This The Son review contains spoilers.
The Son Episode 1
There’s a lot of money in black gold, Texas tea. Oil, that is. But digging the fracking thing isn’t the only criminal cost of doing business. In The Son, season 1, episode 1, “First Son of Texas,” Pierce Brosnan plays Eli McCullough, a man born on the same day the Lone Star State became a republic. Tough enough to survive a frontier Comanche attack as a child, he’s cutthroat enough to start an oil empire as a grandad.
The simple life isn’t so simple on The Son. From the very first scene, where young Eli McCullough barely snaps as twig on his near silent journey to the creek to fish and bags a turkey in one self-assured shot, we know there are dangers in the wooded terrain. Texas in 1849 is still a frontier and the wilderness is a wild place. While most of the Comanches had been pushed into nonexistence by the turn of the century, it wasn’t much better in 1915. Any vertical branch could make for a hanging tree. At least the family has the decency not to leave a passing stranger swinging in the afternoon sun.
Who names a child Waldo? Just because they’re living a frontier life doesn’t mean the McCulloughs have to be uncivilized. Barred from reading at the dinner table, they can still scribble fanboy notes to Ralph Waldo Emerson. Eli isn’t quite so civilized that he doesn’t put up the beginnings of a good fight. His brother turns out to be not quite the coward he lets on and even wins a grudging respect from the competitive neighbors.
Texas is a great place to do business, if you’re willing to write off backcountry adjudication as a business expense. It is no banana republic. Everything is assimilated in the more up-to-date Texas. Eli doesn’t appear to hold grudges. He also appears to not want to hold his liquor, but he does. He holds it out for his granddaughter, like secrets he can only hint at, she can taste but never swallow.
Pierce Brosnan as Eli McCullough is nothing if not self-assured. He pours this character on like syrup on pancakes, luxuriating in the old-school American accent and quick draw sloppy grin. Just when you thought he was ripe for a Pepperidge farm commercial, he spots tracks and is off on the hunt. Eli is the “First Son of Texas” though he’s the grandfather to most other residents in the Lone Star state. He’s building an empire and empires don’t come cheap.
Pete McCullough (Henry Garrett), Eli’s son and the alleged head of the McCullough household, holds out hope for the future and builds it on the past. Ranching is steady work that will never go out of style as long as people need to eat. The father survived the past and, while he’s dooming his son to repeat it, wants no part of it. His future is written in the decayed blood and meat of old dinosaurs.
There’s no faster way to part a fool from his money than with a genuine, bona fide, notarized oil field. Oil men started as conmen. A bogus oil deed was a perennial punch line in fifties TV comedies. I’m hoping the show sows the fields of corporate depravity that built the crude empires.
Set against a revolution in Mexico that threatens to pull Tejas back through the Rio Grande, The Son comes off a little flat. Even as dynamite flares go off in the distance and the gap in the generations grow wider, there really isn’t a sense urgency. Brosnan may yet bring a true cruelty to his Eli and turn him into a distinguished villain, but it doesn’t look like J.R. Ewing’s got any real competition.