaves, handing a stunned Gil the case files.
Gil apologizes for bringing Malcolm in, but he wanted to be certain the killer was a copycat. Malcolm reassures him he can handle it. He mentions “The Quartet,” a series of four murders back in 1992. He doesn’t think the killer is finished, since only three victims have been found. Gil believes the case can be solved without Martin. Malcolm leaves to begin working on the profile.
Malcolm returns to his apartment to find his mother (Bellamy Young) in the kitchen. She is matter-of-fact and gives breezy upper-class vibes. It’s obvious that she’s worried about appearances, but she’s also worried about Malcolm. She comments that she knows he hasn’t been sleeping. As she leaves, Malcolm asks what the tea she made him was laced with. She shoots him a look, then says “love” as she saunters out. They have a complicated relationship.
The rest of the crew heads to medical examiner, Edrisa (Keiko Agena). She describes the victim’s death as agonizing, and Malcolm saunters, in saying “it was.” The crew looks less than thrilled to see him. Gil is amazed he turned the profile around so fast, and Malcolm remarks that he slept for six hours, three days ago, so he’s all set. JT turns to Dani in disbelief.
Malcolm calls Edrisa “Picasso with formaldehyde,” and she is tickled.
Gil comments that nothing connects the victims, but Malcolm theorizes that all the victims must have been into bondage, especially when Edrisa notes that some bruises do not match time of death and were from earlier.
Dani finds Nico Stavros, the one man linking the victims. Dani, JT, and Malcolm are at his apartment and bust in, finding surgical instruments and materials for building electronics. They discover a bound victim. As they move to untie him, Dani realizes the killer is still here. He shoots at the group and runs away. Dani chases, while JT and Malcolm help the victim, who turns out to be the real Nico. Nico claims that the killer forced him to set up the victims. They realize the killer placed a bomb under him, and the two try to diffuse it.
Malcolm realizes that the only way to stop the detonation is to chop off Nico’s hand. The bomb detonates with Dani and Gil outside looking on. After a tense moment, we learn that Malcolm and JT are fine, although Nico is now missing a hand. Malcolm is dazed and staggers to the ambulance, with Nico’s hand in an ice box.
Malcolm meets with the team. He theorizes that the motive is revenge. Ainsley calls, but Malcolm ignores it. He guesses that the killer is bald, and Dani is skeptical of how he could know that. He starts to explain, but Dani remains unimpressed. Ainsley persists, texting that she needs him.
He ends up at an awkward dinner with Ainsley and his mom. Gil texts Malcolm, looking for him. He tries to cover it up, but his mother instantly picks up on it, and so does Ainsley. Ainsley states that she knows he’s working with the NYPD. His mother is upset, stating, “I have moved on from your father, why can’t you?” He reveals that the new killer is copying The Surgeon, causing his mother to leave the table. Reporter Ainsley is instantly curious at this bit of news. As Malcolm describes the murders, his mother remembers each victim’s name, revealing the murders affect her more than she’d like to admit.
Cut to a busy NYPD office. Malcolm is alone in front of his idea board. He flashes back to his father teaching him anatomy, something that was once a happy memory. The boy walks slowly towards a box, screaming as he discovers a body. Present day Malcolm also screams as he awakens from the nightmare, tackling Dani. She reacts sympathetically, calling off the officers and soothing a terrified Malcolm.
Malcolm is in Gil’s office, explaining the nightmares. Malcolm believes he is in control, but Gil is worried. Malcolm angrily brushes him off. He’s worried about the next victim and wants to do whatever it takes to save her. Gil says that’s what he’s afraid of. Gil pulls out drawings from Nico’s apartment, drawn by Martin. Malcolm decides he’ll have to interview his father since Martin will only talk to his son. Gil insists there must be another way, but Malcolm is resolute.
Malcolm enters the cell and faces his father. Martin is thrilled to see Malcolm and is quite a contrast from a killer. Malcolm tries to stay professional. Martin sees through it, calling out the exhaustion on Malcolm’s face. Malcolm points out the irony that the murderer sleeps soundly while he is haunted, and Martin quips “well, I’m a vegan now. And I haven’t seen your mother for 20 years.”
Malcolm has no time for pleasantries, telling his father there’s a copycat out there. His father is delighted, then realizes how that looks.
Malcolm insists that his father is helping the killer. Martin insists he is not, and that the drawings are missing pages from one of his journals. He expresses outrage that they were stolen.
His son wryly comments that three women are dead, and Martin belatedly expresses outrage over that too.
Malcolm realizes that since his father is still seeing wealthy patients in his cell, one of them must fit the profile and likely stole the items. As Malcolm frantically searches, Martin looks on with pride, gleeful that his son needs him. Malcolm calls him out, saying that Martin is afraid of Malcolm leaving him. Martin begrudgingly names his patient Connor Burkhead, who had a heart attack during a BDSM scene and fits the profile. Malcolm thanks him and rushes out, leaving a crestfallen Martin.
Malcolm and Dani meet up at a fancy event held by the Burkheads. Malcolm is worried about being recognized, since his family travels in the same circles. Moments later, Malcolm sees his mother. He bolts, leaving Dani. She spots Burkhead’s wife Blair and approaches her to talk. They head upstairs, away from the party.
Gil calls Malcolm with the news that Blair had been seeing another man. Malcolm realizes that she is the fourth victim. As Dani sees the medical equipment in the room and reaches for her gun, Burkhead appears and knocks her to the floor. He attacks Blair, who wasn’t expecting him.
Burkhead grabs Dani’s gun, but Malcolm shows up. He sees that Burkhead doesn’t have enough paralytic for two and begins to stall. Realizing Burkhead’s need for control makes him vulnerable, Malcolm grabs the paralytic and holds the needle to his own arm. He states that shooting Dani will mean that he won’t have committed a perfect copycat, and that he will inject himself so Burkhead can’t harm Blair and complete the quartet. Burkhead is enraged. Malcolm reveals that he is The Surgeon’s son, much to Dani’s surprise. Malcolm offers Burkhead the chance to kill him, but Gil arrives just in time. Dani is panicked, pushing Malcolm on whether he intended to let Burkhead kill him. Malcolm says he didn’t, but his face betrays uncertainty.
JT and Dani are worried about Malcolm being The Surgeon’s son. They want to know why Gil has a connection to him. Gil reveals that he was the cop who responded to Malcolm’s 911 call turning in his father. Martin tried to charm Gil, offering tea laced with ketamine. But Malcolm saved him by telling Gil that his father planned to kill him. Gil says that he trusts Malcolm. Gil calls little Malcolm a real hero — a call back to the lines from earlier.
Malcolm goes back to his father, who is again delighted at his son’s accomplishment. Malcolm wonders how Burkhead knew which pages to take, accusing his father of orchestrating it just to get Malcolm to visit. Martin insists that “even he” couldn’t do that. Martin apologizes for trying to keep Malcolm from joining the FBI. He realizes that he can help his son. He doesn’t want to lose him. Malcolm leaves, but it’s obvious that he will be back. Martin smiles and sighs, saying “my boy” wistfully as we cut to black.
Prodigal Son airs Mondays at 9 p.m ET on Fox.