This The Son review contains spoilers.
The Son Season 2 Episode 4
In The Son, season 2, episode 4, “Scalped a Dog,” begins with some bad medicine in the 1850s timeline. A white surveyor is looking at the area by the Mexican border to gather intelligence for a fort which will be built. Fat Wolf (Glenn Stanton), the chief of the Yap Eaters band of Comanches has a zero tolerance policy for whites near the camp. His father, Toshaway (Zahn McClarnon), who is the chief of the Buffalo Eaters band of Comanches, suggests restraint. Fathers and sons have interesting and challenging relationships on The Son. They are as much rivals as they are generational heirs. Power is a fight, and the battles sometimes pit families against each other in unexpected ways.
The mirroring between the father and son relationship of the McCulloughs and of Toshaway and Fat Wolf is exquisitely done. Young Eli (Jacob Lofland), the chosen son of the Buffalo Eater chief, is forced to watch helplessly as things spiral out of control towards what surely will be violent ends. Fat Wolf thinks his father is a coward, hiding from the whites like a mouse. Toshaway calls his son, who he named Sits in the Mud as a child, stupid for his aggressive stance. Fat Wolf says death follows Toshaway and there is no room for two chiefs. This is specifically what Fat Wolf warned young Eli would happen. Sons are not allowed to disrespect their fathers, regardless of how much they may hate them.
On Game of Thrones, Bronn the hired swordsman who earns his living off the Lannisters, says all wealthy families are started by hard and ruthless men who commit the most horrendous of crimes to found their houses only to have their less hard sons ruin it with their “cocksucking ways.” Every parent wants his children to be in a better place than they were born. They hope their offspring will enjoy the fruits of their labor, the privilege that comes with riches. So when Pete (Henry Garrett) hears his son Jonas (Caleb Burgess) is seriously considering attending Princeton, after being put on the waiting list at Harvard, he is rightly proud and happy the generation will be moving up in the civilized world of education. He is equally thrilled the kid is getting out before the battle of the McCullough family gets underway in earnest. This is not to say the kid gets out of the battlefield of the family dinner table where Pete’s wife Sally lobs shots across her husband’s bow between dainty bites.
Pete is doing the same thing his father Eli does, splitting his family’s legacy up between his sons and daughter. Pete takes his son Charles (Shane Graham) with him as he renegotiates mineral rights. Pete insists he go with his father, Eli, as they bring the declaration of war directly to the enemy. Texans call anyone from outside the state “foreigners” and the man from Lubbock who says he only wants to make the McCulloughs rich is as much an outsider as the Philadelphians he serves.
The roots of a major conspiracy begin in this episode. One of the politicians Eli keeps in his pocket says the Railroad Commission will soon be regulating every aspect of the oil industry, something Standard Oil and the other foreigners don’t know yet. There will be an opening on the commission at the end of the session and, as Phineas (David Wilson Barnes) has been set up to move into politics anyway, it seems a perfect fit. It is especially suited for him in his daddy’s eyes because it means Phineas can’t own a share in the McCullough family oil business.
Eli recognizes the unfair hand his eldest son has been dealt, including by his own hand. That doesn’t stop him from making the heir apparent mind his luggage while angling his brother Peter to carry on what Phineas has been working towards since birth. The interesting thing is Eli is pushing Phineas to betrayal. All the maneuvering will set the son up in his own power position, one which he can use for the competition when the time is right.
The McCullough family is the center of the town, and as such is always local news. Whether it makes the business or gossip reports, everything the family does is well documented by their neighbors. Tall tales have to start somewhere, so when Pete’s daughter Jeannie (Sydney Lucas) tries to nip one of the rumors in the bud, about her father running off with a Mexican whore, she gets caught up in several tides she doesn’t even know about. She blames herself for finding the oil which started the nasty rumors and even nastier realities, but she is also the strongest of that generation of McCulloughs. One brother, Jonas (Caleb Burgess), is too involved in bettering himself, to the point of emasculation. The other brother, Charles, is too easily influenced by the hateful undercurrent of the border town.
María García (Paola Núñez) is back in town looking for people who will stand up in court against Eli McCullough and his brood. She is backed by the Standard Oil people, who want to suck the black gold right out from the local landowners who stole the land from her family. She finds very little other assistance. She has the facts on her side, but needs someone on the inside, someone who heard the villains discuss their atrocities, physical and financial, against her family. After visiting men who worked for her father, she finally goes to see Pete.
Pete and María’s reunion scene is as satisfying to the audience as it is frustrating to Maria. He reacts exactly as we expect him to. He’s been hurt beyond measure by the woman, although nowhere near as much as his family has hurt her. Pete is tortured by the role he has to play in the family, but he immediately reports the meeting to his father and brother. He doesn’t have to, and didn’t want to. Eli is fully appreciative of every gesture from each of his sons. His demeanor suggests they never have to be upfront with him, he himself knows the value of playing certain cards close to the vest. Brosnan’s eyes almost well up with tears with each of his sons’ capitulations, as long as they are to him.
The scenes between Fat Wolf and Toshaway are incredibly suspenseful. The threats and insults the younger warrior tosses at his father have special venom coming in the Comanche language because his eyes are wounded. Toshaway was shamed by his wife, Fat Wolf’s mother, who slept with another warrior. The young brave chose to go with his mother to her people, who wound up being slaughtered by the whites. Pete’s wife also slides into what looks like it will be a compromising position, although this is in response to the Maria incident.
We also learn why Fat Wolf will never placate the whites, especially when it comes to allowing a fort to be built so close to camp. He was a slave at a fort after the death of his mother’s people and suffered sexual abuse along with demeaning deeds. Scalped a Dog tells Prairie Flower’s (Elizabeth Frances) slave Dirty Hair, who is also young Ingrid (Kathryn Prescott), the cost for taking advantage of her all night and cutting her up when he is done is a horse. He owns six horses. Dirty Hair has been taking archery lessons from Fat Wolf and after a few shots, downs the warrior who proudly put dog’s hair on his pelt as a child. The special effect of Dirty Hair whacking the young, dying warrior, across the face is subtle and very realistic.
The best battle scene doesn’t happen with weapons. It is between María and Eli on the porch of the boarding house she is staying at. He tells her he knows what it’s like to watch as his entire family was slaughtered, as he did to hers. She asks if he knows what it’s like to sit across from the man who did it. He does. He is the son of several fathers, including the first one of Texas. María and Eli are equals in the loss. Eli tries to placate reality with an offer to get his son and his family off the hook for his misdeeds, but María knows too many truths. The offer is a weapon. She declares war. It is a simple conversation, but it is the best battle. Brosnan is amazingly accommodating and even allows a glint of respect shine through his eyes as the woman he is facing off against refuses to do as she is told. He likes the fight and admires a fighter. María is absolutely resolved in her defiance. She earned what he is promising without any paper.
The Son‘s “Scalped a Dog” continues the steady pacing of the epic western storytelling of the series. Last week, the show subliminally highlighted parallels of biblical proportions. This week the parallels of three generations of McCullough family history close the pincer of fate which will ensure or destroy their destiny. It is a class act in a classic setting.
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 JFK. Read more of his work here or find him on Twitter @tsokol.