This The Son review contains spoilers.
The Son Season 2 Episode 7
Everything I wrote in my review of last week’s episode was wrong. I don’t regret it. I take nothing back. It appeared Eli McCullough was losing his grip on a situation we know should never have spiraled away as it did into the very steering wheel which drove it. But the very opening scene of tonight’s episode shows he hasn’t lost his grip on anything, especially the scalp of the businessman he only moments before praised with a well-placed “well played.” I was equally wrong about the episode from two weeks ago being the best of the season. The Son, season 2, episode 7, “Somebody Get a Shovel,” is a new high. Scene after scene builds tension on top of tension, frustration, defeat, despair and righteous rage until you realize the episode is over and it was merely a transitional piece. The transformations, however, are vital.
The entire episode hinges on some sage observation Toshaway (Zahn McClarnon), made by way of proclamation, “Soldiers don’t need to hide things. Slaves do.” Warriors also don’t bother to hide their conquests. This is as true in the 1852 timeline as it is in the 1910s. Scalped a Dog’s body is found, dug up by some animals, and the chief of the Yap Eater band of Comanches, Fat Wolf (Glenn Stanton), uncovers enough reason to go to war with the white people. Apaches wouldn’t hide the murder of a Comanche warrior. Soldiers wouldn’t bother. Scouts, rangers and bandits don’t do it. But Fat Wolf, who knows exactly who killed Scalped a Dog, uses the death to rouse his people to defense.
In the 1910 timeline, Eli is the first to suggest somebody get a shovel, even as he snorts on the memory of the wise advice. In his heart, he doesn’t care who sees it, because they will see it for what he wills it to be: A show of strength which should send his enemies and rivals running for cover. It may turn out that how the McCullough clan dealt with the Standard Oil incursion becomes a cover-up, but while Eli’s blood is still running hot he brings it to the attention of quite a few people this reviewer might not think to collude with. Sheriffs? Cops? Law enforcement of any kind would be the last on a list of people I’d ask to help get rid of a body, much less several who were publically known enemies.
Young Eli is complicit in the crime that’s going to get a lot of Comanches killed, and he knows Fat Wolf is completely aware of it. Eli helped bury a body. The very thing only slaves do. And while the murder, in self-defense, was indeed done by a slave, it is a worse offense to further the act of the slave. Young Eli is fully prepared for any fallout. He invites Toshaway to inform the camp of the real reason they’re preparing for war. But events play out as they do, leaving the young brave in a more precarious place than they began.
“How is it I’ve ruined all my sons,” Toshaway asks. And this carries as much weight as the idea of burying a crime in Eli’s psyche. You see it in the proud looks he gives his sons, and tonight he bestows that same glow of impressed regard on his grandson, Charles (Shane Graham), who blows a hole in the chest of a witness, possibly the notary public, with a rifle before his uncle stamps the deal with a shot to the head. The kid is willing to stick around and throw some dirt, but he’s earned his pay for the day. He gets a bonus for stonewalling the family, though. “Leave it alone,” Charles tells his mom, Pete’s wife Sally (Jess Weixler), who moments ago had been complaining to her daughter Jeannie (Sydney Lucas) about how she’s never in the loop of the goings on at the McCullough household.
There is humor on The Son, mostly muted asides while whispering. Phineas (David Wilson Barnes) does the turn-of-the-last-century version of rolling his eyes when he sees his father take the scalp from the defeated enemy. There he goes, doing his Comanche thing, he basically says. Pete remains stoic, but mainly because he was truly blindsided by how negotiations turned out. He is also processing the repercussions this will have on María García (Paola Núñez).
It is amusing to see Niles Gilbert (Sydney Lucas) get on Maria’s last nerve as he is keeping watch over her. She needles him and more, over his prejudices, his singing, his breathing, and his worthiness for an incoming mail-order bride. Her frustration, though based in the very real fear she may be executed in the middle of the night, eases the tension even as it whets the edge of the menace. It is also revealing, as Niles chooses to ignore most of the taunts and remain loyal to his assignment to the point of asking Pete if he will draw against his own family in broad daylight.
Pete and young Eli (Jacob Lofland) aren’t that different. Pathetic White Boy, as his Comanche name is translated, tried to keep peace. He tried to take care of his family in a treacherous world. Young Eli put his own future in jeopardy for the well-being of someone who is not quite his mistress. We’ve since learned this happened somewhere along the line, but we haven’t been given all the dots to connect yet. But it was made very apparent Ingrid, who is the slave of Eli and his wife Prairie Flower (Elizabeth Frances), has a very strong effect on the young warrior’s psyche. Fat Wolf, the chief of the Yap Eaters band of Comanche which Toshaway’s Buffalo Eaters are currently crashing, wants Ingrid and in a surprising emotional twist it’s Prairie Flower, not Eli, who won’t give her up.
Maria isn’t exactly Pete’s mistress, but he was willing to throw everything away to start a new life with her south of the Mexican border. He checks his property lines looking for places she can cross into his life. Pete is torn between doing the right thing and destroying his family, which he is entrusted to save. On one hand, Pete is the most transparent character on The Son. However Henry Garrett plays him like a card hand held close to his chest, but not tight enough to keep his trigger finger too busy to draw. Eli McCullough is obviously the house, and Pierce Brosnan is always playing to win, even as he throws away his face cards. He gives up scene after scene to his fellow actors but never loses his place as the center of the series’ universe because he is the gravity which holds it together, even the scenes he’s not in. He can broadcast his intents, boldly, whether he’s afraid of reprisal or not. But Pete doesn’t give anything away. That’s what makes the last scene such an emotional cliffhanger. We don’t know what Pete is going to do. We don’t know if he knows. He may still be making up his mind.
The game of family dynasty is an epic battle, and The Son wins by combining short rushes and end runs, combinations and knockout punches. “Somebody Get a Shovel” has them all, and in the end leaves the audience up against the ropes hoping the bell will never come.
The Son Season 2 airs on Saturdays at 9 p.m. on AMC.
Culture Editor Tony Sokol cut his teeth on the wire services and also wrote and produced New York City’s Vampyr Theatre and the rock opera AssassiNation: We Killed JFK. Read more of his work here or find him on Twitter @tsokol.