“PRODIGAL SON” GOES DEEP INTO HANNIBAL LECTER TURF ON TV
A TV Review by Tim Riley
“PRODIGAL SON” ON FOX NETWORK In 1991, Jodie Foster’s young FBI trainee Clarice Starling sought the advice of Anthony Hopkins’ imprisoned Hannibal Lecter, a brilliant psychiatrist and serial killer, to apprehend another serial killer in the psychological thriller “Silence of the Lambs.”
FOX network’s new series “Prodigal Son” is arguably inspired by the film that launched the fictional Hannibal Lecter as a pop culture legend probably as well or even better known than authentic mass murderers like Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy and Jeffrey Dahmer.
Unlike Dahmer’s crude method of eating the body parts of many victims, Hannibal Lecter demonstrated his sophisticated approach to cannibalism by noting that he would have a nice Chianti with fava beans and the victim’s liver.
Well, what does this all have to do with “Prodigal Son,” a crime drama about a gifted criminal profiler tormented by his own demons? A lot in terms of connecting the titular character to a fraught relationship with his serial killer father.
Barely minutes into the first episode, Tom Payne’s Malcolm Bright gets fired from his job as an FBI agent. His unorthodox methods, including an assault upon a sadistic police officer, don’t sit well with his superiors.
Malcolm’s unconventional approach to law enforcement is explained by his bosses informing him that he ignored protocol, intimidated those with whom he disagreed and annoyed “every cop from here to Tennessee.”
More hurtful was the assessment that Malcolm demonstrated psychotic inclinations not unlike those of his father, who committed twenty-three murders and is known by the moniker of “The Surgeon” and deemed to be a predatory sociopath.
Understandably, Malcolm changed his last name so as to try not to be known as the son of Martin Whitly (Michael Sheen), a seriously deranged killer that caused Malcolm at the age of ten to cooperate with the local police.
The horror of discovering a trunk in the basement with the partially nude body of a dead young girl has left Malcolm with nightmares that persist to this day, though shifting insights into the ordeal leave room for doubts about what actually happened.
But what is very real and not the subject matter of bad dreams is the relationship that Malcolm forged as a child with NYPD lieutenant Gil Arroyo (Lou Diamond Phillips), who just might be the father figure that Malcolm needs.
Even after being given the boot by the FBI, Malcolm has so much to offer in solving mass murders that he ends up being a consultant to the NYPD, thanks to Lt. Arroyo but very much to the consternation of other police officers.
Afflicted with PTSD and tethered to a daily routine of consuming an assortment of medications, Malcolm cannot escape his routine nightmares focused on the tragic events of his childhood.
More telling of the trauma that troubles Malcolm is the flashback to when his father said, before being taken away by the authorities, “I will always love you because we’re the same.”
While Martin has been locked away in an asylum, Malcolm has not visited his father for ten years, and if his mother Jessica (Bellamy Young) has her way, he never would.
Meanwhile, a string of murders of women in New York City demonstrates a pattern considered the work of a Dr. Whitly copycat and Lt. Arroyo believes that Malcolm could enlist the help of his father to solve the case.
While Gil Arroyo remains grateful that Malcolm once saved his life, two police officers also working the murder case think, and not unreasonably, that the forensic profiler is either a psycho or too much of an oddball for police work.
Detective JT Tarmel (Frank Harts), resentful of the profiler’s presence, is easily annoyed when Malcolm calls him every name that starts with the letter J, but Detective Dani Powell (Aurora Perrineau) shows more sympathy to Malcolm’s personal issues.
Socially awkward and practically devoid of any meaningful personal interactions with others, Malcolm’s best and seemingly only friend is his younger sister Ainsley (Halston Sage), an ambitious TV news reporter pursuing every murder story.
On the other hand, Malcolm’s mother, a successful businessman who suffers from the coping mechanism of having too many alcoholic beverages, is domineering and meddlesome, trying very hard to convince her son that working on murder cases is not good for his mental health.
What’s more, she’s adamant that Malcolm stay away from his father, forthrightly warning “He is a cancer. He will destroy you.” These may be words to the wise, but Malcolm does not heed them.
The crime scenes being investigated by Lt. Arroyo with the help of Malcolm are grisly and disturbing, which may not be as unnerving as when Martin tells his son that “there’s so much more I can teach you about murder.”
The gruesome crime scenes, the oddity of the father-son relationship and Malcolm’s eccentric behavior makes “Prodigal Son” the kind of drama that could be too unconventional for network television to hold up over the long run. Only time will tell if this show works.