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Why Fern In Prodigal Son Season 2 Looks So Familiar

Even though it aired for only two seasons, Fox's "Prodigal Son" was able to leave its mark on the TV landscape and garner a respectable fan following. The procedural drama, created by Chris Fedak and Sam Sklaver, spun two dynamic, captivating seasons out of a singular conflict: The tense, emotionally taxing tug-of-war between NYPD profiler Malcolm Bright (Tom Payne) and his serial killer father Martin Whitly (Michael Sheen), to whom he is forced to turn for insight in order to solve heinous crimes.

The series didn't let a premature cancellation deter it from going out with a bang. The series finale, "The Last Weekend," which originally aired on May 18, 2021, was one of the strongest episodes of the show's whole run, not only for the cap it put on Malcolm and Martin's relationship, but also for the spotlight it shone on Martin's other conflicted child, Ainsley (Halston Sage). Ainsley gets to exorcise demons of her own on the episode, by way of her interactions with one Sheriff Fern Cooley — a character who ends up having a very surprising role in the episode's investigation. 

You may have seen the guest star who plays Fern in other films and TV series before — here are a few of them.

Anna Gunn had a recurring role on ABC's The Practice

Born in Cleveland, OH and raised in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Anna Gunn got into acting by pursuing a degree in theater from Northwestern University, where she graduated in 1990 (via The Daily Northwestern). From there on out, she became a prolific presence in films and television shows. She was one of the series regulars on the Fox sitcom "Down the Shore" for two seasons, and guest starred on shows like "Seinfeld," "NYPD Blue," and "Chicago Hope."

Her most notorious role in that time, however, was a recurring spot as Jean Ward on ABC's "The Practice." The landmark David E. Kelley-penned legal drama told complex, challenging stories about the ethical and moral challenges faced by the partners and associates at the Robert Donnell & Associates law firm in Boston, MA. Gunn's character was not just a cameo, either — she was an assistant district attorney who appeared on a total of 10 episodes throughout the series, beginning on Season 2's "Betrayal" and concluding on Season 6's "Manifest Necessity."

She played Martha Bullock on Deadwood

HBO's "Deadwood" is one of the most beloved and influential shows of all time, and a television landmark of the Western genre. Set in Deadwood, South Dakota in the 1870s, the series was distinguished by its incorporation of dozens of real-life historical figures as characters in its sprawling ensemble. One of those real-life figures was Martha Bullock, who was played by Anna Gunn for the show's final two seasons.

The wife of series protagonist Seth Bullock (Timothy Olyphant), Martha is portrayed as the widow of Seth's late brother Robert: Seth married her and had since provided for her and her son William (Josh Eriksson) out of custom (note that this was not the case in real life, where Martha was never married to Seth's brother, per Legends of America). She waits for Deadwood to become more stable before moving there with William, and finally does so at the beginning of Season 2, thereby officially joining the series. As Martha went through a laborious yet rewarding process of integrating herself into the community as a society woman, Gunn maintained her post as a series regular until the end of the show's run, and also appeared in 2019's "Deadwood: The Movie."

She was Breaking Bad's most pivotal and most misunderstood character, Skyler White

The role that made Anna Gunn famous worldwide was that of Skyler White, Walter White's (Bryan Cranston) wife, on "Breaking Bad." Throughout five seasons, she gave one of the most acclaimed supporting performances in television history, collected two Primetime Emmy Awards (via IMDb), and quietly acted as the most pivotal figure in the show's moral universe. Some fans never forgave her for it.

As a character with the thankless but crucial role of keeping Walter's increasing egomania in check, calling him out on his destructive behavior, and eventually opposing him actively, Gunn's Skyler gave voice to a part of the show's grand vision that some fans would rather look away from. Both Skyler and Anna Gunn herself were subjected to rounds of highly misogynistic and toxic discourse that got worse the more central Skyler became to "Breaking Bad." In 2013, Anna Gunn herself wrote an op-ed for the New York Times detailing the situation and inquiring about what all that vitriol meant. "I finally realized that most people's hatred of Skyler had little to do with me and a lot to do with their own perception of women and wives. Because Skyler didn't conform to a comfortable ideal of the archetypical female, she had become a kind of Rorschach test for society, a measure of our attitudes toward gender," she concluded.

She was Ellie Miller on Gracepoint, the U.S. remake of Broadchurch

The dark, moody ITV crime drama "Broadchurch" became one of the biggest phenomena of British television in the 2010s, so it stood to reason that a stateside remake would happen eventually. Much like its originating show, Fox's "Gracepoint," a 10-episode miniseries, was centered on a male-female duo of detectives investigating a grisly crime in a seaside town. But where "Broadchurch" starred Olivia Colman and David Tennant, "Gracepoint" starred ... David Tennant. Despite the repeat casting, however, the one who played a counterpart to the corresponding "Broadchurch" character was not Tennant, but Gunn. 

Whereas Tennant's character on "Gracepoint" was named Emmett Carver, thus differing from "Broadchurch'" character Alec Hardy, Gunn's character had the same name as Colman's: Ellie Miller. Much like Colman's, Gunn's Ellie Miller was a detective working a murder case alongside Tennant's character. But the two women were otherwise characterized very differently, with the American Ellie being a much more brittle, level-headed, straight-to-the-point foot soldier than the British one.

She starred in the groundbreaking financial thriller Equity

The genre of financial thriller films is a storied one, with many beloved and classic films to its name: "Wall Street," "Boiler Room," "Margin Call," "Arbitrage," "The Big Short." But, much like the chauvinistic world of stockbrokers they depict, financial thrillers have almost always been heavily male-centric. One exception is the 2016 film "Equity," which was deservedly touted upon release as the first female-driven Wall Street movie (via Indie Wire). The film also features Anna Gunn in her biggest cinematic role yet.

Gunn stars as Naomi Bishop, a senior investment banker who takes the opportunity to bounce back from a recent major blow to her professional track record by managing the IPO for a rising yet shady tech company. The film was very well-received among critics, and earned its star glowing notes, with the New York Times calling her "amazing" and commending her performance's "striking blend of unguardedness and poise," while Time applauded the way Gunn "makes even the movie's small moments matter."