“Fear Response” reveals more family secrets as Malcolm tracks down the missing brain of a university professor who might have been scared quite literally to death.
This recap of Prodigal Son Season 1, Episode 3, “Fear Response”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
I always appreciate it when a show recognizes how obvious some of its mysteries are. There’s nothing worse than a plot development you predicted several episodes ago being dragged out across half a season or more, and thankfully, Prodigal Son (Fox) not only doesn’t do that, but it takes obvious pleasure in confirming your suspicions as soon as it can. In only the third episode, “Fear Response”, we already have confirmation that Jessica Whitley (Bellamy Young) was aware of at least one of her husband’s crimes.
Prodigal Son Episode 3 opens in 1998, with a flashback to Jessica visiting Dr. Martin Whitly (Michael Sheen) in prison, insisting neither she nor her children will ever visit him there again. If you say so! In the present-day, we rejoin her frantically hammering the buzzer at Malcolm Bright’s (Tom Payne) apartment door — she owns the building, which I don’t recall her mentioning before — until he crashes straight through the window. Those night terrors are evidently getting worse. Jessica no-selling her son dangling several stories above the ground is played as a bit of gag, but it’s probably more telling than that. As a side note, I’m not exactly a feng shui guy, but I’m not sure a man suffering from nightmares violent enough that he needs to manacle himself to his bed is necessarily living his best life by putting his bed right next to his window.
Jessica chewing Malcolm’s ear off about visiting his father, even in the course of an NYPD investigation, begins a string of sequences in which she visits various cast members — first Ainsley (Halston Sage), still doing nothing but briefly reporting on whatever crime Malcolm is investigating, mostly as an excuse for Martin to see the footage from prison; then Gil Arroyo (Lou Diamond Phillips); then finally Martin — and tells them off for not keeping Malcolm in check. When Gil says nobody can control him, she barks back, “Speak for yourself!”
There’s really no wonder Malcolm still drops in on the same therapist he has had since childhood — Dr. Gabrielle Le Deux (Charlayne Woodard) — and I don’t think it’s her varied lollipop selection, as he claims. The on-going mystery of the girl in the box and whether his father dosed him with chloroform continues to haunt Malcolm, whose already fragile mental state is continuing to waver in “Fear Response”, even if we don’t necessarily see that too clearly since it would obviously prohibit his ability to solve the case of the week.
And Prodigal Son Episode 3 has a new case, obviously: a university professor has been bound and had his brain removed by what Malcolm postulates is a “visionary” killer; one guided by delusions, acting on behalf of some chatty higher power, like God or the Devil or whoever. Either way, the murderer was kind enough to leave a scrawled letter in really obvious serial killer handwriting, which symbolizes an increasingly fractured psyche and obviously doesn’t bode well for Dr. Elaine Brown (Sakina Jaffrey), who was left in charge of the department in the victim’s absence, and just so happens to be a hero of Malcolm and his father.
The obvious conclusion is that the killer is a current or former university student. Malcolm and Dani (Aurora Perrineau) visit Dr. Brown — “Never meet your heroes,” according to Malcolm — who is deeply suspicious and evidently keen to cover up the department’s goings-on, especially once it becomes clear that a former student committed suicide. Letters containing crazy theories that fellow students wrote about the suicide turns up an earlier version of the serial killer scrawl, written with a bit more stability. The kids were experimenting with LSD, which in large enough quantities can be used to create heart-stoppingly terrifying delusions. Dr. Carl Mitchell (Frank Wood), who ran the department with Dr. Brown, calls to explain that he has more to reveal, but his coffee has been spiked. “Fear Response” gleefully repeats its usual set-piece of Malcolm being in imminent danger and doing something reckless, which in this case is elbowing a tripping Dr. Mitchell off a building, where a ledge one floor down breaks his fall. Did Malcolm know the ledge was there? Of course!
Prodigal Son Season 1, Episode 3 pairs Malcolm up with JT (Frank Harts) for a brief while, as the two of them stake out Dr. Brown’s house waiting for the killer, Dominic Render, a student whom the LSD trapped in a perpetual nightmare, to arrive. Their dynamic isn’t as compelling as the one shared between Malcolm and Dani, but at least we get some explanation about why JT is so irrationally resentful of Malcolm. In his world, he explains, there are hierarchies; ranks and titles which command respect. Malcolm has no badge, yet doesn’t respect JT’s. It’s a bit petulant and obviously runs contrary to everything we know about Malcolm’s relationship with the police force, as he explains, but it’s something.
Malcolm speaks to Dr. Brown about chloroform, the smell of which she claims can be so strongly associated with a memory that one sniff can bring it all flooding back. He also discovers she has a collection of wacky masks, the face of one replicated in the spaces between the killer’s various letters, which is, of course, ridiculous, but confirms that Dr. Brown will be Render’s next victim. Her camomile tea has been spiked. The killer is in the house. Malcolm is able to fight him off while JT makes his way inside; Dr. Brown, high as a kite, shoots Render with a shotgun, but Malcolm is able to talk her down before she turns the weapon on him or JT or herself. Case closed.
But there’s still a mystery without a solution: The woman in the box. To close Prodigal Son Season 1, Episode 3, Malcolm settles down for the night with a few dabs of chloroform, which do indeed bring his suppressed memories into sharper relief. This time, as he sees his childhood self (Kasjan Wilson) opening the box, he’s pulled away by his mother, who tells him never to speak of it, since he has no idea what his father is capable of. She knows! I told you she was suspicious.