Congrats! We’ve reached the critical third episode of Prodigal Son. As I may have mentioned three episodes is generally what I give a new show to see if I want more. Why? Because by episode three most shows have a handle on the direction they want to go and how they want to get there. You’ve met most, if not all, of the series regulars, some of the reoccurring, and maybe even got a tease towards future additions to the cast. It’s a lot of pressure, so how does Prodigal Son hold up? Not bad. And considering it got picked up for a full season, I’m not the only one who thinks so.
“Fear Response” opens up similar to the previous two episodes with a flashback to the night Martin gets arrested, but instead of focusing on Malcolm we pivot to Jessica Whitly. Now we see it’s 1998 and Jessica is visiting her newly incarcerated husband. He’s fully convinced nothing will change, he’ll be out in no time, everything’s fine! But she’s…well, feeling short-changed. There’s some interesting character development trying to happen here – and in a subsequent flashback later in this episode – which culminates in a present time confrontation between Jessica and Martin. See, up until now all we really know about Mommy Dearest is what we glean from those around her. Martin jokes about losing her as a positive, Ainsley feels used by her to spy on Malcolm, and Malcolm seems genuinely distrustful of her. But why? Who is Jessica Whitly?
We’ll come back to that, I promise, but first a brief recap of what else is going down in this episode. Our murder victim is a professor George Holston, he’s dead in the woods with white eyes, and a missing brain. Malcolm brings lollipops for everyone and as usual the ME is super into him (though he does finally seem to show a little interest in her). Malcolm then gets to geek out as the dead guy leads them to Dr. Elaine Brown (Sakina Jaffrey, I miss Timeless too!) whom he admires. Turns out her specialty is fear and she’s been doing some daddy level off-the-reservation experimentation (I say this because Martin even cites her work as inspiration for his own), and it resulted in one of her subjects going clinically insane. This isn’t hyperbole (a term mentioned in this episode coincidentally enough), a bad enough LSD trip can actually trigger latent schizophrenia! Our killer – one Dominic Render (Joseph Anthony Sudol) – did try to do the right thing and report Dr. Brown’s unethical behavior before settling on dosing his victims with LSD and removing their brains (really not doing the schizophrenic community any favors here), which all leads up to him breaking into the good doctor’s house (so hard not to type Doc Brown) to dose and kill her. Luckily, JT and Malcolm are staking out the place, and luckier still, Malcolm decides to go in and ask the shrink about repressed memories. Her suggestion? Take some chloroform! In the meantime, Malcolm will try and subdue Dominic only for it to end with Doc Brown (had to!) shooting him dead (Johnathan Crane – I mean, Dominic, not Malcolm).
Other things of note in this episode include the introduction of Malcolm’s shrink – Dr. Gabrielle Le Deux (Charlayne Woodard) – a child psychiatrist he insists on seeing despite being all grown up (can’t beat lollipops!). Jessica and Ainsley have it out about Malcolm and Martin – Ainsley angry that her mom never let her get to know her father and made her feel ashamed of who she is, Mom mad that Ainsley didn’t tell her Malcolm was seeing the dark patriarch (it’s getting pretty sad that whenever Ainsley appears on the show it’s NEVER about her, not really). Jessica makes a visit to proxy-dad Gil Arroyo and chides him for reintroducing Malcolm to Martin (with the added twist of it being Jessica who allowed her then 11-year-old son to visit his killer dad in jail). The fact that we don’t know what J.T.’s initials stand for! And of course, that cuckoo-bananas opening where Malcolm manages to night-terror his way through a huge window near his bed without a – falling to his death (yay, shackles!) or b – slicing his body open breaking the glass. Not to mention his mom’s completely non-plussed reaction to this. Seriously, she threatens a Panera in place of his living quarters if he doesn’t give her new keys (apparently, he decided to change the locks after she broke in, surprise).
Now, with those minor details out of the way it’s back to chew on the real fat of this episode: Jessica!
During the opening flashback we see a very different Mrs. Whitly than we’re use to. The look on Jessica’s face is raw, shocked, and confused – once again our subplot ties in with the title (though let’s be honest on this show the serial killer stuff is the real sub-plot) – this is her fear response. Clearly, she was expecting some marital difficulties (“Mother taught me that marriage is long, that a woman overlooks things, that she makes sacrifices”), but was serial killing one of them? It’s hard to tell. The initial snippet makes it obvious Jessica is disappointed at how things have turned out, but the vague way the conversation goes leaves the question of why? Is she unhappy Martin was sloppy and got caught by their son (bringing shame to a rich family)? Is she upset he wasn’t just some regular philandering husband? Later, we see another side of this flashback – a continuation – where Martin is speaking. Earlier, he showed no signs of distress as his position but the threat of losing his family does bring out the fight in him. And the teeth! He agrees that they had a good life, but then goes on to claim that it was because of what he did that she was allowed the best of him (“Men have tendencies. Needs. And I did what I had to in order to meet those needs, to keep me happy and provide you with the life you wanted.”).
Martin states that she knew what he was. She tells him she’ll never return, but since learning Malcolm is seeing him, she breaks her word and goes to visit him. Martin is weirdly happy to see her (given his numerous off the cuff “take-my-wife-please” jokes about her) even going so far as to flirt with her – to no avail of course. Jessica slips back into her wistful past-self for a minute, once again lamenting the life she thought they had and the one she lost, the one he cost her, but Martin isn’t content to let her rewrite history. He doesn’t like her saying the kids (read: Malcolm) are messed up solely because of him. She did something too. And that’s about the time we cut to Malcolm and his chloroform induced dreams wherein Mommy discovers him rooting around in dad’s business to her horror. Why is Jessica so mad? When he mentions a girl all she says is “That doesn’t concern you!” and to “Never speak of her again!”. But the nail is her saying “You have no idea what your father is capable of!” which heavily suggests she does.
Just how much she knows is a mystery for the next episode!