“The Son – Season One” (2017-present)
Episodes: 10 episodes
Developed by: Philipp Meyer, Lee Shipman, Brian McGreevy based on the novel by Phillip Meyer
Featuring: Pierce Brosnan, Henry Garrett, Zahn McClarnon, Jess Weixler, Paola Núñez, Elizabeth Frances, Sydney Lucas
Phillip Meyer: “No land was ever acquired honestly in the history of the earth.”
Released this month on DVD is a new Western of sorts in the form of a mini-series (although now getting a second season) in the form of “The Son” (2017-present), in a way a throwback to the giant miniseries of the 1980s but made on a micro level, as well as a limited budget that covers at least two time periods, both in the past which makes this a period piece, not only that but it covers ground familiar to many but also has resonance in todays world, politically, economically and socially. This is a world in Texas that is at once alien yet familiar to millions because of the many fictional and non-fictional stories set in that huge state.
Originally written as a novel under the same name by Phillip Meyer “The Son” is a sweeping family saga that traces the story of Eli McCullough’s transformation from good-natured innocence to calculated violence, as he loses everything on the wild frontier, setting him on the path to building a ranching-and-oil dynasty of unsurpassed wealth and privilege.
The series offers a look at the relatively recent history of Texas, the move away from cattle to the removal of oil from the land and the massive fortunes that were made after that was recognized as a viable way to turn the land for a profit. It also addresses the relationship as well as the genocide of the Native Americans, their replacement in the way in which the US treated their Southern neighbours, the Mexicans, and to a larger extent the entire South American population. It also addresses the border skirmishes that existed and how if you were not white then you were at the very least treated as second class citizens, at the worst treated as the enemy.
“The Son” is led by the great Pierce Brosnan who is the matriarch of the McCullough’s and who plays the part with not only ease but a level of excitement to see an actor of such stature really breathe in a part that is not only three dimensional but all to realistic. The character Brosnan plays, Eli is possibly the most complicated person he has ever played with layers of emotion, rage, pity and so much more that it must have been a gift to get this role this far into a very long career. It is no understatement to make that without a believable actor to play Eli this show would not be anywhere the show it is, which is a reflection of US politics and social values over the past two hundred odd years. Brosnan plays the part as a man who embraces change but at the same time looks back on his complicated past knowing he can never change it, would he want to? Who knows, but his past has defined him, everyone around seems to pay the price for that past whether he knows this or not. Another aspect of Eli is his true love for his family, which is as sincere as anything else I have seen. There can be a temptation that a man like Eli who wants power or money will do anything to get it even at the expense of his own kin, but he will do anything to protect them and not only that he genuinely gets on with his family, you often see him laughing with them which is original for a family drama.
This is a show with other great stand out performances running the ethnic gamut from white men to Native Americans to the Hispanic performers all are incredible which acknowledges the great work in the casting department, that is no joke, there is nary a false performance among this huge varied cast. My other favourite as well as extremely narratively important is that of Zahn McClarnon who plays the part of Toshaway a Native American in the early timeline who captured Eli then teaches him, appearing to him as a ghost in the future story, he is a great actor who knows how o vary his performance in every scene.
“The Son” is an extremely dense story that has a complicated narrative especially when considering that most of the time these type of narratives can be of little consequence, but in this story they are both vital not limiting the actions of the characters in the past as it is so far in the past that at times it seems like a different world. When viewing the two time periods it is telling about the change in technology from 1850 to 1915 we see the advent of the motor vehicle, the telephone, irrigation and many other aspects of life that someone Eli’s age in the modern period world find alien in the earlier part. The change in technology over those sixty years was sudden, abrupt, life changing as well as altering the fabric of the Western World especially the US, which again is a direct reflection of our own times in the new millenium. Interestingly just when you think you know where the story is headed in any given tie period it will pull the rug out from under you which is a narrative trick that really works, once I started watching this show I had trouble turning it off, it was addictive and I look forward to the second season.
- First Son of Texas: In 1849, young Eli McCullough and his brother, Martin, are taken captive by Comanches; the remaining family members are killed. Blaming Eli for his family’s deaths, Martin becomes defiant with his captors and is killed in front of Eli. In 1915, Eli and his son Pete prepare for Eli’s birthday party, while contending with cattle thieves and saboteurs of their burgeoning oil business.
- The Plum Tree: In 1849, Eli’s attempt to escape the Comanche camp is thwarted, and, after being punished, he becomes the Comanches’ slave. In 1915, Eli and Pete debate over their captive, Cesar, whom they caught fleeing a sabotaged oil rig. Eli tortures Cesar, believed to also be linked to the thefts. Pete later escorts Cesar to a river to release him into Mexico. However, Cesar attacks Pete, forcing him to kill Cesar and secretly bury him.
- Second Empire: In 1915, Eli and oldest son Phineas meet with potential investor William Philpott, who declines due to Eli’s shaky finances and the unlikelihood of finding oil in the Rio Grande Valley. Back home, Pete experiences guilt over Cesar’s death.
- Death Song: In 1849, young Eli must help a severely wounded Comanche back to camp, while evading Texas Rangers on patrol. In 1915, María García warns Pete that something bad is going to happen. He and Eli inform the Rangers of the Mexican rebels’ plan to derail a train. Eli is told to form a posse. They find tools to be used in the derailment and wait for the rebels to return.
- No Prisoners: In 1849, the Comanches sneak up on a Tonkawa camp only to find it deserted, ravaged by smallpox. Eli is ordered to gather their horses and what supplies that he can. While doing so, he finds a survivor who specifies items to take, so that the Comanche will also become diseased. Eli refuses. In 1915, the McCulloughs’ notoriety from the ambush has consequences, when their homestead is attacked. Both Marie and Jeannie seek help, and it arrives with Pedro’s men fending off the rebels. Eli sees oil on Jeannie’s horse and asks what route she traveled.
- The Buffalo Hunter: Young Eli finds a group of white hunters skinning some buffalo. He tells them that he recently escaped a Comanche camp, and the hunters vow to protect him, but Eli is merely a distraction for a Comanche raid. The lead hunter and a girl are taken captive. In 1915, Charles McCullough learns that Ramon, a farmhand, might have led the rebels there for the attack. Ramon is hanged in front of a remorseful Charles. Eli and Jeannie search for and find the oil seep, but it is in the Garcías’ territory.
- Marriage Bond: Upon learning of Ramon’s death, Eli suggests to Pete that Charles leave the ranch. Pete takes Charles and Jeannie to the McCullough home in Austin. Charles admits his complicity, but adds that he didn’t expect Ramon would be hanged. Pete tells Sally that he cannot rise above his family’s violent tendencies and suggests the children remain in Austin. A troubled María visits him, and they have sex. In 1850, Eli tries to help Ingrid, the captive girl, who wishes to die, but Prairie Flower warns him to stay away from her. While hunting, Eli is approached by Charges the Enemy, who is courting Flower.
- Honey Hunt: Charges returns to camp without Eli, stating that Eli escaped during the hunt. Flower wishes to search for Eli, but Toshaway informs her that her father accepted Charges’ dowry and the wedding will soon happen. She sneaks off to search for Eli, but Charges stops her by saying all supplies will be cut off from her family if she continues. She relents and they marry. In 1915, Pete and María plan for a future, once they are free from their respective spouses. Eli and Phineas attend a party for a judge, whom Phineas manages to bribe to help secure the oil seep on the García property.
- The Prophecy: Young Eli, with his injured leg, finds a settler named Maggie at her camp. She nurses him back to health, but her solitude all these years after leaving her group seems to have affected her mind. However, she tells his fortune, mentioning his long life and having three sons. In 1915, Eli tells Phineas that his injury was a sign and calls off the bribe and oil scheme, at the risk of losing the ranch. Eli later finds a saloon burning; Phineas admits to it, only because Eli secretly wanted to frame Pedro García.
- Scalps: With the rumor that Pedro García’s men were seen running from the saloon fire, Eli declares war and rallies an angry mob. Pete arrives at the García home to warn them. He suggests fleeing, but Pedro declines and prepares his men. Pete assists them and fires upon his father’s army. Many casualties occur on both sides; all of the Garcías are killed, except María who flees with Pete as seen by Phineas. When Eli relates the battle to his family, Sally asks about Pete. Alone, Phineas tells her the truth. The McCulloughs are later granted the García property. In 1850, Eli returns to the Comanche camp seeking revenge on Charges. Toshaway asks the elders for compensation, and they give him four horses; he also gives Eli a pistol of his own. Eli still pines for Flower. Later, on a hunt, the Comanches are attacked by Texas Rangers. Charges is shot, but Eli prevents a Ranger from scalping Charges who dies from his wounds. Eli then scalps the Ranger.