This The Son review contains spoilers.
The Son Season 2 Episode 10
The Son, season 2, episode 10, “The Legend,” concludes the series’ run with the birth of a border town mythology and the lessons learned from the sins of a father. The great state, and former republic, of Texas is a land of tall tales. Last week’s episode, “The Bear,” included a version of the ultimate fate which befell Eli McCullough, leading the audience to a false conclusion. Oh, we doubted the accuracy, how could anyone know what was going through Eli’s mind in his last hours facing off against the biggest bear in a state where bears are scarce. But we ultimately buy it. It’s Texas, and it is a large enough story to give us a sense of comforting closure.
But we were wrong. Yes, so many of the things that were promised come to fruition tonight, and most of our questions are answered, but they come beautifully out of the blue because they were based on red herrings. And very subtle red herrings at that. Eli wins the battle with Standard Oil. He snatches the victory right out of the jaws of defeat. He wins. Even when he ultimately loses, he is still triumphant. Pierce Brosnan created a character who is larger than life, even as he tossed most of the choicest cuts of acting meat to his co-stars. That’s part of what made Eli McCullough so large, his ability to small. So small we believe he could take on a bear, lose and still be triumphant.
“Not all Texans are built the same way,” Eli tells his most formidable rival, Mr. Endicott of Standard Oil himself, while offering something to the chopping block. “There are those of us who take scalps and then there’s the other kind.” The other kind is the person who gets a little too much taken off the top. Usually they are formidable enemies, and Eli treats the fallen employee of Standard Oil with the respect a wild man deserves. “A scalp taken in battle is very valuable,” Eli explains as he hands a fresh one to his rival.
Eli, who Endicott calls the Comanche Gringo, is not just any Texan. He is the first son of Texas, and this is not the first scalp he’s taken, nor will it be the last. Eli has taken on all comers his entire life. He plays by the rules of Texas. Endicott counters McCullough’s offer with one which abides by the state statutes. He lets it be known how easy it would be to have his associate Leonard take McCullough out to a remote corner of his property and put a bullet in his head. Eli takes this quite good naturedly given the circumstances. He has no good cards showing but isn’t a completely ready to cash in his chips. Eli has balls. He’s playing a game of possum in the halls of his formidable foe.
Prior to this scene, Eli is caught signing some documents the audience can’t read. Turns out he’s got an ace in the hole, and his poker face is quite happy to flip it over. He left all his land to a stranger. Very powerful as a player in the oil game, but a stranger nonetheless. He obviously plays his cards right, because just as his son Pete (Henry Garrett) is about to give a laundry list of his dad’s misdeeds, people start listening. And he’s ready too. Pete starts out with “the first time I saw my daddy kill someone I was nine.” Save that for therapy, Pete. Even your daughter is okay with the sins of your father.
Jeannie McCullough (Sydney Lucas) is a consistent seeker of truth, and an equally consistent defender of mythology. As a young girl, she chose her family and the ugly reality of how they grew their fortune. As an older woman, Jeanne Anne McCullough (Lois Smith) is quite prepared to shoot a barrelful of buckshot into Ulises Gonzales’s (Alex Hernandez) legs to keep those realities secret. However, the look on her face when she sees the engraving on a family gun reveals her long suppression. She admits everything to Ulises, but she remains committed to the family coverup.
The captain of the relocation troops shows his true colors tonight and Pathetic White Boy (Jacob Lofland) sees cherry red. He almost falls for the bait until Ingrid (Kathryn Prescott) calms him down, but we know this sleeping dog will not lie still for long. The captain put up a fair façade, easygoing and lackadaisical in his powers. He is fairly reasonable. And we get a shock when young Eli, who has been mirroring the captain’s rationale throughout a late-night raid, slits a throat. There is a part which feels familiar, and a part we don’t see coming. It is a marvelous turnaround, especially after we witnessed him getting his braids shorn and all the valuable scalps Eli has accumulated cosigned to a campfire. “I am not your savage to tame,” Eli declares, turning his destiny on its head.
Eli is a master of the turnaround. After his business machinations come to play during the witness testimony, Pete and María García (Paola Núñez) are left looking like deer caught in a headlight. There is a lot of slinking around with weapons in this episode, even Maria gets a stealthy turn with a barely concealed weapon. Eli takes it in stride and turns his good humor into its own weapon, offering his newly fried lunch to his assailant before burning her with a side dish. Pete gets his old man with a great kidney punch, in a direct but sidelong attack, the only kind that can work against such a weathered champion.
Eli’s final demise is epic. It is the stuff of legend. Just not the legend the family wants to tell. It doesn’t fit the narrative. History is written by the winners, unless the losers declare victory and get to the presses first. Pete is given a chance to disappear with Maria, apparently living a happy life in exile, while the McCulloughs disconnect the dots. Phineas (David Wilson Barnes) takes immediate and decisive action. Everybody gets a say in the tale the family wants to fill, even Sally (Jess Weixler) and young Charles, throw details.
All mythologies are ultimately destroyed under the burning glare of reality, but the truth is we always miss the myth. The Son does a great job in showing the bigger truths built on small fabrications. At one point Eli tells Pete he has made him smaller, in the end his shadow is too tall to breach. “The Legend” ends the series on a subversive note, but it is one which resonates. We feel just a little bit cheated by how all the twists and turns grind to an end, but that is what history, and the McCulloughs, do. They cheat. That’s why they win. It is also why the series leaves us wanting more. It is fully realized, but we are still hungry for details.
The Son Season 2 finale aired on Saturday, June 29 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 JFK. Read more of his work here or find him on Twitter @tsokol.