This The Son review contains spoilers.
The Son Season 2 Episode 8
The Son, season 2, episode 8, “All Their Guilty Stains,” gives us something of a breather after a run of intensely perilous episodes. This is not to say it is lacking in danger or intensity, but it doesn’t have the immediacy of the running buildup. The series loses a major character, which we knew was coming, but even this is something of a respite from the intensity of the past few weeks.
The episode opens on Sally McCullough (Jess Weixler) humming to herself while her son takes a piano lesson in another room. She loses patience and tells her son, out of the blue, to clean his room because the lesson is over. This has been building over the past few episodes. Sally’s under a lot of stress, her husband Pete (Henry Garrett) disappeared for a year with the María García (Paola Núñez), the daughter of the family who was killed for the oil under their property. It now belongs to the McCulloughs. Her husband’s supposed affair is gossip around town and it drove Sally into the arms and bed of her son’s music teacher, who she tells that, while the McCullough family may have stolen the oil-rich property, she owns nothing.
Sally is a little annoying as a character. She puts on airs, thinks she’s better than the neighbors, and certainly better than her husband and his family. When the music teacher pointed this out two episodes ago, it ended their short fling. But as her frustration has been growing, she let his unkind words go. She’s playing a dangerous game, considering the family she married into, but it is a game they understand. When she admits to the affair to Eli (Pierce Brosnan), whose son she is cheating on, he is surprised and annoyed, but not entirely dismissive. But the reason she has to tell him is because her daughter Jeannie (Sydney Lucas) disappeared after spying a dalliance with the music teacher he was worried would be problematic.
Sally ignored the music teacher’s balking at the location, and the audience knew it was going to turn out as it did. Eli doesn’t judge. His annoyance is far more pragmatic, as it is with his gay eldest son. Eli only got annoyed because Phineas got caught. His other son, Pete, didn’t get caught if he did, indeed, have an affair with Maria, a rumor that’s spread around town long before we actually see it happening tonight. Jeannie is pretty sure she knows the truth of that.
Jeannie takes off with a traveling salesman after complaining that her family is all a bunch of liars. We know this isn’t going to turn out well, but it seems a little too easily worked out after the young McCullough decks him and takes off back home. We know Jeannie can take of herself, we’ve seen it in the past and in the future timeline. Knowing she lives to the future timeline takes away some of the suspense and sense of danger in the scene, which is also treated a tad too delicately to counteract it. This is not the moment in her life which made her tough, this was a moment which reinforced the McCullough blood in her.
Niles Gilbert (Sydney Lucas) is living the life. He is now fully comfortable walking the walk of the liberated liberator. He is also talking the talk, usually with far more adjective verbosity than necessary in a dusty Texas town. Niles is a bit of a contradictory character. He is racist and calls out the McCulloughs for using black law enforcement as hired guns, but he is protecting a woman whose family comes from south of the Texas-Mexico border. For those wondering about the accuracy of African American law enforcement at the time, Houston and Galveston, Texas, had black officers on their forces since 1870, and Walter Moses Burton was the first African American sheriff. He became sheriff of Fort Bend County, Texas, in 1869. He went on to become a very influential state senator, rising to the position of vice president of the state’s Republican Party conventions.
After Niles offers the Colonel, as he and many others in the border town call Eli, his bottle on the house, so long as he takes it somewhere else to drink, Brosnan almost eats his own face. His character has been called a novelty act below par for the course the Endicott family golfs at and it is a hard nut to swallow. This is a shot across the bow of a foundering ego which refuses to sink and we can taste the bilge water his whiskey has become. But when his son Phineas asks how the meeting went, Eli merely says it went about as expected.
I don’t often reiterate this in reviews, but I’m serious about the spoiler alerts. If you haven’t seen the episode it’s best to wait before proceeding. The demise of Prairie Flower (Elizabeth Frances) is an encapsulation of the series. There is struggle, pacification, betrayal, victory and ultimate defeat, which comes as a surprise from a younger opponent new to the battlefield. The funereal chanting behind young Eli’s preparation of the body is searing and also unexpected. Even as she dies, Prairie Flower is proud, defiant and loving with Eli. She wants to hear stories about his mother. She looks forward to teaching her daughter to ride. When Eli points out she’s a terrible rider, Prairie Flower says she’s still better than him. This gentle ribbing is a last moment of fun, considering the circumstances. It is also the moment the audience knows she is going to lose the fight for life.
The special effects are simple but effective. The wound Prairie Flower suffers in the battle is unexpectedly painful-looking. The arrow goes right through her. It might be the quivering lips before Prairie Flower puts her bow down in the sad standoff which makes the lethal nature of the attack so surprising. A little girl shouldn’t be able to deliver such a strong blow, although she did just lose her mom.
Toshaway (Zahn McClarnon) and young Eli (Jacob Lofland) are fully estranged at the opening of the episode, punishment for hiding the body of a Yap Eater Comanche warrior who Ingrid (Kathryn Prescott), or Dirty Hair, killed. Fathers and sons have complicated relationships on The Son. This is true of all cultures because people are people, but it the McCullough family is a microcosm of various backgrounds. Eli is very much the white man’s colonel and First Son of Texas. But he was forged to be that by being raised by Comanches. We have no idea yet why he ultimately chooses the occupying force over the people he is free with, but he is seeded in the land of his adopted family. It is extremely heartwarming to see Eli and Toshaway reconcile at Prairie Flowers’ burial ritual. They don’t speak to each other, it’s basically a rough pat on the shoulder, but it means a lot, registers and resonates.
“All Their Guilty Stains” is one of the sexier episodes, even though both of the sex scenes are problematic. Pete has his mind turned around by Maria, even in the face of the possibility she only had sex to get him to turn on his family. The ultimate family showdown is coming, and The Son is packing the shells with gunpowder. Now that Maria has Pete in her holster, there is no room for buckshot. He’s made the choice for the side which is in the right, but it is fun to root for the bad guy regardless of what color hat he’s wearing.
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.