(Warning: This post contains spoilers for Tuesday’s episode of “Prodigal Son.”)
Two seasons into “Prodigal Son,” Martin Whitly (Michael Sheen) finally got to join the team for a murder-solving case rather than just consult from within the walls of his prison — because the murder in question occurred within the walls of his prison.
On Tuesday’s episode of the Fox psychological thriller, Martin’s son, Malcolm Bright (Tom Payne), and his team from the NYPD come to Claremont Psychiatric Hospital to investigate the suspicious circumstances surrounding a patient’s death, which at first appears to be a suicide. Martin is more than happy to assist his son in the episode, appropriately titled “Take Your Father to Work Day,” until things turn dark when he and Malcolm try to sniff out the killer during a group therapy session with Martin’s fellow patients.
The charming serial killer and his son think they’re playing the group by upping their angst over Malcolm turning in his father as a child — but there is obviously truth to their exchange, which boils over even further once the two are alone and Martin accuses his son of “ruining” his family. This is an unusual outburst for Martin, who has insisted that he doesn’t blame Malcolm and loves his son dearly.
“The idea that this man can completely compartmentalize aspects of his life and that they stay discrete is something that — for instance, the idea that he’s one of the most awful monsters that has ever roamed the Earth, but he’s still a really loving father, the idea that those two things can stay completely separate is something that serves the narrative Martin might want to put into the world,” Sheen told TheWrap. “Whether it’s true or not I think is something very different. He’s a master of manipulation and that includes manipulation of himself. So the idea that he has built up this persona that I think serves our show very well, as well as serving Martin as a character in the story, this persona that is funny and charming and likable and quirky and kooky and compelling. That’s the bait, that’s how he does his job, that’s how he’s so good at what he does. And I don’t mean being a surgeon, I mean being a hunter and a killer. All of those things he has developed, they’re not coincidental. That’s his disguise.”
Sheen continued: “When you see animals in the wild, those fish that have a light that hangs over the head that attracts other fish and then they’re able to eat them — the light that hangs over Martin is his personality. The idea that he is all of these things that draw people to him, whether it’s his ability to make people laugh or charm them or whether it’s about showing how loving a father he is. Now I’m not saying that’s not true, I’m just saying it’s something that can be used. And the idea that that can be completely separate from everything else is not something to be trusted. Most of the time, he’s able to stay on top of all that stuff and control it and be controlled and use all those things in a way that helps him. But there are other times when he loses control. We see it fairly rarely… but that scene is one of those times.”
During the episode, Malcolm and Martin manage to get over that little bump in their already rocky relationship and solve the murder. But Martin clearly doesn’t want their time together to end because he’s really enjoying his first chance to be involved in Malcolm’s world.
“My experience working on the show, I suppose, is quite different from everyone else’s because for the first period of time, I only got to work with two or three people. It was not until quite toward the end of the first season that I’d actually had a scene with all the main cast,” Sheen said. “So it’s sort of opened up more and more for me as the show’s gone on. Coming into this season, it opens up more. We start to see more of Claremont. And now that there’s a murder that’s being investigated within Claremont, so it’s in my territory, opens it up even more. Me having my children actually come and be involved in what’s going on within the prison is hugely exciting for my character, especially because part of what’s going on between him and his family is that that is his agency in the world. For someone who is so obsessed with control and so focused on trying to have some agency out in the world, he’s able to do that with his family in a way, but with relationships. So now that they’ve actually come to him and they’re in his world, that’s a whole other thing being able to play around with that. On the one hand, there is just the joy of the father who has the children around him. On the other hand, there’s also the idea, ‘Oh all these new toys to play with, all these things I can now manipulate.'”
One of those manipulations comes when Martin’s daughter, Ainsley (Halston Sage), pays a visit to the hospital to see him while Malcolm is on the case. Malcolm is not at all happy about it, seeing as he and Martin are trying to keep the fact that Ainsley blacked out and murdered Nicholas Endicott (Dermot Mulroney) from her. At least, Malcolm is trying to keep the murder (and his subsequent coverup of that murder) from her, while Martin would love to chat about it with his little girl.
“What he becomes interested in, of course, is that connection,” Sheen said. “He doesn’t realize initially that she doesn’t know what she’s done. But in the same way that he talks about it with Malcolm, that now Malcolm understands something that Martin has experienced, now they’ve got a new kind of connection. The idea of walking around knowing you’ve gotten away with it, there’s a new kind of connection that bonds them closer together that is special that the mother [Jessica, played by Bellamy Young] can’t have with the children. This is something that is unique to Martin’s relationship with Malcolm, but also Ainsley. The fact that Ainsley is a killer in a different way to Malcolm, who just covered it up, and possibly even closer to the kind of killer that Martin is — I think that is so exciting for Martin. That connects him to Ainsley, and in the same way he’s always looking for things to manipulate, for better or worse, this opens up a whole new world for him.”
Before TheWrap wrapped up its conversation with Sheen about Tuesday’s “Prodigal Son,” we asked him to tease the introduction of Catherine Zeta-Jones’ character, Dr. Vivian Chapshaw, who will be coming in to Claremont in the second half of the season.
“I don’t want to spoil anything or give anything away too much, but we certainly see an aspect of Martin through Catherine’s character that we’ve never seen before,” Sheen said. “And it is, oh my goodness, it’s so full of intrigue and twists and turns. We’re on new ground in the way Martin is on new ground and the audience will be on new ground with him. And because of that, it’s very difficult to anticipate where things are going and how things are going to turn out there. I hope it’s really fascinating for the audience. All bets are off, the rules are changing.”
“Prodigal Son” airs Tuesdays at 9/8c on Fox.