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Prodigal Son: “The Trip” Review

Dani Powell takes center stage in this week's Prodigal Son episode!

It’s episode five and our show has finally decided to shake things up a bit. Get ready to leave the Whitly family in the dust (kind of), stay in the present (mostly), and learn a little about a familiar face (once again, not Ainsley).

We start with our usual opening: Malcolm trying to get some sleep. Cut to the predictable flashbacks to 20 years ago, but wait…something’s different! Instead of our tried and true trip to the past we’re presented with a mini-montage of nightmares and daylight encounters we’ve already seen over the past four episodes. Much like the audience, Malcolm is tired of it and decides to go for a stroll in hopes of easing his troubled mind. Surprise, surprise, it doesn’t work. Malcolm winds up drawn to the trunk of a nearby station wagon – why? We’ll get to that.

“The Trip” is an episode largely devoted to exploring the past of Det. Dani Powell and strengthening her relationship with Malcolm. This is done with a murder, only for once the case isn’t just a skeleton holding up the meat that is The Whitly’s family drama, it’s the engine that powers getting to know Dani. See, Det. Powell knows the victim: Jacques Desir; she’s familiar with the Haitian drug world the murder introduces us to. The number one suspect is an old friend of hers: Xavier Estime (Hampton Fluker), a man she believes is innocent of the crime. But Estime’s name came highly recommended from rival gang leader Saulo Reyes (Robert Montano) who swears he had nothing to do with Desir’s murder (I mean, if a gang leader says it, it must be true!) so, we’re off to the races!

Our horse to bet is Estime, but after a visit (against Gil’s orders of course) from Dani and Malcolm it’s clear he’s not our guy, but then who is? Well, after a nifty drug trip (hi title!), an interview with Islande (a would-be hitwoman played by Ashlei Sharpe Chestnut), and a heart-to-heart while staking out Estime’s hiding spot we discover it’s actually Trini (Pascale Armand) the mother of a dead hostess turned mule who murdered Desir. How very Friday the 13th!

Throughout our murder mystery is sprinkled tidbits about who Dani Powell is as a person, and more importantly (sorry feminism) who she is to Malcolm!

In the pilot I contemplated that maybe her and Malcolm would become an item, but by the second episode it was clear that wasn’t likely, and this episode solidifies it. Dani is the friend to our troubled protagonist. She enjoys his company, is playfully dismissive of any sexual advances (which from him are equally playful) and, understands his emotional hang-ups because she comes from a similar place. We learn Dani used to be undercover narcotics. While working as a hostess she met and befriended Estime, he eventually made her as a cop but never gave her up, and when she OD’d, he was the one who saved her. Later on, Gil brought her into his team despite her checkered past creating a father figure relationship akin to the one he shares with Malcolm (“Police work is patience” is a lesson they both learned from him). It makes her a kind of unrelated sibling to him, on equal footing and with equal investment into his future endeavors. This is a friendship that will grow as the series progresses, but it also makes me wonder what kind of trials are in store for it (both our players have trust issues).

As much as this episode strives to break free of the mold of its predecessors some things can’t be helped. Interesting though Dani’s story is, this show is about the Whitly family and Jessica won’t let you forget it!

Ma Whitly is trying something new – charity without being anonymous. It does not go well and just when Jessica gives up, a new player enters the game. Eve Blanchard (Molly Griggs) says she’s a lawyer intent on fighting human trafficking, but I’ll be honest, I don’t trust her. What was that line about not judging her by her exes? Who are her exes? My conspiracy sense is tingling and I’m wondering if Eve wasn’t sent by Martin himself. This is especially suspicious because Malcolm happens in on Mom and Eve talking and there is a noticeable chemistry between the two of them (Malcolm and Eve). Also, her name is Eve. Lately, on any show I’ve watched, that’s a red flag.

Lastly, and not in the least less importantly, is Malcolm’s drug trip. When Dani goes behind Gil’s back to interview Estime it’s at his nightclub, where she conveniently runs into Malcolm. His description of Estime as a bad guy is an amazing moment (very funny), but this scene ultimately leads to a bunch of drugs exploding in Malcolm’s face causing him to be very, very high. Before this he wasn’t doing very well, running on days without sleep and hallucinating hardcore. Our title refers solely to this moment, which is also a departure, since most of the titles have been in relation to the murders or murderers.

Malcolm’s trip allows the show to indulge in the thing it always wants to focus on: Malcolm and Martin and 20-fucking-years ago. I will give it credit for being kind of original in the approach since, aside from flashbacks, neither Martin or Ainsley make appearances in this episode. Instead, we see Malcolm’s subconscious playing the part of his incarcerated father – his worst fear come true – offering him help for his sleeplessness. Little does subconscious Malcolm know that all his conscious self really needed was to be punched in the face by Dani! Before that happens however, he does remind his waking-self of a box they hid as a boy (after Mom burned all traces of Dad) which contains the context he requires to stitch all those fragmented memories together.

Ug…seriously??? What’s in the box…AGAIN!? Oh wait, no, we actually get to see what’s in the box. After a moment of false dashed hope, Jessica pulls through, sending Malcolm his childhood shoebox of secrets. Among the treasured items? A picture that shows Martin, Malcolm, and a station wagon. Father-son camping trip eh?

Just a fun little note: We ended episode four on Ainsley – we pick up episode five on…Malcolm, and Ainsley doesn’t show up AT ALL. Meanwhile, we ended episode three on Jessica then picked up with her story in episode four! Jesus-tap-dancing-Christ, SERIOUSLY!?!?!? On the Bright side (yep!), Ainsley’s story might finally show up next episode if the previews are to be trusted (I wouldn’t bet on it). But it’s not all bad news…

Credit where credit is due: Prodigal Son does at least try to be a more progressive show. Case in point: The ratio of meaningful male to female characters is fairly even. You’ve got Martin, Malcolm, Gil, and JT, then there’s Dani, Jessica, Ainsley, and Dr. Edrisa Guilfoyle. Martin, Malcolm and Gil are clearly major players while JT is the Ainsley of the bunch (sorry girl). Jessica has taken point for the ladies’ side, but Dani is showing her true colors now which is a nice change of pace, which leaves poor Edrisa and Ainsley fairly S.O.L.

Let’s see if they can’t do better, yes?

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