This The Son review contains spoilers.
The Son Episode 10
The Son season 1, episode 10, “Scalps,” takes a little off the top to lay waste to an entire playing field. The McCulloughs and the Garcias are the twin pillars of the Texas border town about to be awash in blood and oil, and both families suffer divided loyalties, but come together in unexpected ways.
Eli McCullough (Pierce Brosnan) is a fair man. He’s a patient man, a deliberate man. Yet, even he hesitates on the verge of a war that has come to his door step and engulfed neighbors in flames of hatred. He hesitates only long enough to think of the right words. He already dawdled long enough, and it cost the town its favorite watering hole. The Texas tavern lays in ashes and there’s a thirsty posse just begging for an excuse to wet their whistles. The Sheriff is no real help. He deals with the dilemma of justice, while being goaded into a fight. The Garcias are right to think he’s no good for backup, even though Sheriff Graham thinks he hasn’t made up his mind. Marco Perella wears his ambiguity well as the reluctant law enforcer corralled by mob rule.
Eli had actually decided against going after the Garcia land and was brought to the standoff by a betrayal of his son Phineas (David Wilson Barnes), who thought he was doing the old man a solid. But the first son of Texas is nothing if not a man of action. Once he makes up his mind, he fully commits. Eli doesn’t just commit to action, he double downs on his commitment to a lie. This is a solemn commitment and it ultimately holds the family together. Eli McCullough is a living legend and keeping that legend alive is a family job.
Pete McCullough (Henry Garrett) follows his duty and his love. He knows the depths of the duplicity his father can inspire in the town. He figures the only chance for the Mexican-American family, who has called that property their home for generations, is to make a run across the border in the middle of the night. There are no laws in play and he’s the only protection around. Garrett plays the scenes with unwavering reason, but there is a desperation in his eyes that screams under the surface. He is torn by his choice, and further torn by Garcia’s ill-conceived plan to defend his fortress.
Pete’s daughter Jeannie (Sydney Lucas) is not torn by her choices. Her brother Jonas (Caleb Burgess) is looking for answers, but she knows all she needs to know to casually dismiss her father to the larger McCullough family ethos. “He left us so it doesn’t matter,” she tells her brother when he looks for clues. “Of course it matters,” Jonas says, only to be told to shut his mouth by his steel-willed younger sister. She closes ranks immediately. Jeannie is a McCullough through and through.
It’s Eli’s own fault that Pete sides with the Garcias. It is that moral strength that underpinned the success of the First Son of Texas. Eli McCullough’s loyalty was forged in the wild, whetted by the opposing abrasion of the natural order and encroaching civilization. In the 1850 Panhandle arc, Pathetic White Boy returns home, to the Comanches, where he belongs. The very first thing he does, before he even punches in, is dash the hopes of the other white slave girl, who assumes that because they share a common background, they share a common purpose. Tiehteti’s rescue by the Mormon visionary turned into a kidnapping and he feels no kinship to anyone who would impose their will on him.
The young brave is forced to accept the will of the tribe, though. His first love, Prairie Flower (Elizabeth Frances), married his lying rival, Charges the Enemy (Tatanka Means), while Tiehteti was wrapped up like frontier cargo being shipped back to his abusive white father. The best deal Toshaway (Zahn McClarnon) can get out of the deal is four horses for the loss of one slave.
Young Eli doesn’t see it the way the elder council decides. Four horses for true love, and the whole thing is over? Charges the Enemy pushes Pathetic White Boy off a cliff, lies to the tribe and brands the Toshaway’s son a runaway slave, and the kid can’t seek retribution. He is true Comanche. He left with nothing and came back with a rifle and a horse, with the promise of two more. But he cannot kill another Comanche. This is where Eli truly gets his grit. He is good on his word and even proves himself such a worthy brave that even Charges the Enemy shows respect. Tiehteti takes his first scalp in righteous anger. He enjoys the feel and the intimacy of the ultimate kill
The Son isn’t preachy, but it gets to the core of moral values, sometimes of morality, and always of mortality. The Comanches honor their dead differently than the whites. The native Americans honor the living spirit of the land they walk on, and the animals they feed on. Theirs is a more sustainable path to the future than civilization offers. But the season ends on a cautionary smoke signal that only the pale adopted Comanche can read. There are more white men than there are stars and they will never stop coming and they will never stop getting what they want.
“Scalps” was written by Philipp Meyer, Brian McGreevy and Kevin Murphy, and directed by Tom Vaughan.