“Death’s Door” delves into Martin’s mind and gives Edrisa much more to do than usual in a strong, promising episode of Prodigal Son.
This recap of Prodigal Son Season 1, Episode 15, “Death’s Door”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
It’s Martin Whitly (Michael Sheen) who’s on death’s door in Prodigal Son Episode 15, which is good news – yes, because he’s a predatory psychopath and probably deserves it, but more because it means we get to enjoy his comatose hallucinations set largely and idiosyncratically to “Lovely Day” by Bill Withers. These distorted flashbacks make for little cutaway vignettes that detail how Martin initially met, captured and killed the notorious girl in the box, how his seemingly genuine love of his family, especially Malcolm (Tom Payne), threatens his pathological need for control, and eventually how happy he is to realize that, in his own mind at least, he never needs to cede that control to anyone else. Malcolm might be Martin’s healthcare by proxy and have his power of attorney, but when his father wakes up at the end of the episode with a croaky “My boy,” he’s as much in the grip of his psychopathy as he always was.
Nevertheless, this filtered delve into Martin’s psyche is a new look for Prodigal Son Episode 15, and it makes the most of it. At first, I assumed this was going to be the whole story, but it quickly emerges that there’s another case-of-the-week to deal with, as well as the lingering repercussions of Jessica (Bellamy Young) taking the fall for Malcolm stabbing dear old dad. That latter plot isn’t resolved in “Death’s Door”, but introduces some elements and players we’ll likely get to deal with going forward, including a ruthless defense attorney, Everett Sterling (Brian Stokes Mitchell), saved in Jessica’s phone as “The Devil” and the very same man who secured Martin’s comfortable stay in Claremont rather than a lifetime rotting on Rikers Island. He assures Jessica that he can get her case dismissed within a week and that many lucrative book and television deals will follow – what America wants right now, it seems, is more of the Whitlys, so it looks like a deal with the devil is on the table.
In the meantime, though, we have a murder to solve, that of Kevin, who has been killed and then lovingly embalmed, dolled up and posed facing his fireplace. Malcolm deduces that the killer is a necrophiliac, which he’s quick to explain doesn’t necessarily mean that they get freaky with corpses, just that they want to be close to them; they’re incapable of real-life relationships and want to create an enduring one in death. Prodigal Son Episode 15 smartly gives Edrisa (Keiko Agena) much more to do than usual, and it’s a good fit since she, too, is more comfortable around the dead than the living.
Having established that the embalming and post-mortem makeup is at a professional standard, Gil (Lou Diamond Phillips) reckons that the suspect pool will be tiny, but the killer has cleverly timed the murder with a convention of morticians which he, Edrisa, Malcolm, JT (Frank Harts) and Dani (Aurora Perrineau) attend, some obviously more pleased to be there than others. The showroom packed with luxurious caskets is a tough sell for Malcolm, whose father is on death’s door in hospital, and also Dani, who reveals that she had to bury her own father when she was just sixteen. Her relationship with Malcolm remains one of the strongest dynamics in the show and reaches something of a turning point by the end of the episode when Malcolm realizes the value of her friendship and promises to do better in the future when it comes to sharing his feelings.
Kevin, it turns out, was in business with two others: Tilda (Ana Gasteyer), a flirty former fling who puts the D in death and presumably other places; and Dev (Sathya Sridharan), a nervous makeup artist who won’t talk to the police unless they have a warrant. Their joint venture was burned down and all three stood to lose a great deal, including their professional reputations, which is as good a motive as any. When it’s revealed that the foundation used to spruce up Kevin was Dev’s own brand, our intrepid heroes barge into his apartment and find him near death, the embalming process already underway. An extremely nervous Edrisa is able to shakily counteract the toxins with a dose of ethanol, but the ordeal leads to a few cross words between her and Malcolm.
From Tilda, Gil and Malcolm get another likely suspect: a talented off-the-books employee who inadvertently started the fire during a late-night embalming session. Since she was legally unemployable thanks to a failed psychiatric evaluation, this never got out, and she presumably never moved on. As luck would have it when Malcolm calls Edrisa to apologize for accidentally offending her earlier, he picks up on her unusual nervousness – she doesn’t want to talk to him, which is unheard of – and goes to check on her, finding her held at gunpoint by Leanne (Ashlie Atkinson, network telly’s go-to dangerous nutcase lady), the murderous embalmer. She wants Kevin’s body. Despite being told to wait for backup, Malcolm naturally blunders into the scene and he and Edrisa are forced to talk her down – though the latter goes the extra mile and also clouts her over the head with a metal tray.
Prodigal Son Season 1, Episode 15, then, was a fine episode. It had the conceit of Martin-centred flashbacks, the promotion of Edrisa to something more than a head-over-heels comic relief sidekick, and it introduced some more serialized elements that’ll sustain the show’s overarching plot going forward. Jessica’s upcoming legal battle and self-promotion tour, Malcolm’s healing psyche, and Martin’s return to the land of the living all suggest interesting developments, proving that even so late in the game Prodigal Son hasn’t run out of ideas just yet.
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Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.