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The Son - Marriage Bond & Honey Hunt - Double Review

25 May 2017

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These two episodes saw The Son take a breather after the relatively eventful previous episodes, which saw a quick escalation in the racial tensions that have been present since the pilot. Perhaps one of the show's great early strengths is how clearly the people behind it understand the world they are depicting. From the dialogue to the production design, there's a richness to The Son that unfortunately isn't always present in period dramas. So maybe the greatest joy of these two episodes was seeing The Son settle down and getting to spend some time in the world it depicts, a world that, as I've said before, is rarely seen even in today's era of Peak TV.

So even if The Son is occasionally not as dramatically engaging as it should be (though these two episodes don't have that problem, as I'll get into soon), I can safely say that it's the only show on TV that would visit a gay bar in 1915 Austin, or devote fifteen minutes of an episode to two characters going on a "Honey Hunt", which is an outdoor sex club frequented by men of great affluence. The Son, even in its weaker moments, always has my attention, because it's at least unique in the times and places it depicts.

As I said, these two episodes saw the show slow down, and the more relaxed pace led to a greater intimacy. While The Son's sprawl is one of its features that sets it apart, in the early going it also kept us at a remove from its characters, because of the heavy burden of exposition that was placed on the first few episodes. With the plot and the character dynamics firmly established, The Son is now in a position to spend more time with the characters that populate its world, and the results so far are pretty successful.

For example, my favourite part of "Marriage Bond" was the portion dedicated to following Sally and Phineas around in Austin, a portion that features the aforementioned visit to the 1915 Austin gay bar, a place where it's clear Phineas is very comfortable. It's a wonderfully languid scene, comfortable relying on the charm of its actors, in particular Jess Weixler, who here is allowed to give a somewhat looser and more relaxed performance, much like the show as a whole.

These two episodes did some important work not just with Sally, but with more of its female characters, who have up until now been under-served. In fact, one of the big themes that these two episodes seem to have introduced is how all the cultures the show depicts have a tendency to trap women. Sally, Maria, and Prairie Flower are from completely different backgrounds (and, in the latter's case, a different time), but in the series they serve as thematic mirrors to one another.

Sally was married to Pete as soon as she was of suitable age, and so she never got to live an adult life free of spousal and parental responsibilities. She was thrust into her current life, and so it's not a surprise that she has grown to somewhat resent it, or at least has grown frustrated by it. So when Phineas takes her out, she lets her guard down, and briefly becomes the carefree young women she never got the chance to truly be.

In the flashbacks, Eli takes a back seat to the supporting players (Jacob Lofland doesn't even appear in "Honey Hunt" outside of an older Eli's hallucination), in particular Prairie Flower and Ingrid, both of whom are trapped for no reason other than their gender. Ingrid fears that she has no future, as what man would possibly want to marry her now that she no longer has her virginity? And Prairie Flower is being pressured to marry Charges the Enemy, in order to better the position of her family in the tribe. And of course, by the end, she acquiesces, because what other option did she really have?

And then on course, there's Maria, a character who has been a bit of a cipher up until now. But she too, like the show's other women, has been ensnared by the reality of her sex, as she later reveals to Pete the reason behind her return to her family's ranch, after the two rekindle the romance they had as teenagers. Realizing that she was incapable of bearing children, her husband left her, and to maintain a level of dignity, she pretended that she was a widow.

To a far lesser extent, the show's men are also trapped, whether it's by familial loyalty (Pete) or the burden of past misdeeds (Eli). Pete had a choice whether to leave Maria and marry Sally, a nice blonde girl from a respectable family, but when it came to respecting your father's wishes and doing what's best for the family business, it wasn't much of a choice at all. As both Pete and Prairie Flower realised, there's not much room for love in this life.

For all Eli's determination to move his family into the future with his push into the oil business, he still can't seem to escape his violent past. On the Honey Hunt he is shot by one of the prostitutes, who claims to be the daughter of the one survivor left by Eli after he wiped out the people who killed his wife and son. The endless cycle of violence chugs on.

Given the significant time these episodes spend with characters lacking in any agency, the Honey Hunt provides a stark contrast. Eli and Phineas go there to bribe a judge to ensure that their inevitable acquisition of the oil on the Garcia's land is perfectly legitimate. Early in "Marriage Bond", Maria is in town and is quickly surrounded by Niles Gilbert and his goons, emphasizing her powerlessness. The show then shows us the other extreme, where a basket of money and a handshake can make something as seemingly final and secure as land ownership disappear in the eyes of the law.

Grade: A-