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The Son - Death Song - Review

25 Apr 2017

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Four episodes in, and it feels like The Son is settling into itself, easing into a nice rhythm in which it can tell its story. The show's growing pains up until now have mostly been a result of the writers figuring out how exactly to tell this massive story. All the pieces are there for a unique, engaging drama series, but when you're telling a story of such immense scope you have to decide what aspects you should prioritize in the early stages, so as to ease viewers in. TV shows, especially ones of such ambition, need to teach viewers how to watch them, let them get accustomed to the style, tone, feel, etc. The quicker a show can do that, the better.

While last week's episode "Second Empire" succeeded by slowing everything down to a crawl in order to tread on some of the show's themes and spend some time with the man at its center, "Death Song" succeeded by moving the focus away from Eli (in 1915, anyway), to develop the show's supporting players and further the conflict between the McCulloughs and the sediciosos. While the episode lacked a thematic cohesion, or much of a meaningful connection between the two timelines, it compensated for that with a brisk but measured pace and some solid plot progression.

The "flashbacks" remain the more engaging of the two timelines, though that is because it's telling a far more streamlined and straight-forward narrative, as opposed to the sprawl of the later timeline, which had the burden of introducing a large ensemble of characters. And while the show has struggled with this, its supporting characters are, week by week, becoming more and more defined, feeling less like indiscernible faces in the background and more like well-rounded human beings.

The 1915 material this week saw Pete uncover a plot by the sediciosos to derail a train, and then accompany a group of men led by Eli to prevent the derailment from taking place. The build-up to the climactic confrontation, which I'll get to in a minute, allowed the show to endear Pete to viewers a little more and spend some time away from Brosnan's performance, which has a tendency to overshadow everything else. While Eli was present this whole time, he didn't say much, the show letting Pete take center stage for the hour.

The extra time spent with Pete proved valuable. Not only did the episode see him demonstrate a certain competence it was unclear he possessed, but it also fleshed out his relationship with his son Charles. So much of The Son is concerned with family legacy and what people inherit from those who came before, and that's seen in Pete's determination to raise his eldest son differently than he himself was raised. But while Pete can teach Charles to be more tolerant to black people than most (as demonstrated by his comfort with Neptune), he can't stop the more trigger-happy elements of Texas life in 1915 from seeping through.

Pete's wife Sally remains a bit of a cipher, but an interesting one nonetheless. The episode makes clear that Pete wasn't exactly happy to marry her, as doing so meant abandoning Maria Garcia in order to appease the Colonel. And at every turn the series is making us question where Sally's real loyalties lie. As we've seen, she is a much better fit for this world than her husband, and so it's unclear if she'll stand with him or see him as weak and abandon his side if forced to choose.

The episode built to an action set-piece far more impressive than I expected it to be. I've noted before how disappointingly lackluster the direction on the show has been so far, but the episode's climactic shoot-out between the Colonel's men and the sediciosos on the river was well staged, director Olatunde Osunsanmi choosing the right moments for a wide shot, effectively capturing the chaos of the battle while never letting the scene become incomprehensible to viewers.

Less well staged was the scene that opened the episode, which saw Texas Rangers ambush the Comanche. What transpired was a shoot-out on horseback, and while none of what happened was unclear, the entire sequence lacked any form of energy or tension. Thankfully, the 1849 material improved greatly from there, as we saw Eli further gain the respect of the Comanche, as he attempted to save one of them after he had been crushed by his horse. While the material with the younger Eli provides less to write about each week, it remains a solid source of entertainment, and the show is continuing to do a great job exploring the relationship between him and Toshoway, a character I find myself getting invested in despite little screentime.

The Son is getting more and more adept at telling its vast story, and that means significant improvements in the 1915 timeline. While I wish this episode could have provided a little more substance or worked harder to tie together the show's two halves thematically, I was engaged and invested with much of what was onscreen.

Grade: B