[Warning: The following contains spoilers for the season finale of Prodigal Son, "Like Father..." Read at your own risk!]
Surprise! It turns out that the cryptic title for Prodigal Son's season finale, "Like Father..." had a very different meaning than we originally expected! Heading into Monday night's final episode of the season, we might've expected to cap that phrase with "Like Son," since the entire show has thus far centered on Malcolm Bright (Tom Payne) and whether he's anything like his serial killer father, Martin Whitly (Michael Sheen). However, the correct ending is actually "Like Daughter" right now because, in the end, it was Ainsley (Halston Sage) who wound up wielding the weapon to become a killer.
Yes, Monday night's episode ended on a very shocking note as Ainsley knifed Nicholas Endicott (Dermot Mulroney) in the neck to end the threat he posed to her and Malcolm, as Jessica (Bellamy Young) rushed Gil Arroyo (Lou Diamond Phillips) to the hospital after he was stabbed by Nicholas' hitman. Martin might've always thought it was Malcolm who was just like him, but as he got the news of Ainsley's fatal decision, his eyes lit up, and his signature phrase changed from "My Boy!" to "My Girl!" We've long suspected that Ainsley might be capable of more than she got credit for, but this was still a game-changing moment.
Monday's finale also saw the conclusion of the "Girl in the Box" saga, as Malcolm finally came face to face with Sophie Sanders (Anna Eilinsfeld) after confirming that she was the one who killed Eddie as vengeance for Eve's murder. Instead of apprehending her for the murder, Malcolm decided to let her go free after apologizing for not doing so all those years before. Meanwhile, Martin may or may not have a target on his back after causing a full-on riot in prison and who knows if he'll ever make it back into his cozy cell without Nicholas alive to pull some strings for him.
TV Guide caught up with Prodigal Son co-creators Chris Fedak and Sam Sklaver to talk about the most jaw-dropping developments of the finale, their hopes for Season 2, and some of the storylines that had to be left out of the final episodes in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic shutdowns.
From the start, there was always something lingering beneath the surface with Ainsley. Even in the pilot you could see her lying to Malcolm, and he could intuit that. Did you guys always know that it would come to this -- that she would become the prodigal daughter?
Sam Sklaver: We did. We were always really interested in this idea that Malcolm was always the one seemingly to be affected by his father. He had the closest relationship with his father. He went on to become a profiler and working with the FBI, and Malcolm had all of these connections and all of these lingering doubts with their father, but Ainsley was always telling herself that she was too young when her dad was arrested to be affected by it. But memory starts really being affected by age two or three, so we knew that while Ainsley was putting up a strong front, there was no doubt that she was always affected by her father's crimes, and we were always excited to tell a story like this. And when Halston Sage really started -- her portrayal of Ainsley just got so strong, and she was such a go-to character for us that this was always something that we were building to with a lot of excitement, and we were lucky to be able to tell this story.
Chris Fedak: We also just love the image of her standing there with that knife and the blood on her face. It was like, we gotta do that!
Sklaver: That was, I believe, when we first pitched the show to Fox. We told them that Ainsley was going to kill someone at the end of the first season. That was our desire, and we engineered it to be that way. It was very exciting.
Fedak: We didn't know there would be that much blood. We did not know that.
Can you guys clarify whether she had a night terror when she stabbed Endicott or whether she was fully conscious in that moment?
Fedak: No, she's not having a night terror. She is actively slitting a man's throat who's threatening the life of her family and everything she knows. But I think in regard to the psychology of it, as you see in that moment, she seems to be in a state when she does it -- be it shock or some type of traumatic thing -- I think what you're seeing is, it's not like she's a robot. It's not like she's the Terminator. She's reacting in the moment, and ... the mystery of what exactly is doing that, what is the psychology of that, is what we'll explore next year.
Going back to Ainsley's motivations, you mentioned that she might've been affected by Martin ... Do you think she at all was kind of jealous of the fact that Martin always paid more attention to Malcolm? Is there any part of her that did this to get to his attention?
Fedak: I think there's a dynamic that we played, especially in Episode 6, where you see that Ainsley has craved in some way to know more about her father, and obviously she became an investigative reporter for some reason -- and also a deep focus on crime. But I think it's less petulant than that. I think it's more a matter of she's been protected from him. She's been kept away from him, and as an adult now, she is craving or resisting those attempts to protect her. So, that's something that's definitely in the air.
Sklaver: But to get inside the mind of Ainsley for a moment, I think the question that you raised is an interesting one. And I think it is something that she could definitely ponder for a moment, that's what's so fun about this and why we're so excited for the next season. All of the psychology of this event -- how it will affect Ainsley, how it will affect Bright, and how it can ripple into our whole world, is the story we're so excited to keep telling.
Speaking of going forward with it, it's not hard to imagine with Jessica's gaggle of lawyers and what the police already knew about Nicholas, that Ainsley might be able to get out of legal trouble for this, but is it possible that Malcolm is going to turn on her in any way?
Fedak: There's always fun tension when you're wondering is your sister dangerous, that's a fun tension to play, and it's something we've played with Malcolm, too, is how dangerous is he? So, those kind of [questions like] "How well do you know the people closest to you?" are themes that inhabit the show as well as the fact that, like, "What did the police find later on?" Those are all themes that we have twists and turns for you [ahead].
When I spoke to Dermot Mulroney regarding his first episode, I think he didn't know how the final three episodes were going to shake out, and he mentioned that his character might be connected to serial killers we've seen in the past. Was that something that had to be scrapped due to the coronavirus shutdown?
Fedak: There were a number of things that we had to scrap due to the coronavirus. There were a couple of things that we had played out in regards to the Nicholas-dad relationship -- less so about other serial killers -- but then again, in knowing dad in the past, there's John Watkins. So, there's a bit of things that happened in the past, but it's not like a serial killer convention that took place years ago that everybody went to. The thing with Dermot is that when we cast him, we were really excited because, not only do we have someone who could play a villain -- which we knew would be delicious and fun -- but we have somebody who could also play the romantic comedy elements of it. And so we had hoped to have Nicholas be our fun romantic comedy component for those two episodes that we had to scrap. So, that was an avenue that we were going to have fun going down and exploring -- because, when you have someone as fun as Bellamy, you really want to pair her up with someone that can deal with walking into this crazy world and then you realize they're a monster. Those are things that we had to leave.
You mentioned that some other things were dropped. Is there anything else specific? Are you saving it for next season?
Fedak: We wanted to explore Ainsley and her investigative skills ... and then we had two standalone episodes that we really want to do next season, so those we are going to keep under wraps so nobody knows our secrets.
Sklaver: Sadly, we will not be able to play Dermot as a romantic lead. [Laughs] Which is unfortunate, but that's a little fun behind-the-scenes [tidbit]. At the end of Episode 18 that aired, the "Scheherazade" episode, we were supposed to end that episode on a very hopeful note with Jessica and Nicholas. Then, we realized we were going to have to go directly into "The Professionals" episode that we already shot, we realized, oh no, everyone in our world knows that Nicholas is the bad guy because of the Episode 19 we were unable to shoot. So, we needed to grab one little piece of Sophie Sanders saying "Nicholas Endicott is a monster," and that was something that wasn't planned to be at the end of Episode 18. But when we started figuring out how we were going to fit all of these pieces together, this was the story that we really had to speed up, and sadly, we won't be able to tell that. Not to say, we can't see Jessica having romantic fun, but it won't be with Dermot Mulroney.
Speaking of Sophie, when Malcolm decided to let her go, was this his way of saving her like he couldn't before? Or was it about him having remorse for not being able to avenge Eve himself?
Fedak: I think it's the first thing you said. This was more a matter of a chance to save someone that maybe giving them another chance as opposed to dragging them before law enforcement and throwing the book at them. Which is a morally complex decision that definitely has a downside -- she did kill someone -- but I think he, in this moment, is making a choice to save her.
Sklaver: It's pretty amazing for Bright that his whole life he thought that he ruined this woman, and that he let her die and couldn't save her, and then when he finds her, she's made a very nice life for herself, and she's living a life that she's happy with. So, when presented with the opportunity to save her again, and with the knowledge that the crime she committed, while horrific, was in some ways justified, it seems very right for us to give Bright that win. He's a guy that doesn't get many wins in his life, and he's had a lot of troubles following him. So, we were very, very excited. There was debate of ethically what you have to do in this situation, but it did feel like Bright was doing the right thing, and in a way, helping to deal with a ghost in his past and sending it off in a hopeful way, which is something that he hasn't had before.
And that was a good pay-off for the whole season. So, when Martin de-eyeballed Eddie, he said it was for his son, but was he really just having fun in that moment?
Fedak: It's a combo platter. He hasn't gotten to let loose the thumbs to the eyeballs in quite some time probably, so ... but I also think he was channeling the rage that his son felt toward Eddie for killing Eve. All of those things were playing a part, so I think you're seeing a bit of joy there, but also he is in a weird demented way standing up for his son.
Sklaver: That scene is one of my favorites because when Chris and I originally wrote it, it was graphic and violent, but it was graphic and violent in a different way. And we got a phone call one day from Michael Sheen, and he was like, "Chris and Sam, I was wondering if you're free to talk about something." And we were a little bit nervous, a little bit excited, what does he want to say? And he was like, "When I'm killing Eddie, I was wondering if I can gouge his eyes out and look at my son with a smile like a dog bringing a dead mouse?" And Chris and I looked at each other horrified with huge smiles on our faces thinking this is the greatest phone conversation we've ever had. So I do need to give Michael credit for the choreography of that scene and looking at his son. And I do think for Martin, he's proud of what he's doing, and he's proud that he's defending himself from this killer and going on to live for his son. There is a lot of paternal joy that that moment is giving Martin, as f---ed up as that sounds.
If Gil pulls through, things might be able to get back to normal for the major crimes unit, but if not, will Dani (Aurora Perrineau) and J.T. (Frank Harts) still be able to work with Bright?
Fedak: They've formed a relationship now where they do feel a real trust for Malcolm. And also, we love Gil, so we can't wait to see that story build out over next season and see his story play out as well.
As a bonus, check out the above webisode to see what a typical day in the life of Martin Whitly looks like -- at least, before the prison went haywire.