This The Son review contains spoilers.
The Son Episode 6
The Son season 1, episode 6, “The Buffalo Hunter,” puts a human face on torture. Pete McCullough (Henry Garrett) may not believe in the great roundup in the sky but he no longer believes there is a benevolent guardian watching over everyone. His father, first son of Texas Eli McCullough (Pierce Brosnan), thinks Pete could use some watching himself.
The Son seems to explore a different social theme weekly. I wouldn’t go so far as to call each episode a morality play, but they do teach a lesson each week. Last week the show explored loyalty and how that was interpreted through the eyes of a young Eli being raised among the Comanche tribe and how it was applied during the attack on the McCulloughs home. This week each arc studies cruelty and how that is applied equally among the races.
Eli, the young Comanche brave, continues to twist and turn through his splintered loyalties. But now he’s got other white people to keep him up at night. Jacob Lofland brings a real disconnect to the role. He looks innocent. He is innocent, but he’s also guilty. Eli led his adopted tribe to the camp of a buffalo hunter and his crew, which included a young German girl whose family fled the March Revolution only to be slaughtered by Indians they believed were myths. Eli can’t make amends for what he’s done, because, in many ways, he is doing it to himself.
Eli plays the pathetic white boy role to get the trappers to lower their defenses. But he gives them a split second’s warning. He listens all night to the moans and screams of the buffalo hunter giving up his dignity to torture. Eli needs to justify it. Torture cuts across racial and nationalistic boundaries. Toshaway (Zahn McClarnon) is very upfront about it. Everybody likes to torture. Everyone feels some kind of justification.
It’s probably not the sexiest pillow talk to have before a midnight Tee-Pee bootie call, but Eli gets some satisfaction from Prairie Flower (Elizabeth Frances), who is downright happy to make love to the whimpers of a dying white man. Before the Comanches took her in, she watched her entire village massacred by white men. The men were all out hunting, that didn’t stop the invaders from killing the women and children. Prairie Flower hid and watched helplessly as her infant brother had his head bashed against a rock. Her mother died with a spear between her legs. And yet, white people always look so surprised when they are killed by those they sought to exterminate. After watching Charges The Enemy (Tatanka Means) offer Prairie Flower’s family the young German girl, who already got on the job training, as a slave to fill the dowry, night terrors are pretty comforting.
Eli gets it. He understands. That’s why he’s able to bridge the gap as he takes over south Texas as the elder statesman. His grandson Charles (Shane Graham) gets roughly the same education. He’s about the same age as Eli was when he was raised by the Comanches. And he experiences the same dichotomy. Scolded by his father, Pete, for letting himself get baited into the racial tensions at a family wake, Charles seeks refuge in hatred. He finds comradery in the shade of a hanging tree. Graham, whose character was recently called unlit dynamite, goes off. He gets to let loose with every conflicted emotion the small screen has to offer and gets paid off with the biggest arc of the night. The young Eli is still in the middle of his arc, but Charles comes out a changed young man.
The Son is very generous to all its actors, but the kids really get to shine. This might be because after the Apaches killed Pete’s mom and brother, his dad and “uncle Phineas” went after them. They killed them all except for one Apache child who ran 20 miles after the men on horseback thirsty for revenge. Eli left that kid standing at the river bank and for all he knows that Indian kid is looking for him yet. But he does know that the kid is worth 20 men today.
The young Eli learns to be a great tracker, and as an adult, he is able to expertly lead his granddaughter Jeannie McCullough (Sydney Lucas) through the steps of her panicked getaway to lay tracks for his family’s future. They also learn a few things from each other as the old man decides the little girl is big enough to hear how the Apaches slaughtered his wife and son, her father’s brother, and educates her on the contradictions of living in the real world.
“The Buffalo Hunter” was written by Julia Ruchman, and directed by Jeremy Webb.