Back after a midseason break, “Alone Time” is an effectively tense reminder that Prodigal Son is one of the better network shows on the air right now.
This recap of Prodigal Son Season 1, Episode 11, “Alone Time”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
Back after a midseason break, Prodigal Son Episode 11, “Alone Time”, wastes no time in reminding us that Malcolm Bright (Tom Payne) is not having a good day at work. Chained to the floor in a dusty cell at the behest of his captor, Paul Lazar (Michael Raymond James), aka John, aka “The Junkyard Killer”, and plagued by his various internal demons, who visit him periodically throughout “Alone Time”, he’s stuck. And nobody can hear him scream, apparently. Has any serial killer ever had a secret lair in earshot of bystanders, though?
Regardless, Collette (Meagan Good) is still running things over at the precinct, much to the annoyance of Gil Arroyo (Lou Diamond Phillips), Dani (Aurora Perrineau) and JT (Frank Harts), who’re tasked with mundane evidence-processing duties while their colleague remains the companion of a serial killer who changes his MO more than his hairstyle. Although I suppose that wouldn’t be difficult since flashbacks continue to indicate that Paul has never changed his hairstyle. Whatever.
Working with the FBI, though, is easier than working against them, especially since their only real witness, Paul’s grandmother Matilda Watkins (Marylouise Burke), is a complicit maniac and is at least in part responsible for Paul’s murderous tendencies anyway. Other forms of help are thin on the ground in Prodigal Son Episode 11. Gil is reluctant to tell blabbermouth Jessica (Bellamy Young) anything at all, but her connection to Dr. Martin Whitly (Martin Sheen) and his years-ago relationship with Paul is important enough to make the risk worthwhile. Oh, and Gil is going to see Martin himself; “Alone Time” indeed.
Malcolm, meanwhile, even under extreme duress, can’t help but be a bit turned on fascinated by Paul’s evolution as a serial killer, abandoning his usual theatrics for a more improvisational style that is apparently rare for those who take murder seriously. There’s obviously a reason he’s interested in Malcolm beyond their historical connection, but what is it? And what will Malcolm have to endure in order to find out?
Questions, questions. Dani and JT have their own, about that fateful camping trip Malcolm took with his father as a child, and Gil has plenty for Martin himself, though he isn’t exactly forthcoming. You know how Martin is – give him a bit of attention and he’ll lap it up, but ask him a direct question and he’ll only give circular answers. At first he thinks Gil is chasing a profile and that Malcolm is listening through a wire, but once Gil admits that Malcolm is a captive of his old pal Paul, Martin takes the news badly, collapsing to the ground and struggling to breathe.
Much chattier is Paul, or John or whatever we’re calling him now, as Malcolm continues to psychoanalyze him. His killing began with his abusive grandfather; his disdain for addicts and sex workers comes from how they remind him of his mother, who abandoned him to the care of his sick grandparents. He’s a product of his environment; a vessel for second-hand hate. But at least he can remember his own origins, what made him the way he is, whereas Malcolm isn’t so lucky – though perhaps “lucky” isn’t the right word. But there’s more of a killer in Malcolm than he thinks, and Paul has the scar to prove it. He gives Malcolm a fresh one of his own, and he, like his father, collapses to the ground.
With two of the Whitlys down, Prodigal Son Episode 11 checks in on Ainsley (Halston Sage), a minor serial-killer-hunting celebrity now, who is summoned home by an unusually polite Jessica, which is always cause for concern. Also a cause for concern: Malcolm’s therapist Dr. Gabrielle Le Deux (Charlayne Woodard) is in his cell with him, boding poorly for his mental state. Luckily Malcolm is more than experienced with this kind of thing, and recognizes the hallucination for what it is, also taking its advice. Breathe, relax, collect one’s thoughts – and stop the bleeding. Stop profiling, start visualizing; focus on survival, not memories.
The FBI and local police continue to focus on Malcolm’s survival, both deducing that he’s being held at the cabin; the former thanks to Dani and JT, the latter thanks to Martin, who is just about lucid enough to draw a map of the property’s substantial basement. But now he knows Malcolm is in the custody of John, he believes his son is dead; “The Surgeon”, ladies and gentlemen, is not known for his optimism.
It’s revelation time in Prodigal Son Season 1, Episode 11, as John reveals the true purpose behind that camping trip all those years ago: It was to kill Malcolm, who was becoming much too nosey for his own good. But Martin bottled it. He lost his nerve, and when John tried to do the deed instead, Malcolm went for him, hence the scar. As it turns out, the instinct to kill isn’t buried as deeply as Malcolm might like.
As ever, the big revelation precedes the big climax in “Alone Time”. Jessica and Ainsley are at the family home, poring over old photographs and angelic trinkets, while the FBI and NYPD close in on the cabin and John continues to torment Malcolm. But it quickly becomes apparent that Malcolm isn’t in the cabin. With an ominous farewell – “There’s no place like home!” – John has left him elsewhere, while he goes off with his ax to make some sacrifices. Martin gathers himself long enough to tell Gil that he’s “going to kill them all”. John is after Jessica and Ainsley.
Props should go to Prodigal Son Episode 11 for wringing as much tension as possible out of the home-invasion sequence, whether we saw it coming or not. John crawls through the wall and cuts the power and smashes through French doors as the women try to escape and pelt him with thrown furnishings – proper classic stuff. It’s enough to make you question whether the show has the gall to kill off its major characters during its winter premiere, but unfortunately you’re not left to wonder for long since Malcolm’s visions talk him into smashing his cuffed hand to bits so he can slide it free. He’s coming for his family.
And he arrives in record time, if we’re being frank here. But whatever – I can accept some slight inconsistencies for the payoff of Malcolm wailing tough-guy threats at John as his mother and sister get all doe-eyed that the family’s wacky black sheep has arrived to save the day. It’s great, soapy network TV shenanigans, at which this show has always excelled. When Malcolm takes down John it’s even with a classic, “This is MY house!”
Prodigal Son Season 1, Episode 11, then, ends with all of the major players alive and John in custody, teeing up another on-going plot for the back half of the season. Malcolm, having realized what he’s capable of doing to protect his family, seems to have battled his own demons somewhat; he might not be the squeaky-clean hero of the people that he would like to be, but who is, really? And it only took the complete ruination of one of his hands to realize it. I wonder what limbs he’ll have lost by the time the finale rolls around?
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.