Malcolm is forced to confront his complicated past in “Alma Mater”, as a murder at a prestigious boarding school unearths long-buried demons.
This recap of Prodigal Son season 2, episode 3, “Alma Mater”, contains spoilers.
“Alma Mater” might begin with a dream sequence, but it’s a telling one. Dr. Martin Whitly imagines himself returning home to his keen wife and son for a reason – he’s planning an escape from prison, and Prodigal Son season 2, episode 3 spends a lot of time on his efforts to do so. It’s clearly a major theme of the season, and I think at this point, the question isn’t if he’ll escape, but when.
Martin, you’ll recall from last week, believes he needs to be free for the sake of Malcolm, whose mental health after covering up Ainsley’s crimes is continuing to spiral, kept temporarily at bay by a heady cocktail of prescription pills. At present, the only way Martin can bond with his son is over murders, his specialist subject, which doesn’t exactly seem healthy, but nonetheless is the only constant that both of them have in their lives.
And of course, there’s a murder this week, and the episode’s title, “Alma Mater”, is no coincidence, since the crime occurs at Remington Academy, the prestigious boarding school that Malcolm attended. He’s not keen on going back, since all kinds of personal demons rattle around the establishment’s halls, but he’d be happy to if the victim was the school’s famously feared headmaster. As it turns out, it is.
Headmaster Nathaniel Brumback was a notorious disciplinarian, so it’s probably no surprise that one of his long-suffering students offed him. Though submerging him in the pool in an aquatic tableau of his office is a bit much, Malcolm’s still pretty sure one of these students is a likely fit for the murder, and thus begins the first of several flashbacks to a young Malcolm’s misadventures at Remington, beginning with him telling his dad he was attending and changing his last name in order to swerve the associated notoriety.
Important figures in the subsequent case include new interim headmaster Professor Alan Delaney (Campbell Scott), Jessica, since she’s Vice Chairwoman of the board, and students Louisa (Lily Ganser), Anton (Arthur Langlie), and Molly (Salena Qureshi), any one of whom could have the kind of “teen brain” that Malcolm thinks was the disturbed headspace of the killer.
As all this progresses we also learn more of Malcolm’s original expulsion, which ostensibly came on the back of Brumback discovering that Malcolm was Martin’s son after Martin, apparently, tipped him off about the name change. We later learn, though, that it was because Malcolm was locked in a closet for three days by a fellow student named Nicky Covington (Jack DiFalco) who learned he was claustrophobic – when Malcolm retaliated, Nicky had an asthma attack and asphyxiated, which Malcolm allowed to happen by sabotaging his inhaler. Though Malcolm never admitted it, Brumback sensed an inherited murderer vibe about him and expelled him for that reason. Malcolm eventually called for help and Nicky survived, but it’s the thought that counts.
Prodigal Son season 2, episode 3 presents two major developments in the present-day case alongside this important revelation about Malcolm’s past. The first is that Professor Delaney, who seems the likeliest suspect in the murder once the real method of poisoning is deduced, has been running a long-time cheating ring among the students, taking kickbacks for feeding them exam answers. It was him, back in the day, who leaked Malcolm’s real identity since he was “too observant”. But it wasn’t him who killed Brumback. That was Louisa, who did the deed so that she could escape to an overseas college beyond the control of her abusive and powerful father.
While all this is going on, Martin is plotting his escape from Claremont Psychiatric hospital, which involves a returning Friar Pete and a new character, Darryl (Sahr Ngaujah), whom Martin immediately betrays for two of three color-coded keycards that’ll help him escape. Martin’s intelligence and ruthlessness shine through here, as does, weirdly, his love for Malcolm, since every time father and son communicate in “Alma Mater” it’s with an earnestness that really doesn’t seem fake, and which gives Martin much more intrigue as a character. When Malcolm later apologizes to him for accusing him of something he didn’t do, it feels like a turning point in their relationship. And there’s no better time since it seems like Martin is closer to freedom than ever.