What’s funny about THE SON, is that when you just watch one episode without any knowledge of the rest of the season, it sort of works. This was certainly the case this week in the penultimate episode, “The Prophecy,” wherein we see finally Eli’s lust for power come to a head with his sons’ beliefs and lives. The “present” is once again contrasted with young Eli’s journey as a Comanche hostage/adoptee, but this time we get a sort of bottle episode as Eli is tended to by a religious recluse named Maggie, who curses him with the destruction of his family by the end of their encounter. By itself, the episode makes sense and we get the meaningful connection between the two storylines that has been missing throughout the season thus far. But when taken into the larger context of what the series has been a lot of it doesn’t make sense, and it’s one of the strange examples of a serial where the parts add up to a lesser sum than their individual values. It feels like the creators are trying to out smart themselves and end up with mediocrity rather than the intended twist on the classic family tragedy.
I think a lot of the season’s weakness is the timing of when information has been revealed and how it’s been used. Again, I like most things about this show, and I am constantly surprised by the lack of cohesion for a show that has a pretty easy set up to work out. The clearest example of this is the timing of the prophecy, which is treated as a very important element to Eli’s development. It’s something that has never been hinted at or suggested as a mystery in Eli’s life. And so while it works to see it play our in the present timeline as a foreshadowed trauma in Eli’s life, it doesn’t make a lot of impact. It works, it just doesn’t really fire anything up because we never got any inkling this moment in the young man’s life affected old Eli through the death of his wife and son.
Now, let’s look at a suspiciously similar same set up in “Game of Thrones” from season five, when Cersei receives the almost exact same prophecy by a crazy homeless woman, also named Maggie. It’s conspicuously set up at the beginning of that season using the first flashback of the show. Tywin and Joffrey have already been killed in the previous season and we know Cersei is losing it. So when we find out she’s also carrying this burden we know she’s going to spiral out of control and bring doom upon herself and any characters close to her whom we like. We’ve had four seasons of her by this time, she’s a full and complex character who we’ve loved and hated at different times. We’ve seen Joffrey die, effectively the first step of her fear coming true, and know that with her holding onto this prophecy in her head she has effectively become the most dangerous person in the show. Effectively, we know she’s broken now and know how to feel about her.
The marked difference between her and Eli is that “Game of Thrones” knows it’s ok for us to hate her, and “The Son” won’t make Eli a villain, even a tragic one at that. His character hasn’t been fleshed out enough to warrant the effect that his prophecy is purporting to have on him. Even the set up itself is one where young Eli is effectively doing what’s right for his self, he’s been betrayed by Maggie and now just repaying her in kind. At one point Phineas says to him that he knows how Eli has allowed superstition to dictate some of his actions, but he claims they come from moments of weakness and not a real indicator of what’s in his heart. Eli gets angry with Phineas but acquiesces because it seems like he has no choice. It’s so weak to flip the situation so quickly and have Eli be the pious one who now has to put it on Phineas. The central drama of the episode is now that Phineas is effectively a Frankenstein’s monster, but we’ve never really seen the side of Eli that is willing to harm good people for the sake of his family until now, and even still when the moment comes he decides against it. So it’s used more as a cheap way to relieve Eli from the position of being a monstrous figure than anything else.
If you’re just watching this episode alone it comes off as compelling enough drama that you feel bad for Eli and his sons being at such a crossroads. When Eli points the gun at Pete it’s supposed to be an extremely traumatic moment for them from which they most likely cannot come back. But the rest of the season has castrated the scene, we know so little about what actually is in Eli’s heart that it just seems like forced drama. Which again is all the more troubling given that there was a very simple and tragic path for the show to take. Eli has to be the villain, he has to be Darth Vader for most of the show, but the writers refuse to let us hate him, and that dampens everything else in the show.
At one point while talking about his past old Eli mentions his time after the Civil War, calling it the “Civil War,” which I believe is a mistake because as a southerner he would have called it the War of Northern aggression or Southern Secession. It’s the kind of detail that makes this series always feel less than authentic. Everybody looks too clean, too manicured for me to ever take it too seriously. And that’s a problem for a show that deals with racism and the complexity of family and vengeance as its major themes.
Season 1, Episode 9 (S01E09)
The Son airs Saturday at 9PM on AMC
Greg Brecher | Contributor