The Son Season 2 Episode 1 Review: Numunuu

The Son season 2 opens with a couple of close shaves in "Numunuu."

The Son Season 2 Episode 1

This The Son review contains spoilers.

The Son Season 2 Episode 1

The Son episode 1, ” Numunuu,” establishes season 2 immediately. The setting is a Mexican chain gang roadside dig where one gringo stands out. He doesn’t look particularly special, but the vehicle that comes to pick him out of the line looks very important. The first we see of Eli McCullough (Pierce Brosnan) is the boots. His spurs may not be jingle jangle jingling, but the First Son of Texas rides merrily along. He bribes a federale and retains his son, Pete (Henry Garrett). It is a muted reunion, given the circumstances.

Pete’s got a lot to hide. He abandoned his family to run off across the border with María García (Paola Núñez) after his family slaughtered hers in an old fashion Texas land grab. He took off his ring and promised his “daddy will pay for what he did,” and swears to kill the old man. This is the stuff of epic westerns. Garrett remains inscrutable as he downplays every clue to his plans. He is the Gary Cooper type Tony Soprano admired so much on The Sopranos, another show where fathers and sons are sometimes at odds over how to build a legacy.

Pete hangs himself in one scene, but cuts himself down at the last second before he loses consciousness. This puzzles me. It made me think of the scar on Clint Eastwood’s neck in Hang ‘Em High and what Tony Soprano was looking for under the Gloria Trillo’s choker in a dream sequence recalling her suicide. Is Pete marking himself so he can claim later that he was hung or is this a new game he plays with his psyche? Is it penance? Lord knows Pete’s got things to atone for, but this doesn’t look like the self-flagellation of Opus Dei.

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Eli is so layered. Brosnan has nice guy to spare in him, as a person, and we fully appreciate the warmth of a daddy shaving the ratty mangled beard of an ex-convict son. He is wonderful, enjoying the ease he can talk about things both important and fun at the same time. Things like Texas in the past, when you could just up and leave if something bothered you. Not unlike what his younger son did taking a trip south of the border. Eli lets Pete squirm below the underlying message as Brosnan channels both the savage life Eli lived as a teen, the strict disciplinarian he can be as a dad, and tosses in a bit of the ruthlessness which makes him such an effective businessman. Eli stops Pete’s squirming with the same straight razor he was tending his son’s unruly outgrowth. We, the audience, all knew subconsciously the moment was coming, but when it does, it is still surprising. As shocking as it is, it is also tender.

further reading: The Son Season 2 Review

It is as tender as the young man’s throat because as the scene continues and Eli explains how his son’s disappearance disrupted the family, he gets angrier. The more we feel him biting back on this, the more we see him apply pressure to the softest parts of the skin during the shave: the throat, and the cleft of the chin, the parts that bleed the easiest. The tension becomes almost unbearable and we are forced to accept the words he says. It comes as no surprise when Eli doesn’t even nick Pete’s skin once. There is no blood to wipe. And yet, underneath it, we also wouldn’t be surprised to see Eli slit his son’s throat in a quick decisive moment. This is character driven action driving character, and truly artistic storytelling. It stays so small. It plays so big. The idea that just because a father lets a son live is a tender moment says a lot about this family. We can see Pete’s thoughts, his inner turmoil between truth and neck. We wonder if the shave have gone a different way if he said something different.

The special effects are quite nasty and yet so realistic. Early in the episode, when Pete is putting cream on the scars from the shackles, the wound looks painful. There’s nothing particularly special about it. It’s not oozing pus. It’s not gangrened. It looks exactly like what it is: metal clashing against flesh for too long. Last season, we saw Eli scalp a businessman in a particularly satisfying fantasy sequence. The hairline peeled off the scalp in a particularly gruesome way we can trust as accurate because of such fine detail as this. The shaving scene could very well have gone a slice too far.

The McCullough ranch in 1988 is no less safe, as a granddaughter explains the meaning of family legacy to a “ballsy man” right before assuring him she’ll ship him south of the order in a heartbeat. Even the family entertainment is fraught with terrors. Pete’s daughter a Jeannie (Sydney Lucas) doesn’t buy the story that’s been going around about her “heroic” dad. She stays behind while the men go off to chop down a Christmas tree Jonas’ (Caleb Burgess) piano teacher tries to bring some mirth into the studies. Bach wasn’t cold and methodical, he says. He wove popular songs into his most staid pieces. What he must have been smoking. We get the feeling Pete’s wife may find out for herself. She wants to find out a lot of things.

The elder brother Phineas McCullough (David Wilson Barnes) remains a dutiful son, respecting Eli and all his commandments. His father knows about his closeted lifestyle, but has no trouble with the idea of intimate male bonding, but he’s shipping the business son to Austin, the seat of political power in the state. Pete ends the episode by taking his brother into a confidence he thought was already in place. There is a little bit of the 1956 western film Giant in the relationship between the two brothers. And it is exciting to guess how it may play out.

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We don’t go back to the 1851 timeline until the halfway point of the episode. Young Eli (Jacob Lofland), known as “Pathetic White Boy” to the Comanche tribe he was raised in, is south of the border in Coahuila, Mexico, leading a raiding party on a household. He once again saves the life of a Comanche warrior, while taking the lives of the entire family that lives in the house. After the slaughter, the ride back to the camp is fun as the Comanches chit chat about things like trading a hat for a tumble with another tribe-member’s wife, and how good they look in the white man’s hats. It offers a slice of life we don’t often get to see.

The raiding party comes home to find Apaches have killed almost everyone in the camp. Toshaway (Zahn McClarnon), who is chief, is wounded. Eli is fully Comanche at this point in his life. He is part of strategic planning and being trained for leadership. Lofland plays this believably, with a strong sense of curiosity and a quite desire for adventure. Pathetic White Boy’s wife Prairie Flower (Elizabeth Frances) is vengeful, but not enough that she wouldn’t like to put on white people’s clothes and walk around in their world. She offers many surprises.

The Son opens season 2 with beautiful settings, measured pacing and expert acting. The series itself harkens back to classic westerns with an epic scope and a ruthless heart. Corporate greed and family planning go hand in hand with no apologies.

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 JFKRead more of his work here or find him on Twitter @tsokol.

Rating:

5 out of 5