Prodigal Son creators on 'explosive' season finale: 'Bright is screwed'
Ahead of the Fox thriller's final season 1 episode, we spoke to the show's executive producers about the big Malcolm (Tom Payne)/Endicott (Dermot Mulroney) showdown.
Going into the season finale of any show, you really don't want to hear from the people who wrote it that the hero "is screwed."
But in the case of Prodigal Son, that's pretty much the prognosis from series creators Chris Fedak and Sam Sklaver. After Malcolm (Tom Payne) was arrested for murder (or he's being very cleverly framed) at the end of last week's episode, and psycho killer Endicott (Dermot Mulroney) in a seemingly-unstoppable position of control, it does seem like our kooky profiler might indeed be screwed.
Ahead of the finale, we caught up with Fedak and Sklaver to tease what's in store in the first season's final showdown and how they crafted the ending to the season they'd always wanted, even after they lost two episodes because of the restrictions put on production due to the outbreak of COVID-19.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Your first season was billed to be 22 episodes, then with coronavirus upending everything, it had to be condensed to 20. What effect did that have on the story you were trying to tell?
SAM SKLAVER: Going in, just because of the way our schedule worked, we knew that we were going to have to build episode 21 and 22 before we were able to film episode 19 and 20. So that was always on the books. Very fortunately, by the end of February we had already shot the season finale of Prodigal Son and were able to tell the story that we had pitched Fox in the room and the story that we had always wanted to tell with the show. Our work for the rest of March was to shoot episodes 19 and 20 — a lot of the Nicholas Endicott. When it became apparent that we weren't going to be able to finish the season, we found ourselves in a very fortunate situation where it wasn't our finale that we needed to shoot because we had that in the can, it was just the connected tissue. We have two amazing episodes that we're going to try and repurpose because they were stories we’re so excited to tell, but we were always fortunate enough to have the finale done early, just because of pre-existing obligations that we had.
Wow. I feel like going forward, you should always shoot the finale a little in advance just in case.
SKLAVER: When you have to write a finale a month or two early, it feels like the hardest thing in the world. It was this impossible feat that we had to do and it turned out to really just be in our favor because we were able to just shut down production at the right time and still tell a seasoned story.
CHRIS FEDAK: We did have to take a day and turn two episodes into two scenes. That was a bit tricky, but we're excited that we were able to get to our finale because it’s such a moment that we knew we wanted to get to.
SKLAVER: There was a sleepless night of figuring out everything that we need to tell the audience so that episode 18 could go right into what was in fact episode 21. As it turns out, it was two (and a little bit) scenes and the train track kept moving.
Had you had those two episodes, would we have spent more time with Dermot Mulroney's delightfully wicked Nicholas Endicott and seen more of his character development?
FEDAK: Our original intention was that we really wanted to have fun with Dermot — he's so playful as the villain — going down that romantic path with Jessica (Bellamy Young) as the charming guy. We had Dermot so it would’ve been nice to explore that avenue, but in the end we’ll settle for just an amazingly juicy villain.
Would you also have explored more of Malcolm missing Eve (Molly Griggs) before her death was revealed?
FEDAK: Yes. There are threads that you can pull that we went very quickly over. The big threads are the Jessica/Endicott relationship, Eve’s death and then also Ainsley (Halston Sage) discovering the connection between Endicott and Sophie, the girl in the box.
SKLAVER: In the original script, Bright found out that Eve had committed suicide at the end of episode 20. It felt like the end of an episode — that's when you tell your main character that the love of his life is dead. We had to put that scene into the second scene of our episode, which felt a little radical, but once we did it, we were just so excited, like, “Oh, you could tell a story this way!” You could have these huge bottoms just dropping in the first act. This penultimate episode just doesn't let up with all of that stuff. It was very exciting to us — there is so much in this episode! There are two other episodes in it.
FEDAK: It might feel like that episode is jam-packed and that we're telling an incredible amount of story, but it is nothing compared to what you're about to see.
We’ve been warned.
SKLAVER: I don’t know how you can prepare yourself, truthfully. It is such an explosive finale.
Okay, well let’s get into it a little bit. The last episode ended with Malcolm’s arrest. Where do we go from there?
FEDAK: There's totally a version of this story where Malcolm is lost and gone to the dark side, — and I'm not going to tell you whether we’re doing that — but I think there’s another version too where he’s been set up. We liked the idea of that duality and that tension. Tom's performance really opens you up to the idea of, we don't know how damaged Bright is but he is our hero. For the audience, the finale will not be leveraged on that question, it's more a matter of how he gets himself out of it.
SKLAVER: Yeah, either he did do it or he's been expertly framed, but either way, Bright’s screwed and he needs to get out of there. This central question of our show is this idea of "Like father, like his father." Is Bright like his father? That was always something we were drawn to from the pilot episode and all season long.
And now Endicott could be forcing him to confront that. What makes Nicholas Endicott such a dangerous adversary for Malcolm to go up against?
FEDAK: We’ve done so many different types of killers on the show this year and each episode really allows us to explore the different psychologies. Nicholas Endicott is someone with sociopathic tendencies who was raised incredibly wealthy and that dangerous combination felt like a character we hadn't seen yet. We wanted to see what we could do with him. He's charming and he's fun, but he's also one of those people that if you push him in a certain direction or you reject him in a certain way, he goes to a very, dead-eyed and scary place. The other thing that we really like about it — and this is explored in the finale — is that there’s a very simple reason why he does a lot of the crazy things he does. He reveals it to Jessica. That just felt like a theme we wanted to see: Everything comes back to an emotional reason. In our finale we have a lot of stories we want to tell, but we also want to have a fun psychology to unwrap. We always have to imagine our killers as tragic figures who we want to understand. Nicholas's own tragedy is why he is who he is, and why he does the things he does. It’s not his tragedy, it’s a tragedy for everyone else around him.
SKLAVER: The tragedy goes back to something we spoke to in the pilot where Malcolm Bright says, “No one is born broken, someone breaks them.” It's kind of this optimistic view that we have. It's not to say that there aren't broken people and there are Nicholas Endicotts in the world, but we are just most interested in how you become a Nicholas Endicott. The way that Dermot fell into the role — he’s just amazing. At every turn, he'll do something unexpected that somehow makes you smile and make your skin crawl. He's just so good. Not only is he so good on the screen at playing Nicholas Endicott, but Dermot Mulroney — as if he needs more things in his corner to make him more amazing — is such an accomplished cellist. He played the cello from his home and it was recorded and it put into all of it scenes. So everything that is scary about Nicholas Endicott is coming from Dermot Mulroney.
That's so cool — something to look out for while we're worried for Malcolm's fate, watching the finale. Any parting words to set up this explosive episode?
SKLAVER: The last two minutes of our finale are honestly what I'm most proud of. It's what Chris and I had always envisioned for the first season.
FEDAK: What you’re going to experience is something that only this show can do and can't wait for you to see it.