“It’s delicious,” Bellamy Young announces over the phone. The Scandal alum is in a car zipping through New York City in between filming season 1 of her new FOX show Prodigal Son. Young — who plays “ferocious” Prodigal matriarch Jessica Whitly — could easily be describing a number of tantalizing mysteries knocking around the grey-tinged crime thriller. There’s the conundrum of The Woman in the Box, a chilling memory Jessica’s son Malcolm (Tom Payne) cannot shake from his childhood, and the question of how long it really took Malcolm to turn in his serial killer father Martin (Michael Sheen, having a blast).
There’s even the riddle of how the hell Prodigal managed to pull off Monday night’s shocking “Fear Response” cold open, which features Malcolm shooting out of his bedroom window in the midst of a particularly violent night terror. The profiler is left dangling above the street, with just the strap of his bed harness keeping him from certain death. It’s a moment that was pulled off under the watchful eye of stunt coordinator Tony Guida and necessitated the use of three different sets, Young confirms.
But the former Scandal star isn’t mediating of any woman in any box or Malcolm’s latest jaw dropping near-death experience when she’s mulling over the “delicious” ins and outs of Prodigal. Instead, she’s talking about the relationship between Jessica and her estranged serial killer husband Malcolm. While many internet sleuths are starting to suspect Jessica is far more implicated in Malcolm’s crimes than she lets on — Young gives us a totally new perspective on her character.
Through Young’s eyes, Jessica isn’t a suspicious accessory to serial murder. She’s a woman shattered by unimaginable loss.
“It’s so interesting to watch Jessica because she didn’t have the luxury of processing all that had happened to her in ‘98 when the police took Martin away. She just had to lock it down and protect her children,” Young says, painting Jessica as a devastated single mom. A mom who spent every day after her husband was arrested “terrified” her son would start exhibiting a similar taste for homicide.
Yet “Fear Response” attempts to telegraph something far darker for the socialite. In the central flashback of the episode, a jailed Martin tells Jessica, “Oh, you knew what I was. You’ll be back.” In the installment’s closing dream flash, Jessica finds a young Malcolm (Kasjan Wilson) wandering into his father’s basement “study,” which doubles as a murder den. It is the same “study” where Malcolm found the Woman in the Box. Jessica shakes Malcolm and orders him never to go poking around the space again or bring up the box woman. “You have no idea what your father is capable of,” she shouts.
This is the behavior of someone who might know their husband is a serial killer.
Young begs to differ, although she recognizes Jessica “absolutely” knew something was wrong. “As women, our intuition is so attuned and you know when something is off with your partner,” she says. “But I think she really thought, ‘Well, maybe he’s having an affair. Can I live with that? So that my kids never find out what’s happening? So that we don’t mess up bridge club? So that we can still go to the Hamptons on the weekend?’ At what price do you buy your idea of a perfect life?”
That is the terrible bargain that haunts Jessica to this day. “She swallowed that pill. That’s the one she’ll choke on ‘til the day she dies,” Young continues. “She could have never imagined what was really going on.”
The horror of Martin’s secret life has left Jessica suffering from unthinkable “guilt,” Young says. Her willful ignorance did leave room for her husband’s dozens of murders (after the selfish terror of Scandal's Fitzgerald Grant Jr. why can’t Young’s characters ever find a nice man? “Because it would just be too boring!”). Malcom’s return to the woman in the box story is only making things worse. “Jessica has told herself forever is, ‘There was no lady in the box. We didn’t find that lady in a box. That nightmare’s not real,’” the actress says. “But the more Malcolm talks about her, the more Jessica has to doubt herself. She has think, ‘Gosh. I don’t know anymore. I don’t know what’s right.’”
But, that woeful narrative doesn’t exactly explain “Fear Response's” flashback cliffhanger. Why would Jessica sound so afraid of Martin if she simply believed he may have been hiding an affair? “Fans will find out in episode 4 — many, many things will be revealed,” Young teases with the wicked laugh of someone hiding a secret.
While Young can’t spill any more about what Jessica may or may not know, she can hint at the rivers of emotions still running between her character and Martin. “When they walk in the room and they see each other, they’re both stunned,” she says of the couple's 20-years-coming reunion. “You can’t hate someone that much if you don’t love someone that much. It’s so alive for them.”
At least we've found one thing Martin can't destroy. Now that Prodigal has been picked up for a full season order, expect for things to only get messier for these two from here.