This The Son review contains spoilers.
The Son Season 2 Episode 5
In The Son, season 2, episode 5, “Hot Oil,” may be the best of the year. It is the most enjoyable so far. It is also the most suspenseful. We can tell we’re on the verge of a catharsis we’re relieved to sidestep. The episode opens in a dream sequence Eli McCullough (Pierce Brosnan) is having where his young self (Jacob Lofland) is being successfully strangled by his current rival, María García (Paola Núñez). This is the first fantasia we’ve witnessed from Eli where imagines himself as the victim. Usually when the patriarch of the McCullough family is fantasizing, he is the victimizer. This dream is the first to shake that faith. It is also prophetic, as the first thing Eli has to deal with in his business day is getting the squeeze from the Garcia court battle.
There is so much under the surface in this episode. Emotions and bodies are buried in shallow graves. The 1850s segment has to do with the fallout from Ingrid’s (Kathryn Prescott) killing of Scalped a Dog. Ingrid takes young Eli into her confidence and he helps hide the evidence.
Fat Wolf’s (Glenn Stanton) recounting of his life after exile is amazingly effective. But the center of it is the tiniest of swallows it takes for the actor to get the steam to finish a thought. No, Fat Wolf, the chief of the Yap Eaters band of Comanches, is committed to keeping his home free of the white man’s military presence, and a fort will only be built on his corpse. I hope this isn’t true, but his reasoning is based on a humiliation he will never allow near his people and land. He is fast becoming a favorite character. He is a fair chief, and a damaged character. But, in his last scene, he lets on that he’s always known the truth about who killed Scalped a Dog, but he continues to do nothing about it. What game is he playing? Is he trying to spare Pathetic White Boy or just waiting for enough rope to hang him? It is positively delicious.
This episode includes my favorite scene from the series itself, so far. Pete (Henry Garrett) says the hell with the injunction, he made a promise to his men and he’s not going to break it. He isn’t thinking of his father, or his family or the law. And when Eli says he’s never been more proud, neither is the audience. Like him or hate him, we care about how Eli is with his sons. We can see Eli seeing himself in his son. We also see him pushing himself onto Peter. Phineas (David Wilson Barnes) can only watch helplessly as his younger brother’s near-recklessness wins him a closer place in his heart. Phineas must know he doesn’t have it in him to be a scofflaw. It wouldn’t even occur to him to break an injunction, but he can’t help but be envious of his the nerve it takes.
The episode is anchored by the Law and Order League scene. Gary Cooper’s Sheriff Kane had until High Noon to get out of town. Pete can barely wait to midnight to get the oil off the McCullough property before the precursor to the local Ku Klux Klan, led by disgruntled ex-employee Niles Gilbert (Sydney Lucas), stop him in his tracks with the letter of the law, equal guns and a torch. Gilbert’s been pumped up the whole episode. He was happy to put on a Santa suit in the season opener to pour Boss Eli, the colonel, some drinks and proud of his dirty work. Now he wants to look him straight in the eye and call him peer. He is the working class hero who wants to be Bruce Wayne. Giles isn’t wearing a mask, but he is full on vigilante.
Pete’s son Charles (Shane Graham) gets a little trigger happy, almost starting a real shootout, but Pete able to keep it in check. He does it long enough for the Law and Order League to reveal their racist roots, even though they are banded together for a family whose roots come from the Mexico side of the border.
Maria’s presence in the border town doesn’t only have legal effects. Pete’s daughter Jeannie (Sydney Lucas) can handle truths, she is the strongest of her generation of McCulloughs. She is tough enough to face her own doubts and confront Maria. Pete’s wife Sally (Jess Weixler) runs from the confrontation, putting on haughty airs with the mother of the boy Jeanie attacked for insinuating Pete and Maria were having an affair. Sally and the pot smoking music teacher finally harmonize, but he blows some bad notes and she drops out of the band. He gives Sally a version of a truth, but can’t handle it.
Eli celebrates the renegade but, as we see in the 1852 timeline, his young self was a law abiding warrior. Pathetic White Boy, as young Eli is called by the Comanches, only breaks with the tribe to save his family and his and Prairie Flower’s (Elizabeth Frances) slave from further abuse. Ingrid is the renegade, and he recognizes it even before Fat Wolf says he’s been sleeping with her for the past few nights. The two sons of Toshaway (Zahn McClarnon), the chief of the Buffalo Eaters band of Comanches, have great chemistry in their scenes together, as I find myself really wanting them to get closer.
Pierce Brosnan’s Eli is a full on renegade and loves every second of it. He is a cowboy rustling lands, territory and his own sons. He is torn between wanting to reign them in and let the loose. Whenever he sees Pete about to lose his shit, he’s right on it, steering him like cattle by sheer will and pride. Of course Pete wants to make his old man proud, which makes the last scene so intriguing. Who benefits? It looks like a win-win proposal or a very devastating choice in that last ride into the night.
The Son has been cranking up the suspense incrementally this season. The fight between María and Eli plays out like a chess game. They even exchange glances during the court proceedings. In the midst admitting defeat on an oil injunction, Eli and Maria’s eyes meet. His says, without a word, “well-played.” Hers say “nice of you to notice.” There are probably a few curses in there, but there is a sense of admiration and love of the game on both their parts. Maria wants to tears him down because of his power and Eli absolutely respects her for it. He will do anything to stop her. But the respect is clear.
The Son‘s “Hot Oil” is a high point in an already superb series. It begins with Shakespearean foreshadowing and turns the classic western High Noon on its back and rides it sidesaddle.
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.