I may have gotten my hopes up after last week’s more contemplative and intimate look at the McCullough clan, as this week’s “Death Song” returned to the ostentatious action that marked its premiere, and doing very little for its characters in the meantime. “THE SON” is proving to be standard fare despite its intentions and all the built in drama of the world it’s portraying. There’s a lot to “mine” from the stories of these people as we saw last week, but rather than building from there and unraveling the psyches of the McCulloughs this week, we’re told more than we’re shown, and forced to accept the importance of the impending Garcia war despite still not having full connections with our characters.
It’s not that a show can’t spend a whole episode looking at a battle, but rather that being only four episodes in, this one hasn’t earned it yet. At the moment it’s still unclear what Eli and the rest of the McCulloughs really want or need. Think back to great battle episodes from “Game of Thrones” like the “Battle of Blackwater,” or “The Battle of the Bastards,” and you’ll remember that those episodes culminate a whole season of character and story building. Yes it’s clear from the beginning in “GOT” that war is coming, but by the time it has arrived, we love and worry for everyone involved. “The Son” keeps teetering between being a show about the politics of family and business at a very tenuous time in American history, and a western hero story. The latter is far less interesting and should be limited to the parallel narrative of Eli’s childhood.
I loved how much time was given to look at Eli’s fears and vulnerabilities last week, but here we have him valiantly leading a posse that mows down Mexicans with (admittedly very cool) spinning machine guns. And shockingly and without nuance, they’re in the right! It’s set up that the Mexican bandits are looking to blow up a train that will kill civilians, letting us know that the McCulloughs are true defenders and heroes. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to think about them and this action, it seems a very morally antiquated look at the west. The shootout is completely emotionless and it’s been a while since we’ve been reminded that the Mexicans have very real and justifiable goals from their perspective.
Confusingly, the only person who seems to remember this is Pete, who through no fault of his own is fast becoming one of the most annoying characters on television. The show likes to throw him under the bus at any available opportunity. He never seems to be able to read the temperature of a room, which would be fine if he were proved right in his way of thinking. Instead, he’s constantly undermined by Eli and the show’s reality of Texas life. It’s 1915 and not the 1860s after all, shouldn’t Pete be more in the correct in how we tries to bring the family to the future? Why is it such a given that there’s no other recourse besides them personally fighting and murdering people to solve the McCullough-Garcia feud?
Twice now, Pete has tried to let someone live and put himself and his people in danger by doing so. He still seems as shocked the second time as he was the first. So I’ve begun to question what his role is here. As of now he comes off as whiny and ineffective. Look at the moment when Pete tells his son he doesn’t like Gilbert because of his racism towards Mexicans, a scene that is immediately preceded by Gilbert breaking bread with Neptune, the only black character we’ve seen so far. So at the very least, Gilbert is a more complex person than Pete is able to understand, rendering him a bit of a simpleton in his ways and definitely someone hard to admire for his nobility.
When it’s revealed that Pete only married Sally to please his father, Eli effectively calls him out for having defied him and done what he felt was right. So what should Pete be doing? What are his crimes and what are his virtues within the world we’re watching? I’m so curious as to what living under Eli’s roof was like and what the relationships in the family were before the start of the show, and episode four gave us very little understanding of that. I hope that the next six episodes are spent giving the family more situations to show who they really are. To care about the McCulloughs and be willing to follow three generations of them we have to know who they are.
A Couple of Points/Questions:
- Pierce Brosnan still struggles with the Texas accent and it’s quite painful in some scenes. He’d be much more suited to play a wild “English Bob” type character rather than a stoic Texas man.
- What’s the purpose of learning about Eli’s childhood besides understanding he had a hard life? How does that inform his actions today? What has it been like to be a boy under Eli’s roof? Where is Eli’s wife?
- The acting with some of the supporting characters is starting to be a consistent issue, particularly with some of the younger cast. The scene between Pedro Jr. and Pete’s youngest son could have been pulled right out of a History channel re-enactment.
Season 1, Episode 4 (S01E04)
The Son airs Saturday at 9PM on AMC
Greg Brecher | Contributor