We’re two episodes away from the season finale but rather than focusing its attention to one storyline, THE SON continues to open itself up more and more to the point that it’s really unclear what the point of the show is. “Honey Hunt” is a fine enough episode, there’s some sex, there’s some action, there’s some dastardly politicking, but these elements don’t add up to a coherent and sharp story. Last week they announced the show would be re-newed for a second season, and I’m not surprised despite how thin and artificial this series has been thus far. The ingredients are there, and perhaps with a change in leadership on the creative side a season two soft re-boot could put it back on course. AMC has experience doing this after having re-centered “Halt and Catch Fire” after its middling first season, and The Son could certainly use the same treatment. So let’s take a look and what’s working and what isn’t and suggest a couple of things for season two.
Pete McCullough is still a supremely confused and confusing character, and if the show is going to ever be great it needs to figure him out. We began this week by watching him rekindle his love for Maria Garcia. Right now it’s the Romeo and Juliet story nobody cares about. Earlier in the season Eli effectively points out to Pete that all he needed to do to marry Maria was have the fortitude to do it. Pete is constantly causing problems by doing what he thinks he should be, but the funny thing about the show is that no other character really expects the same from him. He has these self-imposed pressures that make him more annoying than tragic. Eli doesn’t trust him as we see later in Eli’s conversation with Phineas. Sally doesn’t love him as a husband, and nobody in town really respects him, including Maria who thinks his boyish fantasy of them running away is ridiculous. So what are going to do about Pete? For starters the show needs to decide what he wants. Is it really to just run away from all his obligations? Maybe that’s a way to go, but then Pete can’t be the main son and we need to spend a lot more time watching the infinitely more interesting Phineas.
Phineas actually has proven more compelling in every facet. He’s a closeted gay man in 1915 Texas, and yet he’s able balance his secret life with being a very prominent part of his family’s business. He’s the more pragmatic and understanding of the two McCullough sons. We already saw how emotionally sage he is in his dealings with Sally, but this week we’re also reminded that he’s actually the one who can help Eli with all the morally complicated actions the family needs to take. Every scene that involves Phineas is immediately more interesting, so I hope going forward he’s given much more to do. When he finds Eli almost dead, David Wilson Barnes plays Phineas’ fear and pain beautifully, and it really feels like Phineas believes in family and legacy. He wants to help Eli because he believes in him, and that of course ties him more to Eli and gives us a richer relationship than that of Eli’s and Pete’s.
Unlike Pete, Eli’s motivations aren’t really his issue, we know he wants legacy and to leave his family with some notion of greatness. The problem with Eli’s character is that despite constantly talking about some might makes right moral code, we don’t really know where he stands on things and what his ethical lines are. He’s presented as someone who maybe did a lot of bad that he needs to atone for, but the person we’ve been given is almost always correct, and so even when he’s being underhanded it’s unclear whether he’s doing something harmful or whether it’s ok because his foe deserves it. I liked the episode of him with his old fling where he had his dreams of seeing Toshoway again because it made him more complex. That was the last time before this episode where we’ve been let into his psyche, and the show needs more of that. We need his confliction in the things he does, and being honorable doesn’t push the needle. And this would have been a great episode to examine whether Eli knows Phineas is gay. Would that be a problem for him? Is it even suggested that he does know and doesn’t care? That would be mighty progressive of him, but could be an interesting choice. Eli’s our center, and if we don’t know what he believes or thinks he believes we can’t formulate the world in a coherent way.
Being this close to the end of the season with so many open and obtuse storylines makes me think the season finale will be very clumsy in how it handles them. I really hope that they can narrow things down enough the next two weeks so that we know what to care about for a second season.
Season 1, Episode 8 (S01E08)
The Son airs Saturday at 9PM on AMC
Greg Brecher | Contributor