THE SON Review: “Marriage Bond”

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We’ve been on the ranch so long now with the McCullough family that both they and us as viewers forgot about the normalcy of the world just a few hours drive away. “Marriage Bond” takes Pete and the children away from the violent pastures of the McCullough compound and over to the city life and modernism of Austin, where Sally is already busy reconciling with the two sides of their world. has had a lot of trouble explaining how the rules of its world work and where they sit in context with the larger landscape of 1915 Texas.

And while episode seven does little to alleviate that, it does at least let us know how Pete and his family feel about it. It’s a quieter episode that really takes time to look at Sally and the predicament she’s in, even sacrificing much of Eli’s dual timelines to do so. The core of the show needs to be about the family, but even with the aforementioned understanding, and the glimpse into Phineas’ private life, the series is still in too big of a hole to dig itself out of in one hour. We need the rest of the season to probe in this direction to earn back care for its characters and story. I’m constantly willing to give this series the benefit of the doubt that it’ll find its path. There are just too many workable ingredients to punt on the show completely. But that being said, as we get closer to the season finale, time is running out for the creators to give it the direction it needs, and I don’t know if they see the mistakes occurring along the way.

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We begin with Pete getting the news that Charles was part of Ramon’s lynching, something that could have dangerous repurcussions for the family. Of course, Eli, steady as ever, tells Pete to take Jeannie and Charles to Austin and that he’ll “balance the accounts” with Niles and Ramon’s family. We don’t know what that means beyond Eli taking stacks of money in a lunchbox somewhere, but thankfully the episode pays little attention to that at this juncture. Instead, we with Pete to Austin and spend time with the thoroughly neglected Sally and Phineas. I’ve made the point before that Eli is most interesting when he’s unraveling and dealing with the fullness of his childhood trauma. But calm and collected Eli is a bit boring so I was happy to wave goodbye to the ranch as Pete drives the children away through their McCullough ranch sign. As long as the show insists on making Eli a quiet hero, Sally’s family dynamic will always be the more interesting aspect of the show.

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And indeed, seeing Sally let her hair down with Phineas does give us a couple of revelations that should inform the rest of the series. In the premier we were given the impression that maybe Phineas and Sally were secretly in love. So I liked the surprise that Phineas is gay and only has a platonic love for her, leaving Sally stuck with trying to figure things out just as we see how bright Pete’s passion burns for Maria. When she kisses Phineas she reveals her naivety and misunderstanding of the normal life she wants. She thinks a closeted gay man in 1915s Texas has a better life than her husband, and can’t see past the violence the McCulloughs have made intrinsic to their livelihood. When she finds out about Charles’ part in the lynching, she says “he’s surrounded by men who glorify violence.”

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I love that as a conflict for the family, but that doesn’t actually seem like the problem given how Pete’s dealt with violence and his instinct for passivity. Here we return to the problem of what Pete’s role is in the violence of their ranch life. Phineas reveals to Charles that both he and Pete have seen a lot of lynchings and that Pete killed his first person at twelve. It’s only at this point that we understand Pete’s first kill wasn’t the man in episode two, and that he has violence in him from his upbringing. So it’s strange when Sally says “I think something inside you has changed, something you don’t understand.” Is it that he doesn’t want to be violent anymore? That he doesn’t want Eli’s life anymore?

Up until this point we’ve only been told that he isn’t like Eli, that his existence doesn’t make sense here and it seemed like cowardice for him to stay there. But now Pete explains he thought he could be the change the course of the family but seems not to be able to. It’s a great turn that makes him a much more compelling character, but it’s a bit too jarring to feel natural given everything we’ve been told so far. If it’s going to be used as a character re-set then it needs to be followed through, and decide how Pete interacts with his father going forward.

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Still, despite the positive character building of “Marriage Bond,” the problems of where are we heading and how things connect persist. There was no mention of the oil again which seems like a huge plot point to be delaying. I enjoyed this hour of The Son, but without having it amount to a greater picture I can’t invest myself as much as I’d like to, and that gives the episode just above a passing grade. It’s entertaining enough if you’ve already been watching this season, but there’s nothing in it to attract new viewers and it sort of muddies what we’ve been handed thus far.

A couple of stray thoughts/questions:

-What’s the language rule again? Why do the Garcias speak English to each other in closed quarters? If it were a generational thing it would make sense. But Maria goes from speaking Spanish with her mother and Ramon’s wife, to only speaking English when alone with her mother. Minor gripe but one that has a huge effect on the world building of the show.

-I’m assuming the German girl is Eli’s future wife.

-Jeannie as the “smart” one is being completely wasted and her intelligence needs to be used to move the plot forward and make her a more important character.

 

TB-TV-Grade-C+

Season 1, Episode 7 (S01E07)
The Son airs Saturday at 9PM on AMC

Read all of our reviews of The Son here. 
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Follow Greg on Twitter: @brechergreg
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