This The Son review contains spoilers.
The Son Season 2 Episode 6
In The Son, season 2, episode 6, “The Blue Light,” flirts with surrealism as legal woes and societal norms take their toll on the usually steadfast First Son of Texas. Eli McCullough (Pierce Brosnan) shows the first cracks in the armor which has protected him his whole life. His many lives, if you count how many times he’s survived seemingly insurmountable wounds. The episode shows he’s not as self-sufficient as he’s let on. A stronger force has been propping him up since his days as a Comanche, and it is sobering to see Eli so nakedly needy. Although, not quite sobering enough.
In the newest timeline, Ulises Gonzales (Alex Hernandez) finds the last remnants of the burial ground of the Garcia family. Neglected and overgrown on the McCullough property, Pedro Garcia’s grave is a portal to the past which the generations prefer to keep buried, and this discovery works as an allegory for how nothing stays buried forever, except maybe Jimmy Hoffa. Eli’s great granddaughter Jeanne Anne McCullough (Lois Smith) gives the curious farm worker his walking papers shortly after the discovery, continuing the long history of cover-up of the family’s misdeeds. But it parallels what appears to be an unraveling of the very crimes which lie under stones and dirt. The legal battle with María García (Paola Núñez) over the land stolen from her family casts wide repercussions in the early twentieth century timeline. She has an emotional hold over Pete McCullough (Henry Garrett), the son who rebels against the family by wanting to do the right thing. But the people who are funding Garcia’s power play, Standard Oil, are not containing the fight to business.
Phineas has an amazing and contradictory arc this episode and David Wilson Barnes plays it unambiguously. The necessarily closeted gay man is incredibly empathetic. He would never think to impose himself as an unloving husband on a woman in the life sentence of marriage, but he would put a bullet between the eyes of one who threatens his or the family’s fortunes. Business is business and his old man takes some things too personally, to paraphrase Tom Hagen of The Godfather. Phineas is looking for a way out of the family business he is being shut out of. Yet, he does not betray the family with an easy exit plan from the fallout of being caught in flagrante delicto by a photographer, a business rival and a couple of cops with guns pointed at his and his lover’s heads.
The entire McCullough family rallies behind Phineas and offers him everything he needs in exchange for most of what he has. He breaks down entirely and nakedly at the very sight of Pete’s wife Sally (Jess Weixler), and doesn’t bother to cover up his abject defeat in front of his father. He is told most of the secret entitlements he enjoyed are gone, not because of what he did, but because he got caught. We watch as every option is taken away from him and he is put in a position having to sell out everything he actually holds dear. But even those things come across as a surprise, making his fall noble, sad, and absolutely compelling.
This is also true of what the situation brings out in his family. Pete is in some ways the everyman, a real Gary Cooper type who is far more progressive in his attitudes and far less forgiving of ugly rejections. He is equal parts Jesse and Lewt McCanles from the classic 1947 western Duel in the Sun. When Niles Gilbert (Sydney Lucas) shows up to gloat over the bad news he is delivering when the McCullough family first finds out, Pete puts a gun to his head. We, the audience, trust him to know when not to pull the trigger, but so does Niles. He leaves, but neither panics nor pushes things too far. Triggers don’t pull themselves. We didn’t quite know whether to trust Pete’s son Charles (Shane Graham) in the last episode when he cocked and pointed a rifle at Niles. We were relieved he learns something from his father, and get to see it in action here. But we also get to see his mother’s influence when we hear Charles wondering how he should treat his uncle now. Pete’s daughter Jeannie (Sydney Lucas) continues to be the strongest of the young generation of McCulloughs, as she steadfastly supports the family in spite of being too smart to be fooled by what is going on around her.
As fascinating as the legal repercussions are for Phineas, Eli’s bumpy journey is the true tour de force of the episode. He is assaulted on all sides and the scars are showing. Eli goes head to head with every rock hurled at him, and it’s become concussive. He holds it together when his son is outed as a deviant and even thinks he finds a narrow middle ground of comfort between his two sons. Eli’s always come across like he’s got a bull by the horn, but he’s been holding on to a fairy tale of a witch who promises everything but one.
The episode spends very little time on the 1852 narrative, but what it does show is significant. They don’t get into the Comanche flashback until the last nine minutes and it is a very quick flash which burns very bright and very blue. Ingrid (Kathryn Prescott) is a much stronger personality and influence on Eli’s life than we’ve been shown so far. Young Eli (Jacob Lofland) initially thinks Ingrid is heartless when she it comes to taking back what’s hers. This is a far-reaching idea, considering her entire life was taken by the Comanches and she’s had to become one, something she turns out to be very adept at. But the old schooling from Eastern Europe still exerts an influence, and not a tempering one. Ingrid tells Eli a story about a witch, a brave man and a blue light she learned as a child and she gets strength from its moral.
The sequence when the grown Eli comes for a retelling of the story is wrenching to watch. It is also the most subversive scene in the episode. Everything we thought we knew about Eli becomes surface material to the inner workings of his lifetime’s psyche. He is angry, sad, thoughtless, needy and more vulnerable as the episode ends than seems possible, given his history. It is indeed a shame there will only be two seasons of The Son, because any back story can be mined for gold, far more reliable than drilling for oil.
The Son‘s “The Blue Light” is a fantastic episode. It adds to the peril and the uneasy atmosphere in the series, setting up all the players for what promises to be a dangerous endgame. The audience knows the McCullough family will emerge as a dynasty that lasts into contemporary times, but we don’t know how which side of the moral compass of history the fortunes will be built on. There is a break in the family, the brothers are on separate sides and it is Eli’s hands which will steer the family to its legacy. Those hands prove to be a little shaky on the wheel as the episode ends.