“Like father, like son?”
By Nelisa Khwela
This article is exclusive to the Online Edition 5 of VARSITY News.
Prodigal Son is a Fox crime drama series that premiered in 2019 and is available on both Netflix and DStv. It features some recognisable faces such as Tom Payne from The Walking Dead as the main character, Malcom Bright; Bellamy Young from Scandal as his mother, Jessica Whitly; and Michael Sheen from The Twilight Saga as his father Martin Whitly, who is also known as ‘The Surgeon’ who has been charged with over 20 homicides. Growing up with a serial killer as a father deeply traumatises Malcom and throughout the series we see him suffer from vivid hallucinations and panic attacks that are a result of his repressed trauma. Malcom works as a criminal profiler for the NYPD and helps solve murder cases. Throughout the series, his father helps him to crack some of his cases by providing a ‘serial killer’s perspective’.
Malcom’s ability to see a crime from the killer’s perspective allows him to be a brilliant profiler, however, it is this same ability that makes him question whether he has the potential be ‘a chip off the old block’. Whilst it is a show with nightmares and cadavers, it does provide the occasional comedic relief in the forms of Edrisa, the NPYD’s medical examiner, and The Surgeon himself.
The show takes the stereotypical image of the deranged, anti-social serial killer and replaces it with a witty, intelligent, former renowned surgeon and loving father who also happens to be a serial killer. This uncomfortable contradiction that someone can be a monster and a loving father takes the false dichotomy that people are either wholly good or wholly bad and turns it on its head. Michael Sheen’s portrayal of this character is brilliant in that, as an audience, we can hate The Surgeon for being so evil yet find his witty one-liners oddly endearing at the same time. This is also something that Malcom battles with – can his father truly love him if he has killed so many people? Are monsters also capable of love?
This series raises the point that anyone is capable of great evil regardless of whether or not they “fit the profile”. Malcom’s own personal struggles reveal that whilst you can’t choose your parents, you can work on not turning out like them. This show is full of unexpected twists and turns, and even though the themes that it deals with can be quite heavy, it is executed in a way that manages to be both thought-provoking and entertaining at the same time.