THE SON Review: “The Buffalo Hunter”

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I’m officially calling it: has squandered a golden opportunity at being the next big AMC show. We’re now six episodes in with “The Buffalo Hunter,” and I have a hard time remembering anything of note from this episode that would keep me excited for next week. It’s extremely disappointing that a show with such an original setting doesn’t know how to make the most of all its ingredients and keep a compelling storyline. Again, Brosnan’s Eli seems to do no wrong and always keep a cool head, making him extremely dull. The female characters are marginalized and pushed to the peripheries, or in Sally’s case, completely missing from the episode. And Pete and Charles are so weak and passive it’s a wonder they haven’t been killed off yet. There is some discussion on the difference between justice and vengeance, but when it doesn’t weave in the McCulloughs in any meaningful way it just neglects the generational conflicts built into the spine of the show, leaving us with a very aimless hour of television.

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Last week ended with Eli recognizing that Jeanie rode through oil seepage somewhere on his property. It seemed like a turning point for the show, like Eli was going to finally find a purpose for himself in the show and clarify for us what he wants for his family. But, we don’t touch on that until halfway into “The Buffalo Hunter.” It should be the focus for a few reasons: it gives us a center that the show has been sorely missing thus far, it lets Jeannie be involved in the family more and set us up for a McCullough future, and it provides us with a situation that can test the life lessons Eli and the show have been spouting the whole season regarding the complexity of morality. Instead, we only deal with the oil at the end, and pass the buck on story to set up next week. This is extremely inefficient as we could have discovered the oil is on the Garcia’s side in the beginning, and made the episode about the McCulloughs deciding together how to process.

What’s lost is more opportunity for them to interact as a family and see what the individuals actually feel about themselves and each other. We still don’t really know a lot about these people, and only find out now that Peter’s mother and brother were killed by Apaches, something that should be a huge plot point through which to understand the characters. Having the McCulloughs barred into their house and defending it through a shootout may be exciting, but it doesn’t make me care about them any more. The oil/border question on the other hand is a beautiful chance to tie in all the various themes the show has given us thus far. Numerous times this episode reminds us that what’s right depends on where you’re standing. But to effectively communicate that you need to give your characters some ugliness. We need to dislike Eli sometimes, or at the very least know that his judgment is sometimes flawed and based on his weaknesses rather than his strengths. And we need to know that Peter’s naivety does have value if we’re going to keep rooting for him.

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Again the dual timelines equally partition the episode denying us that. And in fact the title refers to the buffalo hunter a young Eli puts out of his misery after witnessing his torture by the Comanches, suggesting greater importance. But what does this tell us about Eli, the man and patriarch? We get some philosophy with Toshoway and a scene with Prairie Flower to explain why Eli thinks you protect your own and life is a zero sum game. But what does the show think about it? What did the death of Eli’s wife and third son do to him and his remaining sons? Only in his death to we find out enough about Tom Sullivan to realize he was a very important person to their world, but by then it’s too late. We needed to see it more and spend time with him in the episodes leading up.

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The character we do get a lot of is Peter’s eldest son Charles, who has the opportunity to serve an interesting role as the youngest of the male figures in the McCullough dynasty. Shane Graham’s very limited acting aside, I like the choice of having Charles fall in with the racists of the town.  Right now he hasn’t been given much to work with, and has been slightly annoying without showing real personality. But giving him his own moral code could set up a lot of interesting conflict going forward and should be encouraged. The show does undercut the moment by having him change his mind during Ramon’s execution and making him be weak rather than vengeful. But they could easily move past that if they wanted to give him a sort of Anakin to Darth Vader type turn. In any case, there’s a lot to be done with the internals of the family, and I don’t know why the series isn’t taking advantage of that. It would be so much more interesting and raise the stakes to see the inner fighting and politicking that goes on in their family.

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TB-TV-Grade-C

Season 1, Episode 6 (S01E06)
The Son airs Saturday at 8PM on AMC

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