Pierce Brosnan is the center of attention in the two-hour premiere of the sweeping family saga.
We’re offering a weekly account of every episode of The Son aired during the drama’s premiere season on AMC. Warning: There will be spoilers a-plenty in each of these overviews. Here are five takeaways from the two-hour premiere of Episodes 101 and 102, “First Son of Texas” and “The Plum Tree.”
It appears The Son, a saga set in Texas during two different eras, will progress along parallel narrative tracks: One charting the evolution of young Eli McCullough (Jacob Lofland) from callow innocent to hardened warrior after he is abducted by Comanches; the other detailing the single-minded struggle of the older Eli (Pierce Brosnan) to make the transition from cattle baron to oil tycoon by any means necessary during the turbulent era of the Mexican Revolution and the Bandit Wars of Texas.
In Central Texas, circa 1849, young Eli and his brother Martin (Seth Meriwether) are abducted by the marauding Comanches who raid their homestead and kill their mother and sister. On the trail back to camp, Martin defiantly — or, perhaps more accurately, suicidally — stands up to his captors by mocking them, and he is brutally killed. (Even so, the Comanches respect him enough to refrain from taking his scalp.) Eli remains an unwilling “guest” of the Comanches for an extended period, but is driven to escape when he can no longer endure the humiliation of being systematically beaten by Prairie Flower (Elizabeth Frances), the sassy taskmaster who oversees his chores. Toshaway (Zahn McClarnon), Eli’s Comanche mentor, suggests that Eli find a way to make his life more bearable. So Eli punches Prairie Flower in the face — and is allowed to join the men of the camp. Prairie Flower is enraged, but she gets over it. Come nightfall, she slips into Eli’s tent, and tries him on for size.
In South Texas, circa 1915, Eli has begun drilling for oil on his massive cattle ranch with a single rig. While out for a drive around his spread with his son Pete (Henry Garrett) and granddaughter Jeannie (Sydney Lucas), he finds a hanged man who turns out to be an employee of Perdo Garcia (Carlos Bardem), his well-to-do neighbor. Eli more or less shrugs off the discovery. But Pete, figuring the deceased was killed by vigilantes on the trail of cattle rustlers, takes the corpse to the sheriff in a nearby town. While there, he converses with Niles Gilbert (James Parks), a bartender who is slightly surprised by Pete’s newly acquired aversion to old school frontier justice. “You and your daddy,” Niles notes, “aren’t exactly strangers to backcountry adjudication. You enlightened plenty of rustlers at the end of a rope.” But that was then, Pete insists. This is now.
Maybe, maybe not.
In order to finance an expansion of oil exploration on his property, Eli throws a lavish party to impress potential investors at his well-appointed home. His daughter-in-law Sally (Jess Weixler) — Pete’s wife, Jeannie’s mother — serves as hostess, while his wheeler-dealer son Phineas (David Wilson Barnes, a veteran of AMC’s Hell on Wheels) offers him advice on the art of the deal. Among the guests not likely to open their wallets: Pedro Garcia, who warns Pete that, as far as Eli is concerned, the violent ways of the bad old days are hardly ancient history. “Your father is a simple animal, Pete,” Pedro opines. “He’s untroubled by his conscience. He sleeps soundly, secure in his belief that men are as expendable as beef.” All of which may be true, of course, but Pete prefers his more lighthearted conversation with Pedro’s beautiful (and, just as important, recently widowed) daughter, Maria Garcia (Paola Nuñez), who apparently was a very good friend before she moved away a few years ago. Now that she’s back, well ...
The happy chatterings and seriocomic speechifying are rudely interrupted by a loud explosion. Eli, his sons, and other men ride out to find someone has blown up Eli’s oil rig. They set out in hot pursuit of the dynamiters, and capture Cesar Sanchez (Elliott Villar), Pedro Garcia’s rebellious son-in-law, who has aligned his himself with Mexican raiders known as sediciosos. These radicals are bent on launching violent attacks on Anglo landowners, in an attempt to reclaim Texas for Mexico. Pedro Garcia doesn’t sympathize with this group — he considers himself and his family to be Americans — but he gets worried when his son-in-law goes missing. What he doesn’t know, but likely suspects, is that Eli is holding Cesar prisoner in a shack on his property. Pete attempts a nonviolent approach to coaxing information from Cesar about the sediciosos. But when that fails, Eli resorts to — ahem — enhanced interrogation techniques to learn everything he can from his prisoner.
Afterwards, Eli leaves it up to Pete to “take care” of Cesar. Obviously, the older man expects his son to kill the guy and bury him somewhere. But Pete, determined to behave in a more civilized manner than his dad ever would (or could), takes Cesar down to the Tex-Mex border, cuts him free of his bonds, and tells him to skedaddle across the river to safety. But the angry and ungrateful Cesar tries to kill his benefactor, and Pete is forced to fatally stab him in self-defense. Repeatedly. When it’s all over, Pete digs a grave for the inconvenient corpse, and is left to wonder: May he’s not so different from his father after all?
Takeaway No. 1
There probably are laws in seven or eight states against any actor enjoying himself as much as Pierce Brosnan does here while robustly playing Eli McCullough, the kind of larger-than-life figure who can intimidate lesser mortals without ever raising his voice, sound like a harsh and unforgiving god when he amps the volume — and enchant his adoring granddaughter with equal measures of blunt-spoken candor and twinkly-eyed charm. Early on, he gives us an inkling of just how cynical the old SOB is when Pete asks him who could be responsible for the lynching of Pedro Garcia’s hired hand. He matter-of-factly responds: “There is a revolution going on the other side of that border. And our county does harbor every kind of cattle thief known to man. Then we got the trigger-happy Rangers. A sheriff who can’t tell his ass from a hole in the ground. And a whole collection of yahoos who go for a rope every time a Mexican looks at a white lady.” He laughs, but does not smile, then adds: “So I don’t know, son. It’s a pretty short list of suspects.”
Takeaway No. 2
The Comanches don’t seem to get really angry at Martin until he quotes Goethe to them. (“It is the fate of a man like myself to be misunderstood.”) Did they decide to silence him because they didn’t enjoy the company of a literary snob?
Takeaway No. 3
Impressionable viewers should be reminded that 1849 was a long, long time ago. What worked for young Eli back then probably won’t work for you. These days, punching a woman in the face is not an acceptable part of any courting ritual.
Takeaway No. 4
On the other hand, being reared by the same brutal Comanches who killed your mother and siblings might serve as good training for high-stakes business negotiations. At one point, Eli shares with Jeannie his concern that he might lose his empire: “Anytime you find a decent piece of land — sure as sunup, someone out there’s gonna try to take it from you.” Jeannie, deeply concerned for his grandfather, asks: “Does that scare you?” Eli replies: “Not anymore.” Indeed, you get the feeling that there’s almost nothing — almost nothing — that can scare Eli after all he’s been through.
Takeaway No. 5
Are we meant to suspect that Sally has lust in her heart for her brother-in-law, Phineas? Or that Pete might be tempted into breaking a commandment or two with Maria? And what will Jeannie come to think when she learns that Caesar — whom she last saw in the company of her father — has vanished? Stay tuned for answers and enlightenment.