A Helping Hand
When it comes to the crime genre, there’s no denying that a few stand-out titles have stood the test of time since TV became the polished, big-budget medium it is now. From Mindhunter and Fringe through to Hannibal and 24, there’s no denying that we’ve been fortunate enough to see this genre evolve into something far more prolific and exciting than it ever has before.
Never one to miss a trick, Fox’s latest crime thriller Prodigal Son feels like a mash-up of various influences; some that work and others that definitely don’t. While it’s far too early to cast judgment on how the rest of the series will unfold, based on this pilot episode Prodigal Son fails to really stand out as much as it perhaps should.
We begin the episode in 1998 with a flashback that sees the infamous ‘Surgeon’ killer, Martin Whitly, arrested while his son watches on.
From here we cut forward to 2019 to find that boy now a grown man and going by the alias of Malcolm Bright; a Superintendent working with the police to track down killers. Exploring an abandoned shed, he’s caught off-guard and knocked off his feet, where the killer has Bright cornered. As he tries to talk to the man about his situation, a trigger-happy sheriff arrives and shoots the killer, prompting Bright to lash out and hit the officer square in the jaw.
Unfortunately this provocation leads Malcolm to be fired. As he speaks to his sister Ainsley about this, she tells him it can only be a good thing as he now has the chance for a fresh start. Before he can deliberate that further, he’s recruited to work as a profiler for the NYPD by one of his associates, Gil.
At the crime scene, Malcolm uses his gift to deduce what happened to a young lady currently face down on the ground, shards of glass surrounding her from the chaos. He pieces together the evidence to figure out the woman was paralysed. It turns out the officer that brought him in knew about this all along and needed confirmation of this from Bright.
The killer happens to be a copycat mimicking Bright’s father and based on what he’s seen, the killer’s work is far from over. After gaining a preliminary profile, he briefs the others and tells them about the matching evidence between cases.
As they get nearer to solving the case, Bright learns his profile of the killer is completely wrong as they stumble upon a bunch of tools for creating electronics. To make matters worse, they also find his latest victim strapped to a chair with a bomb. Scrambling to save him, Bright decides to chop his hand off as they hurry out the building, just as the bomb explodes.
With no other choice, Bright realizes he needs to head back and see his Father. Dancing around his attempts to be nice and make small talk, Bright learns that the copycat stole pages from Martin’s books and it may have been one of his patients that’s behind the killings.
Methodically working his way through all 40 case files, he whittles it down to the final two. Before Bright can get a reply though he realizes his Father is afraid of him. He gives his Father an ultimatum to prevent him from leaving forever – help him and he’ll come back to visit.
Learning what he needs to, it turns out Blair is the fourth victim and Carter is the killer. Bright shows up soon after and talks to Carter about his obsession. It’s here he reveals that he’s The Surgeon’s son and Carter needs to finish the quartet. He reveals himself to be the Surgeon’s prodigal son before the police rush in and shoot Carter.
It’s here Gil spills the details of what happened the night he took Bright under his wing before our protagonist visits his Father who tells him he wants to help in the future.
Despite an interesting premise and some nicely implemented set pieces, Prodigal Son fails to really stand out among the sea of others in this genre. Struggling to swim against the harsh current of crime genres lapping onto our screens this fall, Prodigal Son tries to inject some humour into proceedings that mostly fails to hit its mark.
Hearing Bright tell police he needs to give the victim a helping hand moments after chopping it off inside a building destroyed by a bomb blast is an incredibly jarring and surreal moment and these bursts of intended charm and wit mostly fail to hit their mark.
Comparisons to Hannibal and even Fringe may well be drawn here and that’s made even worse by the spooky likeness Bright and his Father have to the dysfunctional father/son duo in Fringe. Still, there’s enough here to make for an enjoyable drama but the show struggles to really stand out.
There’s plenty of time for Prodigal Son to blossom into something wholly original though but right now the pilot doesn’t instill a lot of confidence that this won’t just become another forgotten casualty in a genre that never looks like stopping.