This The Son review contains spoilers.
The Son Season 2 Episode 9
The penultimate installment of The Son, season 2, episode 9, “The Bear,” readies the series for a somewhat forgone conclusion. But the closure is coming like a set of pincers squeezing several wounds at once, and not all of them healing. All three generations of McCullough are in danger of facing change and loss of fortune. All three face choices which alter their comfort, even as they move out of their comfort zones.
The episode centers, emotionally, on Jeannie McCullough (Sydney Lucas). Last week, she witnessed her mother cheating on her father with their son’s music teacher. The young McCullough ran away from home to escape a lying family only to barely escape a back road rape from a travelling salesman. She comes back home looking for truth, only to be faced with several truths, none of them less harsh nor real than any other truth. Her father, Pete (Henry Garrett), thinks he is doing the right thing. He levels with her about what the McCullough family did to the Garcia family and what he is going to do to make it right. She maneuvers her way into having him agree to let her keep a bag packed for when it’s time to take flight. Her mother, Sally (Jess Weixler), tries to impart gender realities.
In an almost-defiant moment of equality, Jeanne Ann shows her target shooting prowess during a bonding moment with her grandfather. When she outshoots him, Eli (Pierce Brosnan gives his granddaughter a second appraising look which is filled with pride. He does it behind her back, but it is so strong she must feel it coming off him. Jeanne Ann is a chess piece in tonight’s episode but she is no pawn. She is being groomed for Queen status and her brothers are merely the horses. Young Jeannie is pulled in a thousand directions before she lands exactly where Eli planned. He did the same with Sally McCullough (Jess Weixler). The young McCullough asks the right questions. Why would Eli pick her as the family successor even though she’s a girl? Why would he choose to ask her then? We see her make her choice. Her father offered her a hard escape. Her grandfather offers her an easy stay.
The choice is not very different than the one at the center of the 1870s timeline, to stay where one is comfortable, even though it is a harder way to live, constantly on the move with no chance to enjoy or plant roots. Or to take a chance to move on to something new, which ultimately is a far easier life. Young Eli is barely over the death of his pregnant wife, Prairie Flower (Elizabeth Frances), before he has to take part in keeping his band of Comanches alive. He is only given a small chance to nibble at the buffalo before the Comanches come across the captain of the army’s Indian relocation unit. Pathetic White Boy immediately moves to the front of the tribe’s patrol, along with Toshaway (Zahn McClarnon). Whatever the two may hold against each other, whatever trust has been broken, is secondary to the safety of the tribe and when the chips are down, Pathetic White Boy Eli is the most reliable brave of his generation.
The captain is marvelous. He’s duly impressed by the Comanches’ command of the English language. He is absolutely committed to offering a non-embattled front. Moving native Americans to an unnatural confinement is a god-awful job and he’s proud of being bad at it. Not in a cruel way, but by being intentionally ineffective when it suits him. He sees Toshaway as a good negotiator when he welcomes Ingrid (Kathryn Prescott) back into the white world, and is patient as he waits for the full deal to come through. I don’t think anyone in the audience wants to see Toshaway cry after the ultimate exchange is made, but it is effective and moving. His tears are more heartbreaking because they are held back, and only barely. After Eli leaves the Comanches we see the beginnings of what makes him come to be known as “the Colonel.” Eli maintains his loyalty to his tribe long enough to get them what they need, but as he tells the relocation captain what he brings to his new community, we feel the loyalty shift.
The waiting game played by María García (Paola Núñez) and her mercenary protector Niles Gilbert (Sydney Lucas) are fun to watch. Gilbert actually comes across as quite likable, especially when up against Maria’s defeatist attitude. He doesn’t like the fact she always expects the worst of people, that it’s her version of reality. He sounds like a modern day new age healer telling her about affirmations when he says that kind of talk only leads to bad outcomes.
Pete must have had some kind of Invasion of the Body Snatchers moment when he realizes his own daughter, the one he trusted to promise a getaway from the evil land they were sitting on, sells him out. She chooses the evil, plain and simple, which will afford her a much better life than the good ways of her father. The Colonel buys Jeanne Ann as much as she buys into the family mythology, even pushing a fairy tale death onto her beloved grandfather.
There is a fun factor in watching Pete play hide and seek with his family. It is a lethal game, but as he puts out false clues, like a meeting with the Garcia woman at the Adolphus Hotel in Dallas, it is increasingly fun to watch. It is equally enjoyable watching Eli match off against his son. He takes some clues, he ignores others. He winds his way through the treacherous landscape like a Comanche who’s stumbled on Apache land. In the end, he takes Pete’s truth and spins it to blame Pete for the very thing he’s fighting to correct. Eli reinterprets the night of the Garcia family killing in a wonderful dodge of blame.
Survivors write the history which suits them. They fight hard for that right and Eli gives the writing of that story to Jeannie. Everything is a choice for everyone. Eli works so hard to deal the cards so they are stacked in his favor. Decades later, Jeanne Anne McCullough (Lois Smith) still writes the family history, and she writes it large. She tells the story of how Eli will ultimately go out. Faced with a dire cancer prognosis, he faces off against a bear in the wilderness. Eli tracks the bear, lets it get a sense of his smell and prowess. Allows the bear to find him and equal and worthy adversary. Then he throws away his own advantage, the guns and bullets he brought along for the final hunt. We don’t know how Jeanne Anne comes to the conclusion of how her grandfather died. He was alone. He could have just been ripped apart by a bear. He could not have told anyone that story. But in Texas, the winners write the story, even if they win in defeat.
Tonight’s big reveal is that Ulises is Pete and Maria’s grandson. He is there to claim his part of the McCullough land. He even has the gun his father got from his brother Phineas (David Wilson Barnes) as a present. It is engraved. This is enough to tell us that Maria will live past the ultimate outcome of the series, although it doesn’t necessarily guarantee the same for Pete.
One of the themes of tonight’s episode is the family name. Ulises Gonzales (Alex Hernandez) reveals his real last name for the first time, while young Eli McCullough (Jacob Lofland) lies about his. Pathetic White Boy tells the army troop which traded for him and Ingrid his last name is Stevenson. He tells Ingrid it is because his own father may still be alive and he doesn’t want to deal with him. He’s just broken it off with one father, and he is apparently on his way to choosing the great state he lives in as a dad. He is, after all, called the First Son of Texas.
“The Bear” fills in most of the gaps the series has left for its conclusion without tipping its hand on how the story ends. We know Eli and Maria will both live past the ultimate showdown. Like Humphrey Bogart at the end of Across the Pacific, Eli is facing seemingly insurmountable odds at the end of the episode. But we know Eli must win, because Jeanne Ann is still pushing his mythology for generations to come. But, as Standard Oil’s hired guns come to protect the last living descendant of the Garcia family, the biggest suspense is how it will be twisted for the series finale.
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.