THE SON Review: “Scalps”

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finishes its first season with “Scalps,” an action-packed and surprising episode with enough going on to almost make you forget that the series hasn’t made much sense. The show has been renewed for a second season so there’s still many open scenarios to resolve, most notably the stark divide between Eli and his younger son Pete. Seems that Eli has now crossed the rubicon into villain territory after leading the assault on the Garcia compound and forcefully taking their land out from under them. I like how complicated the plot has become but I have zero trust that this show knows how to pull itself out in a clear manner. To my point about last week’s episode, this season finale works well on its own, it’s just that it cherry picks its best ingredients without knowing what it’s baking to make it worthwhile. I stress that it would “seem” as if Eli has become a villain now, because I don’t know that the show sees it that way, and that has been and will always be the central problem of the series.

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We know that Eli loves his sons and believes that what he’s doing is for his family. But he’s not myopic about it and was even willing to abandon the plan until Phineas convinced him otherwise. So he does live or try to live by some sort of code unique to himself. What that is though is still unclear. We still need to see exactly how young Eli the Comanche becomes the respected Colonel McCullough of present day. And I know in the past I’ve argued that we needed less of the second timeline, but given we’re one full season in we need to know how his youth informs the current problem. What does young Eli scalping a fellow white man for the first time have to do with him being a father now?

When the firing erupts Eli somehow ends up behind a tree the whole time taken out of the ensuing battle. He’s castrated in the exact moments where we need to him as the central character to make a choice. Instead, Eli merely profits from what Phineas is willing to do and sits back meekly pretending like he’s the patriarch of this family. Is the show suggesting that this is the moment when Eli realizes that his youth has a made a monster of him and can’t actually pull the trigger now when he’s in a position to do so? There hasn’t been a lot of evidence pointing in that direction. In fact we’ve been fed the idea that he actually does know what’s best for the family and in most cases has responded in a cool and calculated manner. I love a lot of Eli’s vulnerable moments from this season, but for whatever reason the showrunners don’t agree that there’s a wealth of character there from which to pull. Brosnan does that better than most and it’s clearly where he’s most comfortable. Just look at the opening scene and how uninspiring his inspirational speech is supposed to be. It’s slightly hurt by the fact that Brosnan doesn’t have the best voice and accent for that sort of energy, but I think it actually reveals how confused Brosnan is about this character.

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The real winner of this episode is David Wilson Barnes who plays one cold SOB in Phineas McCullough. Phineas knows what needs to happen and actually lives by the code his father spouts. He seems to be the only one who isn’t surprised that they just wiped out the whole Garcia clan, he always takes ideas to their logical conclusions and accepts the repercussions as they come. I liked the brother versus brother moment when Phineas sees Pete escaping with Maria, but this is something that should have been set up all season. I never felt they were in contention, at slight odds yes, but it could have been a real Cain and Abel story from the get go. One follows his father’s line of thinking while the other one rebels. One becomes a monster while the other one becomes a savior. But then where does that leave the father? I’m guessing the show didn’t go down that path because again it would have forced them into some decision on Eli’s character.

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I was certainly surprised by the Garcia’s all being killed off the way they were and in fact thought the show was a bit more concerned with preserving a certain status quo than they actually are. I imagined this would be the beginning of a long back and forth feud, but of course now that it’s over it’s clear that the McCullough-Garcia storyline wasn’t really going anywhere anyway so why not just clear house. In the aftermath of it all though I find myself most sympathetic to Sally, wondering exactly what is going on? She wants to know where Pete is and the men are more than happy to blame it on his mental health and ask her to forget about him. I’d like to do the same but unfortunately Pete is still out there and most assuredly will be a part of the show going forward.

This is a sad one for me because I really do a lot of the individual parts of this show. But now that the season is over I don’t believe they’re going to right the ship and am going to chalk it up as a missed opportunity for AMC and everyone involved. It may linger for a few seasons but this will by no means become a show of note.

TB-TV-Grade-C+

Season 1, Episode 10 (S01E10)
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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