Ainsley endeavors to interview her father in “The Surgeon”, as Malcolm’s case brings him face to face with a kid who very much resembles himself.
This recap of Prodigal Son Season 1, Episode 6, “The Surgeon”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
“The Surgeon” is Prodigal Son‘s obligatory Halloween episode, but it only really comes up in the very Michael Myers-inspired climax, which we’ll get to shortly. In the meantime, though, a reminder of last week’s cliffhanger ending, as Prodigal Son Episode 6 cold-opens with Ainsley (Halston Sage), in desperate need of something to do, meeting with her father, Dr. Martin Whitly (Michael Sheen), in prison. She wants an interview. She wants to know how he could kill 23 people, what would possess him to do so — you know, the important questions. But Martin says that isn’t the important question at all. Will she be brave enough to ask him the one that is?
The young woman with daddy issues is a pretty common trope, but the young woman actively going out of her way to find daddy issues is quite fresh-feeling, so props to Prodigal Son for that.
Speaking of daddy issues, Malcolm Bright (Tom Payne) has plenty. He’s browsing used car lots looking for the exact station wagon that he remembers from his scattershot dreams, the one in which his father took them hunting, memorialized in a photograph that he waves at virtually everyone throughout “The Surgeon”. As he lovingly strokes the floor mat in the back, he tells the dealer with hilariously creepy certainty that this can’t be the right vehicle — it doesn’t have a bracket in the back that you could chain a person to. Doh! Don’t worry though, Malcolm’s a cop. Sort of.
Ainsley, meanwhile, is sleeping with her cameraman, Jin (Raymond Lee), who thinks she’s acting weird after meeting with her father. Perceptive, that one. Also perceptive: Malcolm’s therapist, Dr. Gabrielle Le Deux (Charlayne Woodard), serial lollipop dealer, who tells Malcolm that he should be careful exploring his memories. If his psyche is built on repressed recollections of people-hunting trips with dear old dad, that’s a pretty shaky bedrock for a functioning adult. Exposing the horrifying truth could cause him to lose contact with reality, to retreat into the tattered mindset of a child, plagued with visions that are indistinguishable from real life. So… he’d stay more or less the same.
The case of the week in Prodigal Son Episode 6 is a violent stabbing in the woods. Malcolm hooks up with Gil (Lou Diamond Phillips), Dani (Aurora Perrineau), JT (Frank Harts), and Dr. Edrisa (Keiko Agena) for the usual routine of positing a theory that will turn out to be partially wrong and force Malcolm to question himself before he eventually figures out he was right all along. The victim, Gavin Parker, was perforated 100 times with varying degrees of enthusiasm by his own knife — that and some other clues suggest that the murder wasn’t planned, but classic signs of overkill suggest overwhelming hatred for the victim. His killer is probably a nascent sadist, just now realizing that he very much enjoys stabbing people lots and lots of times. I had a similar experience with mustard recently, so I kind of know how he feels. I really thought I hated it; it turns out it’s great. That kind of thing can mess you up, force you to re-examine some things.
Gavin was separated from his wife, Crystal (Katie Kreisler), who was banging her personal trainer Jake (Charlie Semine) — respect to “The Surgeon” for flagrantly borrowing from **** classics — and has a young son, Isaac (Clark Furlong), who she’s desperate to protect. Isaac looks like a member of Hanson and is creepily devoted to his pet rabbits, and not to spoil anything but Malcolm should have clocked that this kid was the killer when he glimpsed him through the window. Then again, Malcolm, who discovered his own father was a serial killer at a similar age, feels some kind of warped kinship with the boy. He makes the rookie mistake of promising him everything will be okay and replicates his own therapist’s highly advanced methodology by giving the kid a lollipop and hoping he won’t ask too many questions.
At the strained Bright/Whitly family dinner, Ainsley fesses up to Jessica (Bellamy Young) that she plans to interview her father, which is a big mistake. Not the interview, per se, but telling Jessica about it. Halston Sage looks too young to be a renowned on-screen reporter, and Bellamy Young looks too young to be her mother; I hope a later twist is that the matriarch is some kind of lifeforce-gobbling demon obsessed with eternal youth. Anyway, she doesn’t want Ainsley to do the interview.
Malcolm shows Jessica the photo of him and his father and the station wagon — she visibly recoils at the sight of such lowly transport — and asks her if she remembers anything about it. She doesn’t, but his father loved camping, as all creepy men tend to. Said creepy man then appears to Malcolm in a distressingly realistic vision, promising a guys’ weekend that mother doesn’t need to know about. Is it real?! Well, no, it can’t be, since Martin is locked up in prison, but Malcolm double-checks by hovering his hand over a nearby candle flame and accidentally sets his jacket on fire.
As I say, Martin’s safely locked up, enjoying a group therapy session with Dr. Higa (James Saito), whom he clearly has fun manipulating. The session’s ostensibly about anger and aggression, but Martin just wants to brag that Ainsley came to see him and wants to interview him. He’s reluctant to talk to her because that would be allowing her to wrest control from him, and he likes being in control. A nutcase fellow patient, Tevin (Matthew Maher), thinks he should tell his story to the world, so that the world can understand why, say, someone’s parents would need to be horribly butchered by a psychopath. Nobody gets a lollipop.
Malcolm asks Dani to run the station wagon’s license plate and terrifies her with the promise that he’s going to bring in the rest of his family albums next week (sorry, made that last bit up.) Gil, not in the mood for nonsense, wants an update on the profile of the killer. Several calls to the house for domestic matters suggest a particularly unhealthy household, and Crystal is obsessed with Isaac; she has a Jocasta complex — the Greeks have it all covered, don’t they? — which tends to suggest an incestuous sexual desire of a mother towards her son. This is lighthearted network television at its finest.
Malcolm goes to Jake’s gym to find out if he’s a sadist, and discovers he’s a hilarious come-at-me-bro caricature who practices Krav Maga and, since he’s all about maximum aggression, wants to spar with Malcolm. They get into it and Jake demands he submits to a shoulder lock, but Malcolm only gets all excited about it, which makes Jake feel weird. While Jake spills some beans to Malcolm and Gil, JT and Dani pursue Crystal to the scene of Gavin’s murder, where she starts rooting around in the dirt. Jake admits that before his death Gavin had demanded full-time custody of Isaac, sending Crystal into a frenzy, and Jake, being a bro-God maximum aggression mentor, taught Crystal how to channel her fury into Krav Maga. Prodigal Son Episode 6 hammers the point home by having Crystal put Dani in a sleeper hold just as Jake insists that he “taught her everything.”
Luckily, Mace beats strangulation. JT arrives with a tell-tale bloody garment that Crystal was hiding, and she’s arrested for the murder of her husband.
Back at the precinct, Malcolm insists that Crystal doesn’t fit the profile, but Dani and Gil hush him, suggesting his profile could be wrong or that he might be being overly harsh on himself, given Isaac’s age and his own tortured history. Someone needs to tell these two that Malcolm is the protagonist. Either way, Crystal confesses. She says she didn’t plan to kill Gavin but he was going to take their son away, so what’s a mother to do? She’s placed in holding and Family Services are called, as Malcolm beats himself up about breaking his promise to Isaac that all would be fine and dandy. I told you that it was a rookie mistake.
I think this is the first time I’ve had cause to write these words, but “The Surgeon” then goes to check up on Ainsley and Jin. Jessica lets herself in — that woman! — and announces that she has gone through a friend of a friend to ensure that the interview with Martin can’t go ahead. She also demands to hear exactly what Martin told her and doesn’t like what she hears. In another flashback, we see Martin activate his silver tongue and get Ainsley all giggly by insisting how much he loves her. Since he never really got to have a relationship with his daughter, he built an imaginary life for her in his head that he holds dear to him. Jessica is terrified that he made Ainsley love him, and stomps off in a paddy.
Nobody in this family is particularly well-adjusted, are they? Malcolm goes to see his therapist again, and she tips him off that he might be seeing the best in Isaac when he should be seeing the worst. He legs it to the house and discovers that Isaac has been killing his bunnies and burying them in the garden. The bloody sweatshirt was his. Crystal knew he was a sadist and has been covering for him. The local rabbit population is dwindling. Malcolm books it back to the precinct before Crystal can find her confession and demands that she reveal the truth. Gavin had caught Isaac suffocating one of his rabbits, and insisted that he be taken to a psychiatric hospital. Isaac had run away, and Gavin had followed, breaking his ankle in the process. Then Isaac straddled him and stabbed him 100 times. And to make matters worse, the kid is now chilling at Jake’s, lustily gazing at all the knives on the wall. Uh-oh.
Finally Prodigal Son Episode 6 gets its Halloween on. Isaac, dressed as a wolf, hides under the table and slices through Jake’s Achilles tendons — the audience must have winced as one at the sight of that. Malcolm, on the phone, tells him to hide upstairs, while Gil radios for backup to make sure the kid doesn’t go out trick-or-treating and butcher half the street. When they arrive, Malcolm heads upstairs to console him since he knows how it feels to lose a father and require psychiatric help. In the meantime, Gil has to butter up a police sniper so that he doesn’t just cut out the middle man and shoot Isaac dead. It’s quite tense. Malcolm promises once again that everything will be fine, and Isaac, a sadist but evidently not a genius, believes him.
“The Surgeon” ends with Malcolm wondering if he could have turned out just like Isaac, which doesn’t seem much of a stretch to me, especially when Dani hands over details of the station wagon and he discovers it hidden under a tarp. It has the brackets, the kind you could chain someone to. And when he waves the black light over it, the car is covered in blood. Camping, folks. Fun for all the family.
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.