Prodigal Son returns with another strong episode this week, one that shows off some pretty impressive editing alongside a twisty-turny plot. This stand-alone piece brings back the episodic format in a compelling way, whilst peppering in enough character development for Malcolm Bright to keep things consistent and moving forward.
We begin with expository text informing us that this is “Last Night”. Bright is grilled by Gil, who tells him to leave the precinct but instead, he heads into a room and knocks out the power which we see from Dani’s perspective.
We then cut to 12 hours later where a blackout has swept across the city and Malcolm prepares for Internal Affairs to arrive. Gil warns him not to underestimate them as a man named Simon introduces himself and acts as a gateway to determine whether Malcolm is mentally stable and still a competent investigator. This is all to do with his outburst the previous night, where he took on a case so soon after his torturous ordeal with Watkins.
A series of interviews then follow, as narration pieces everything together over what’s happened as we cut back and forth between a homicide case and our characters talking one on one with Simon. The case itself hits a little close to home for Malcolm, especially given it involves a victim called Tristan who’s been strangled and tortured. It’s here Malcolm begins to see visions of himself as a child but he refuses to tell Simon this, dancing around what happened and shrugging it off, while the others tell Simon he was acting suspiciously.
Gil hits a dead end while investigating Quentin Vosler; the leader of a cult that may be connected with the murder of Tristan. Unfortunately, Bright takes matters into his own hands and decided to enrol into the cult himself, where he’s forced into “purging” his memory with electro-convulsive therapy.
One of the girls in the cult Malcolm’s desperate to save is Andi, who winds up kidnapped while Malcolm tries sneaking her out the back of the house. Only, it turns out it wasn’t actually Vosler who took her, they suspect a man named Curtis Marsh. Although this seems like a pretty black and white case, Malcolm pushes for more, believing there’s someone above Curtis pulling the strings.
This is what brings us back to the opening scenes of the episode, where Bright becomes spooked, seeing multiple instances of himself in the station and learning the blackout occurring was a result of Malcolm administering electro-shock therapy to himself.
Simon assesses that Malcolm needs professional help but he also assumes Andi is a woman – something Malcolm didn’t mention once during his assessment. It’s here Malcolm realizes the man has been lying. We then cut to the night before, where it turns out someone was working on the inside with Curtis and that person was actually Simon. The team have been watching him all along and the profiling is complete – all the team worked together to bring him down. Unfortunately, Simon pulls a gun out on Malcolm.
During this stare-down, Bright talks to Simon about his daughter and manages to distract him long enough to shock him and bring him down. With Simon knocked out, the group work together and find Andi. With the case solved, Gil asks Bright if he’s okay in private. Malcolm sighs and tells him he’s not. With this reveal, Malcolm is given 2 weeks leave and a much-needed vacation to slow down. When he leaves, Bright talks to the manifestation of his consciousness and decides he’s going to be okay.
The twist at the end involving Simon makes this one of the stronger stand-alone episodes of the season and this is helped along by the editing too. The cutaways, skipping back and forth through time, are handled well and serve a narrative purpose too rather than feeling like a gimmick.
The spinning cameras in the morgue is a nice touch and Malcolm’s character is fast becoming the most interesting in the show. With no Ainsley or Martin this week, the focus solely rests on Bright and this fascinating, deeply flawed character is such a great protagonist to get behind.
The second half of this show has really kicked into high gear and it’s yet another example of a series growing and evolving over time after a rather formulaic opener last year. If Prodigal Son can keep this momentum up, it may just prove to be one of the better crime procedurals of 2020.