Prodigal Son: “Eye of the Needle” Review

A dark Whitly family reunion

Tonight’s featured killer has an axe to grind with Jessica Whitly and her clan…well, some kind of sharp object.

This episode revolves around a crazy game of killer phone-tag. We start with a flashback – Malcolm is talking to his father, asking Martin how he would kill his son. The Surgeon has a lot of potentials, but is ultimately dismissive of the idea of murdering his own son. When asked the question in kind, Malcolm artfully dodges it – ok, not artfully since his father gives him a pretty easy out. But, the scene reflects our new undercurrent for the show: Did Martin Whitly really take his son out on that camping trip to kill him? We’re gonna have to live with not knowing because other things are happening that distract from it, but don’t worry we’ll get back to it.

Our story diverges to a seemingly innocent Whitly family dinner – naturally none of the innocent elements remain untouched. Jessica’s news about a tip regarding the girl in the box goes south quick, and Ainsley’s promotion to anchor plays into the killer’s hands perfectly. Only Malcolm appears to escape unscathed, the two weeks away from the job having no clear consequence. In fact, if it wasn’t for his insistence to accompany his mother to meet the tipster, he might not have gotten involved at all (obviously not true, since he probably would have been called into the case afterwards).

Behind the pageantry of high stakes and super-coincidences this episode presents a very interesting question: Do two wrongs make a right? It’s not a particularly original question, but it is an interesting one especially with the setup.

Our killer is motivated by his hatred of The Surgeon, believing that Martin Whitly purposefully murdered his wife – only, his wife was a patient, and Martin quote “followed the Hippocratic oath to the letter, with one small asterisk”. Martin is a killer, but he’s also a professional heart surgeon a responsibility he takes quite seriously (as he mentions he consults on operations while in prison, saving lives). The killer sees the situation as black and white – Martin needs to die, and Jessica, as his ex-wife, should be the one to kill him. Why? Logically speaking, she has the best access to him, but then why not ask Malcolm? Why take Jessica’s efforts to redeem the Whitly family name and use them as justification for drawing her into a bloody test?

From a storytelling perspective, it’s a means of incorporating Jessica more deeply in an episode where she would normally only play a small part. It also allows Jessica a kind of cathartic confrontation of her darkest desires – she’s often talked of wanting to make her ex pay for her family’s strife. Being given an innocent person’s life on the line unless her villainous husband dies is an opportune setup to say the least. But, would she have done it? Unfortunately, we’ll never know. This show is first and foremost about Malcolm and Martin’s twisted relationship, and while the limelight may fall on Jessica and Ainsley’s experiences with their demented patriarch here and there, the spotlight is always on Malcolm’s.

Malcolm is important here because he stops his mother from killing Martin, but not necessarily for The Surgeon’s sake. Murder, as many media representations express, changes a person. You go from being “good” to being “bad”. Having a serial killer also double as a world-renowned surgeon presents this conflict very well. Yes, Martin kills people, but he also saves them. Does it balance the scales? He seems to think, to a degree, that it does (given how often he mentions this when his less glamorous claim to fame is brought to light). Malcolm worries that killing Martin will change Jessica, however, he also doesn’t want to kill Martin. He understands that killing Martin is the easiest solution to their problem – the killer will spare the next would-be victim, if The Surgeon dies – but, to kill someone at another killer’s behest would be just as bad, right? I’m not sure if these philosophical quandaries are presented on-purpose, or if their creation is merely a happy accident (and most likely the result of people like me who read way too deeply into what is meant to be thoughtless popcorn entertainment).

Either way, Malcolm finds an extremely particular solution to this ancient mystery, a workaround of sorts. What if you don’t really kill the person the killer wants you to kill? My problem with this is that he could have simply stabbed Martin in any non-lethal part of his body and all the killer would have really known is Martin was stabbed and needed surgery, but if I give into the ridiculous premise that the show forces, then fine – the stabbing had to be more convincing. In this case, Malcolm knows a way to stab his father that will potentially not result in his death, but the method has to be precise. Martin knows this – Malcolm does the classic “secret-phrase-between-two-people” exchange just before the moment of impact.

But does it work? That’s the bigger question, and the advertised cliffhanger. Because if Malcolm failed…and Martin dies…is he now a “bad” guy?

We shall see…

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