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The Prodigal Son Series Finale Ending Explained

Can a serial killer be redeemed? Or do they poison everything they touch, including their children? Those are the central questions one may ask following the bloody finale of "Prodigal Son," with some not-so-optimistic answers.

Fox's procedural drama puts a twist on the killer-catching formula by putting the son of a serial killer, former FBI profiler Malcolm Bright, in the lead. He's played by Tom Payne — whom you'll recognize as Jesus on "The Walking Dead" if you add a beard and several inches of hair — and is now consulting for the NYPD, occasionally seeking help with cases from his imprisoned father Martin Whitly, played by Michael Sheen. The only problem is his deep-seated fear that he's like his father and the fact that as of a few episodes ago, Martin escaped from the Claremont Psychiatric Hospital.

Martin has been trying to get close to his family once more, and that goal comes to the forefront in this final episode. In an effort to show Bright that he's changed and is no longer a violent killer, he enlists Bright's help in a typical father-son activity: Catching a serial killer and saving a kidnapped woman.

"Prodigal Son" has been dominating Amazon Prime this year, but after two seasons, it's come to an abrupt end following its recent cancellation. Here's a breakdown of how it all went down.

Was Martin able to put his violent ways past him?

Throughout the episode, Martin is trying to convince his son that he's changed and is no longer interested in killing people. Bright isn't buying it, but the conflict comes to a turning point when Bright asks Martin to hurt the serial killer that they've been trying to apprehend, the Woodsman (John Ellison Conlee). Bright wants him to torture the man to find the kidnapped woman's location, but Martin doesn't want to turn back to violence. However, Bright successfully persuades him.

When Martin emerges from torturing the Woodsman, he looks like an addict returning to his vices, while Bright is left wondering if he made the right decision. They find and save the woman, but Bright then calls the police, effectively turning his father in. The two of them argue; Bright says Martin doesn't belong in this world, while Martin is furious at his son's betrayal. In the end, Martin shows he still doesn't believe he did anything wrong when he says, "I was a good father," and then decides his freedom is worth more than his son's life. He tries to kill Bright, but Bright turns the knife back on him.

Whether or not Martin can actually change isn't an answer given easily — while he returns to his murderous ways at the end, he wasn't given a fair chance due to Bright's earlier insistence that he hurt the Woodsman. Plus, the show's creators don't exactly agree one way or another. Co-creator Sam Sklaver told TVLine, "Even if Martin can change, he killed 23 people. And he can't be in this world. That's not up for debate," while Chris Fedak was more on the fence. Still, solving his problem by murdering his son — or, attempting to — is not a good sign.

Did Bright kill Martin?

While Martin has no qualms about killing other than the inconveniences it puts him through, Bright has been staunchly trying to keep any darkness within him under lock and key. This moment changes things, however, and Bright is clearly upset by the fact that he just stabbed Martin — it's only serving to prove that he is just like his father. Detective Dani's (Aurora Perrineau) arrival backs this up, as she asks in a panicky tone, "What did you do?"

It's unclear if Martin survives the stabbing or not. "Prodigal Son" co-creators Chris Fedak and Sam Sklaver told TVLine they like that it's open-ended. Sklaver said, "I would just like fans to be very happy with this finale. However they want Martin to be at the end ... I just want people to be happy when a son stabs his father in the gut. I hope that sparks joy for someone." However, Fedak did say they had planned to keep Michael Sheen on for Season 3, and were particularly interested in keeping him out of the Claremont Psychiatric Hospital, suggesting Martin doesn't die. Of course, he might have only appeared in flashbacks.

As for Bright, he's ending this season feeling like a monster in his own right. Of course, the stabbing is technically self-defense, but that doesn't change the fact that Bright is thoroughly freaked out by what he did and how it could lead him to a dark turn. It certainly isn't a good look for his burgeoning relationship with Dani; if Martin doesn't die, the possibility of Malcolm and Dani together might be the casualty here.

The last episodes were packed with big moments to compensate for the pandemic

If the last three episodes felt like nonstop action, that's because the show's creators wrote them with the mindset that the COVID-19 pandemic could shut down production at any moment. Co-creator Sam Sklaver said Fox ordered 13 episodes, but they were worried about not being able to finish them all. "We kept pushing the bar and putting ourselves in these crazier and crazier situations," he told TVLine. The season could have ended when Vivian (Catherine Zeta-Jones) kidnapped Martin or when Martin escaped with an unconscious Bright on a boat, but luckily, they were able to complete all 13 episodes.

However, "Prodigal Son" was canceled recently, so this episode effectively serves as the finale for the whole series — that is, unless the show gets picked up by someone else. "We have a whole Season 3 story locked and loaded, and we don't want to stop telling this story," Sklaver explained. "But we're feeling good about how this ended on Fox."

Sklaver and Chris Fedak told Deadline that "Prodigal Son" is being shopped around. "The spine of the season was Bright becoming his own man," Sklaver said about a potential Season 3. "The Dani-Bright relationship was key, along with a new 'venue' where Martin could shine."

As of now, though, the series ends with Bright at a crossroads. This could be the event to set him down a dark path, or he could struggle with it and emerge stronger in his values. Only passionate fan support for keeping the series afloat will tell.