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Prodigal Son Review: Annihilator

PRODIGAL SON: L-R: Tom Payne and Michael Sheen in the "Annihilator" episode of PRODIGAL SON airing Monday, Sept. 30 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. © 2019 FOX MEDIA LLC. Cr: Peter Kramer/ FOX.

I feel confident in saying that most people have thought about killing their relatives. I don’t mean it in a serious way, like you genuinely planned out the steps, timed out the access points, and wrote up a good suicide note or practiced your confession for when it all comes crashing down around you. I mean, family can be a pain in the ass and we’ve all thought about it. Monday night’s Prodigal Son features what is known as a “Family Annihilator” as the killer-of-the-week. A type of murderer who takes out whole families. Mostly the killer comes from inside the house (as it were), can have a number of motivations (though a lot of times it simply boils down to the male ego not being able to handle failing to support the family), and will likely commit suicide – or easily confess once caught. These killers can be ladies, though this episode sticks to the expected: a white male in his forties.

The case is explored easily enough. Malcolm goes to the crime scene, profiles the killer based on the victims left behind, helps the flirty M.E. Dr. Edrisa Guilfoyle not die by a snake, tracks down a missing heir who turns out didn’t want anything to do with the family (which results in Malcolm getting bit by a snake himself), and discovers an illegitimate son who desperately wanted into the family only to be callously rejected by the now-deceased patriarch. Said suspect tries to murder himself and his family only to be thwarted on all counts. Mixed in are growths in the relationships between Malcolm and his sister, Malcolm and his mother, Malcolm and his father, Malcolm and Dani Powell (the lady cop I initially thought might be a romantic possibility but now it’s looking more like the M.E. is playing that part), and of course flashbacks to 20 years ago. These, in particular, feel especially important – more so than the case itself – and there’s a good reason for that.

Being a new show, Prodigal Son needs to use its second showing as a means to solidify any progress made by its first and give the audience a glimpse into what direction the season is going. The pilot set up a piece of the puzzle – Malcolm as a kid, 20 years ago, calling the cops on his father. “Annihilator” sets up another – Malcolm as a kid, 20 years ago, discovering a woman’s body in a trunk in his father’s hobby room in the cellar. This memory expands, in stylized fashion, of course, to include a new scene of Martin putting a chloroform-soaked rag over his son’s mouth. We get a little more of the puzzle when we see a later dream/memory in which Martin has put Malcolm to bed, explained to his mother the boy was simply sleep-walking, and then giving him another dose of chloroform for good measure. But what does it ultimately mean? Was there a woman in the box? According to the majority of the episode both of Malcolm’s parents and his father-figure cop friend Gil Arroyo say “No.” Will it turn out Bright is crazy? Will it turn out his father fooled everyone and really did kill that poor girl? Or, will it turn out that Malcolm killed the girl (getting strong vibes this will definitely be the one they go with, even if it’s just a fake-out)? Gotta stay tuned to find out!

PRODIGAL SON: L-R: Frank Harts, Aurora Perrineau and Lou Diamond Phillips in the “Annihilator” episode of PRODIGAL SON airing Monday, Sept. 30 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. © 2019 FOX MEDIA LLC. Cr: Peter Kramer/ FOX.

Other aspects of this episode that deserve exploration:

The term Annihilator can also be applied to Martin Whitly. While the profile explains it as a person who physically murders families, metaphorically Martin fits the bill for destroying his own. During a conversation in his prison cell, Martin expresses that he can’t be an annihilator because he never killed out of love, though he does show an obvious admiration for this type of killer. Figuratively speaking though, Martin is every bit the annihilator. The actions of these individuals are not impulsive. Their plans, rage, and inevitable solutions build up over time. Martin’s crimes were not some random acts of cruelty, rather, he deliberately hid his true nature from those closest to him for years. Annihilators also, obviously, destroy families. Martin “destroys” his family, fracturing them from the head (hi patriarchy!) down.

Let’s address the elephant! Malcolm’s dad is a serial killer, isn’t that weird? Det. Tarmel, your thoughts? This scene sets up as if it’s going to go somewhere and then…doesn’t. All Tarmel asks is if it was weird for Malcolm to be raised by a serial killer. That’s it. That’s the whole scene!

SUPER thirsty dad! For a cold-blooded serial killer, Martin definitely can’t handle being ghosted by his son. Just one taste of contact turns him into a full-on phone stalker, leaving Malcolm several voice messages when he doesn’t get any response.

Snakes! Snakes provide a bit of backstory for Malcolm (he used to own some), a little comic relief (that Muppet fall when he’s bit at the animal smuggler’s place!), and of course a danger factor! Black Mambas, keep up the good work!

I’m slightly convinced that Malcolm might be gay. This is largely due to the fact that Tom Payne’s “Jesus” from The Walking Dead was gay, but also because so far in the series the topics of sex and relationships have been largely ignored. The pilot saw Malcolm’s mother broaching the subject of matchmaking, with him squirreling out of it via text save from Det. Arroyo. This episode stands out for two reasons – for one, the M.E. flirts heavily with Malcolm and he seems polite but noncommittal, yet later in a private conversation with Powell, Malcolm assures her he’s had lots of sex before. They might be avoiding the sex and relationship territory for a couple of reasons:

  1. It’s only the second episode! Jeeze…cool your jets, Norton! This is a procedural crime drama, even Law and Order waited years to give us any insight into the personal lives of their law and order officers. Also, let’s not forget, this might just not be that kind of show! Flirt yes, fuck no (pun intended).
  2. If he is gay, it would put him in a very small pool of show leads (hi Batwoman, and Instinct!) which means they might want to ease into the reveal – remember the big draw of this show is a profiler with a serial killer who is a father, if he happens to be gay, fine, but it’s not a publicity plug.
  3. Malcolm is a pretty fucked up character all around. Whether he winds up with Powell, the M.E., or an as yet unknown male character, the relationship will require a slow burn and a buttload of patience.

 

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