This The Son review contains spoilers.
The Son Season 2 Episode 2
In The Son, season 2, episode 2, “Ten Dollars and a Plucked Goose,” the McCulloughs serve up a Christmas feast and the jackals show up. The family is well known in the town. The story of the First Son of Texas, the Colonel, is already becoming local myth, at odds with the realities behind it.
The opening sequence is fraught with contradictions. Eli McCullough (Pierce Brosnan) tells a gathered crowd how happy he is that his son, Pete (Henry Garrett), is home safe after fighting so bravely against enemies of the area. Pete wriggles around uncomfortably. We know it’s not just that he’s humble. He’s got secrets. Everyone on The Son has secrets, but his are glaringly close to the surface. Before the opening credits even role, we see a flashback scene where María García (Paola Núñez) tells him she has no interest in him because he is weak and afraid. He was unable to stop her father from slaughtering her family and taking their property, the only thing she needed from him.
Maria then proceeds to dress him down. He means nothing to her she tells him right before she abandons him. This colors the way we see everything Pete does except his dealings with his brother Phineas (David Wilson Barnes). The audience has the same trepidation his daughter Jeannie (Sydney Lucas) has. We know she’s right. He was ready to both leave his family and kill his father for Maria. And it was for the right reasons, at least the way he saw it. Then Maria, to paraphrase Steve Martin’s Rigby Reardon in Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, reached down his throat, grabbed his heart, shoved it in the oven and cooked the shit out of it. Because this man got burnt. Not only in love but in the midday sun.
Eli is a proud father. You can hear it in the way he breathes around his son Peter. This makes the scene where Pete passes on his father’s offer to bring the family forward from ranching to oil more poignant. But Eli isn’t only proud of his family. He is proud of where he is from and where the family has yet to go. This brings something to the scene which has nothing to do with poignancy. Brosnan really externalizes his most intimate thoughts. He doesn’t hide the emotions even though we might misread them. He tries to pass his son off as a hero to the public, and while he knows what he’s saying is a lie, he is absolutely convinced of the larger truths behind it. He sees himself in his son, a leader, not a politician like Phineas. Eli is so fully committed to his loving vision it becomes positively inspirational. That is until the scene darkens with ominous music and a dull sheen of evil glinting through Eli’s eyes as he justifies and means to his ends. Pete is not sure it will all be worth it in the end. He was raised with a conscience, a pesky thing, really.
“Four years on a Mexican chain gang, that’ll change a person’s outlook,” we learn from an unlikely empathizer. Niles Gilbert (Sydney Lucas) as Santa Claus is fairly disconcerting until we see it’s only because he’s pouring drinks at the bar, then it borders on frightening. His costumed bartending duties are unnerving in themselves, but when he speaks his heart, as he does to Pete’s daughter, he speaks truths. He makes a lot of allowances for the McCullough family, even Pete, and he’s got a checkered past with the younger McCullough son. Yet he still allows himself to walk in the man’s shoes. “People need time to readjust,” he concludes.
This would be the end of Niles, as far as Pete and his wife Sally (Jess Weixler) are concerned. Because under those truths are falsehoods which are dangerous to the family and the unity of the border town. Ultimately, Sally gets her way, and that makes me as uneasy as seeing Niles in the Santa Claus suit. Niles is a scrapyard dog in some ways, which has been kicked one too many times.
The death of an old dog in the most contemporary timeline brings up a time for reflection. Eli’s great granddaughter Jeanne Anne McCullough (Lois Smith) evokes his ghost through cassette tapes, and he’s in the middle of an action packed anecdote. Told with wit, it is charming, bold and brave. The illegal worker Ulysses can appreciate it as a good story, appreciatively explaining how Texas was built on tall tales. Even Pete told his daughter how people like to fill in the blanks on stories to make them bigger. But his granddaughter believes these myths as reality. “It’s Texas, man,” he is told on the field. In the almost-present day the McCulloughs are scattered a daughter has blown all the family’s money on gurus and crystals.
Phineas McCullough and Pete continue to work together separately and at odds. Pete respects his brother, and is the one to tell him about Eli’s succession plans. Phineas doesn’t let on that this is the first he’s hearing about it. Everything is covert in the McCullough home, regardless of how open any of them are. Pete and Eli especially, they are nakedly honest, yet have so many secrets. It makes for great suspense. Every moment can turn into a cat and mouse verbal battle. Eli moves his family around like chess pieces, and neither brother is prepared to be pawned off.
The Comanches are at war with the Apaches over land and resources as winter comes into Texas in the 1800s timeline. They suffered casualties that go straight up to the Chief. This episode includes a very significant exchange. Toshaway (Zahn McClarnon) asks Pathetic White Boy, young Eli (Jacob Lofland), whether he is ready to lead. Obviously, we see the tie-in between Eli and Pete’s exchange, but there is a lot more going on here. As his Comanche name suggests young Eli is a Pathetic White Boy. He is not Comanche. He’s also not too pathetic or he wouldn’t be in line for leadership of the tribe. Especially a tribe in trouble, on the run, and running out of resources.
Eli and Prairie Flower’s (Elizabeth Frances) slave Dirty Hair looks like she’s going to lose it. She wasn’t born to Comanche life and she is paying her dues in ways that are breaking her resolve. She is now regretting she didn’t take the scalp from the Apache she hilled during the raid. She veers between post traumatic disorder and a melancholy for her old European life, which flips her perspective and she is not quite prepared to deal with it. We see her breaking even as she is putting pieces back together.
Prairie Flower and Eli have an intimate and revealing scene. It is extremely sweet but begins with a promise of violence. Prairie Flower thinks about the varied tribes of Comanches. They’re not so different. They eat different things and smell different because of it. But if they banded together they could kill the white people who are trying to take their land. When Eli tells her that won’t happen, she is ready to go live with the white people, at least walk around with them. It is very real and she plays it wonderfully, because when the scene ends with her telling Eli another Comanche is on the way, it comes as a happy surprise. Because of the buildup, and especially the curved way it came to it, we feel exuberance. Young Eli is going to be a daddy.
The episode ends with a wasteful slaughter only white men would come up with. It is horrific and yet it is business-as-usual. The actual last moment is a declaration of war. Look at any wealthy family and you’ll find their fortunes all began with a crime. The McCulloughs are loaded down with it. And In the end it will all be worth it, if only because Texas is a state built on stories, legends and mythology. For “Ten Dollars and a Plucked Goose,” as the title suggests, The Son is willing to add exciting and infuriating chapters.
The Son Season 2 airs on Saturdays at 9 p.m. on AMC.