REVIEW: The Son S1E3 ‘Second Empire’ continues to delve into the enigmatic Eli McCullough
The Son has found its footing. After two episodes setting up a conflict that will lead to war, ‘Second Empire’ takes a step back to examine the mindset of The Son‘s enigmatic protagonist – Eli McCullough. The result is an engaging hour of television.
‘Second Empire’ very much plays on The Son‘s strengths, which lie primarily in the character of Eli (played by the surprisingly subtle Pierce Brosnan). We’ve learnt that the character was kidnapped as a child by Comanches and his family murdered in front of him. We’ve learnt that in his later years he is the Mayor of Texas, respected and powerful. ‘Second Empire’ delves deeper into the years that created the ruthless head of the McCullough family, yet manages to humanise the man.
In 1849, we watch a young Eli strike up a bond with Toshaway, conduct a relationship with Prairie Flower and incite the rage of her suitor. He is learning the ways of the Comanche undeniably slowly, but he is learning them nonetheless. In ‘Second Empire’, he seems to be settling in as well as white boy prisoner can. The fire of the man who fantasises about scalping a business associate is there.
In 1915, Eli is unable to secure the investment he desires to turn his land into oilfields. In a moment of unexpected vulnerability, he agrees to sell some of his land. He then visits an old female friend, Ingrid, for a companionship that is quite unlike what we have come to expect from him. It’s another side to a very complex man, and peeling back the layers of Eli have been a highlight of The Son so far.
As has been the case in previous episodes of The Son, ‘Second Empire’ fails to focus overly on the characters around Eli. This is a shame because there is still a lot of potential there and what we do see is interesting to say the least. The Son attempts to portray many points of view at once and paints no side of this upcoming tussle as faultless. The realism in its depiction is that it reflects the horrible times in which the characters live, in which it was very hard to gain a moral high ground anywhere.
It’s also still the case that the exploration of young Eli is more interesting than the slow-build of politics in 1915. This is something I’m expecting to shift dramatically in later episodes when the threat of war becomes even more pronounced.
One slightly disjointed moment of ‘Second Empire’ was the dream sequence in which an adult Eli talks to Toshaway. This scene does a lot for explaining the relationship the two characters came to have, but there are sleeker ways of including this information into a show. The impact was that is felt a bit weird and out of place in an episode that otherwise detailed Eli’s transformation in a wonderful way.
These points aside, The Son still continues to demand my attention. The depiction of Eli McCullough is enthralling. If only it could now broaden its horizons beyond Eli, we could have a long-term hit on our hands.