Don’t Trip Over Your Fear. ‘Prodigal Son’ Season 1, Episode 3 Recap: “Fear Response”


Courtesy of Fox

Where were you in 1998? What were you up to? Personally, I wasn’t alive yet, but Jessica Whitley was visiting her husband in prison. The husband and wife have an, initially, short conversation about Martin’s (Michael Sheen) impending eternity in a cage, ending with Jessica (Bellamy Young) informing him neither she nor their children would ever return to see him.

Now, we do a little hop, skip, and a jump to present day, where mommy dearest is once again trying to infringe upon her prodigal son’s privacy. But wait, he changed the locks? Smart boy. Upstairs in his flat, Malcolm Bright (Tom Payne) is once again having a night terror, only this time it appears to be much worse than before. One of his restraints is pulled from the wall and he subsequently finds himself hanging from his now shattered window. How’s that for a wake up call?

“My mental health is fractured.”

In the following scene, Malcolm is talking to his childhood shrink, who reveals he refuses to see anyone else. During this conversation, Malcolm mentions for the first time something that is a recurring topic throughout the episode, and one I have a strong feeling we will see again: suppressing things. Before we can delve too far into the subject, Malcolm is called to the scene of yet another murder.

Courtesy of IMDb

Upon his arrival, we see the victim lying in a wooded area, and discover that there appears to have been a lobotomy. The victim also had a handwritten note under his shirt, attached to his skin with a safety pin. You’ll need to hold onto this next piece of information! Random words in the note are written at an odd slant, while all other words in the sentence follow a straight line pattern. After looking over the note, Malcolm comes to the conclusion this week’s killer is known as a visionary killer. This means according to him, “they often convince themselves they are acting on behalf of a higher power or a dissociative voice; God, or the Devil.” The attention is quickly turned back to the victim as Dr. Tanaka (Keiko Agena) reveals his brain has been removed.

While going over the evidence with the team, it is pointed out that it seems the victim was scared to death, quite literally. This leads perfectly into the phone conversation that Malcolm then has with his father, which also happens to lend itself to our recurring topic. Note: this is dialogue from Martin’s side of the conversation. “One more thing, this case may prove difficult for you, Malcolm. Fear has always been your particular stumbling block…Still, the nightmares, the tremors; you’ve always been good at repressing fear, pretending it’s not there, but it is.”

In the scene immediately following this conversation, we meet Dr. Brown, a colleague of the deceased, and a woman whose work Malcolm has studied for years. The scene opens focused on a screen with, what some might call, a slideshow of scary images. Detective Powell (Aurora Perrineau) and Malcolm begin questioning Dr. Brown, who unsurprisingly deflects any wrongdoing. Now, here’s where things got a little interesting. As previously stated, Malcolm is a fan of Dr. Brown. He even brings a book of hers to get signed, and we can fairly easily see her handwriting as she moves along the page. What’s so interesting about that? Well, remember that piece of info I said you’d need to hold onto? Here’s why: the first word she writes has an odd slant to it, but everything that follows is written in a straight line.

Detective Powell asks if there has been any “on campus dramas,” to which she receives a quick “no.” This quick response is a bit suspect on its own, but becomes even more so when her colleague, sitting behind her, reveals a student that was taking part in a research study committed suicide. Malcolm immediately cuts his eyes over to Dr. Brown. We hear an eerie high-pitched sound, and the doctor is seen looking beyond the two standing in front of her (hearing a voice, perhaps).

Next, we see the team going over a new piece of evidence: an anonymous complaint about the student’s suicide. One complaint within is an accusation of an off-the-books experiment, particularly dosing the participants with LCD (which can very easily seem like a psychotic break). Now, this note was handwritten and contained, once again, random words with odd slants. Did the doctor file a complaint against her own department, or is there someone else?

When the toxicology report comes back, Dr. Tanaka reveals there was more than enough LCD in the victim’s bloodstream to induce severe panic, which ultimately becomes fatal. As Malcolm says, “… to induce the fear that ultimately kills them. We’re looking for someone who was harmed by Dr. Brown’s experiments. Someone who couldn’t outrun the fear. That’s what removing the brain represents; the destruction of his own mind!” This revelation leads the team to Dr. Brown’s house. Who in her experiments fits the profile of latent psychosis? One student: Dominic Render.

Courtesy of IMDb

In a following scene, we see Jessica in the midst of a skincare routine, and hear the words, cueing a flashback, “I will never come back here. None of us will. Do you understand? Not ever.” Now we’re back where we started: 1998. As Jessica rises to make her exit, Martin takes some serious shots at the woman walking out on him, revealing that she was essentially a means to an end. “Men have tendencies…needs. And I did what I had to do in order to meet those needs…Oh, you knew what I was.” Hold onto that bit of info, too!

While on a stakeout in front of Dr. Brown’s home, Malcolm decides to enter the house and speak to her about *drumroll please* repressed memories. During this conversation, Malcolm is facing a set of masks against the wall, one of which he suddenly recognizes. He pulls photographs of the handwritten notes from a file and arranges them so that they are partially overlapping to reveal the shape of one of the masks. The mask in question is an interpretation on Lucifer. While talking to the doctor about the mask, she begins to slur her words, leading both she and Malcolm to quickly realize she has been drugged. But before they can even attempt an escape, the power to the house is cut. Dominic is inside.

Detective JT Tarmel (Frank Harts) runs toward the house and attempts to make entry only to find the front door locked. Before JT could find another way in, Malcolm pulled a classic horror movie stunt and decided to leave the safety of the room to go investigate. A fight ensued, and just as Dominic was going to stab Malcolm, a shot rings out. Dr. Brown pulled the trigger.

In the penultimate, scene we come full circle. Jessica is visiting Martin, whom she instructs to stop seeing Malcolm. The two have what is at times a very heartfelt conversation, mostly concerning Malcolm’s welfare. Jessica’s parting words are: “I am begging you, leave Malcolm alone! Don’t take the one thing I have left.” Forgetting about our other child there, are we?”

Finally, the episode comes to a close with Malcolm putting several drops of chloroform on his pillow before burying his face into it. We then see a young Malcolm walking towards an old chest and reaching for the latch, when his mother grabs his arm. The, albeit short, conversation that ensues is very telling, and sets us up for quite the wild ride next week. Malcolm says, “I saw a woman.” Jessica responds with, “that doesn’t concern you!” followed by, “never speak of her again. You have no idea what your father is capable of!” The closing shot and Malcolm’s final words sum the flashback up nicely: “Mom. What did you do?”

Prodigal Son airs Mondays at 9 p.m ET on Fox.

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