Warning: contains spoilers.
Loss builds resolve. At least that seems to be the main message in AMC’s latest drama The Son, in its debut episode. Opening in 1849 with a focus on a young Eli McCullough, the central protagonist who will grow into the fine form of a bearded Pierce Brosnan, we see him taking up mantle of ‘man of the house’, hunting and showing a large amount of self-assurance. However, it’s not long before his youthful belligerence, and a need to defend his home from invading Comanche, has resulted in his mother and sister being raped and killed, with his surviving brother soon being run through by a spear, leaving him as the sole surviving son.
Eli’s back story is told throughout the course of the episode via flashbacks, with the usual aim of underpinning the decisions he’s now making as a patriarch and colonel when we then cut to the current timeline of 1915, where an unlawful hanging has taken place. It’s interesting that in writing events down for this review in that order, it seems that the potential for a gritty and blood soaked western is prevalent, but it seems only right to disclose (as we were also told by the head of AMC UK at the screening) that if the violence in their other hit show, The Walking Dead, was at a ten, The Son is only a two.
It’s a shame in some ways the more violent events, that are central to shaping the landscape of Texas at that time and the characters that inhabit it, are intentionally diluted via some clever camera work and cuts – a concussed Eli’s point of view means out of focus, handheld shots as he’s dragged from his house during his home invasion. Of course that’s a viewpoint from someone like me, who revels in anything from The Wild Bunch to Red Dead Redemption and expects a certain amount of bloodshed, especially when a show is dealing with the Wild West as part of its scope, is made by AMC and whose poster tagline is “My fortune is forged in blood”. Expectation created by those factors were to blame after going in to the show cold, but those viewers who are perhaps tuning in for a cowboy version of Taken (also mimicked by the poster) are in for a shock.
Still the impact of events remains due to the reactions and performances from the central cast and the focus of The Son is very much on the drama, with a lot of characters introduced in the opener and their complicated relationships laid out with a deft precision, as the show’s title reveals itself to be about generations of sons and their part in America’s evolution from an industry of cattle to oil. At the screening there was mention of Dallas, as an older Eli is keen to secure funding to search for oil on his land, which makes for a curious companion when family bickering and power struggles take centre stage.
Eli’s youngest son Pete, for example, is the strongest audience surrogate, showing compassion and diplomacy in the way he conducts his business, acting as a moral compass when so many of those around him seem to have rot at their core (and their teeth) especially the local bar owner Niles, who also happens to be available for a freelance lynching should you require one and is played with disgusting aplomb by James Parks. Yet even Pete, a devoted family man, appears to have a beautiful skeleton in his past in the form of Maria Garcia, whose immediate presence reeks of trouble, though as yet we can only speculate as to how intimate their previous association was, with her character returning after years away.
If Brit actor Henry Garrett brings a likeable sense of idealism and potential heroism to Pete in his performance it’s intentionally overshadowed, as are all other aspects of the show, by the jaded greatness of Pierce Brosnan’s Eli. For any fans of the great man’s turn in Seraphim Falls (a beautifully underappreciated gem of a movie) it’s great to have Brosnan back in a western, as there’s something about the trappings that suit the actor down to the ground.
The Son also marks Brosnan’s first official return to a proper television since the eighties, where Remington Steele eventually led to his delayed Bond breakthrough and it’s strange to think to that despite a few mini-series since, it’s taken so long for him to return to his roots. The advantage he has in doing so though, is an ability to command every scene he’s in, bringing and effortless and necessary gravitas to Eli, with his natural charisma helping to keep us on side with his more trigger happy tendencies – he’s a man that’s had to fight for his life and place in the world, so why wouldn’t he shoot first when faced with a threat?
Since we’re only shown the initial stages of Eli’s kidnapping by the Comanche as a boy, his survival and journey with them remains to be seen, but there’s enough of an enigma surrounding his motivations and background to keep him from the being too close to villainy.
As a side note, there’s also a glorious moment where Brosnan gets to grin with pipe in hand, which immediately recalled his glorious turn in Mars Attacks! Purely coincidental I’m sure, but a delight nonetheless.
Frustratingly episode one cuts just as events get, quite literally, more explosive with what appears to be elements of the Bandit War and Mexican seditionists attacking Eli’s new pump jack, after the opener has spent the duration of its runtime introducing seemingly all the key players immediately, but hopefully that balance should level out in the second episode and beyond. War is always good for drama, so having a little adversity shake up the affluent family around Eli, while possibly bringing him full circle, should make for an interesting season, I just hope it keeps the more soap opera elements in check with some gunplay and old west style action.
The Son airs on Tuesdays on AMC, exclusive to BT, at 9pm.