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The Son - No Prisoners & The Buffalo Hunter - Double Review

10 May 2017

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In The Son, humanity is like a plague, destroying everything it comes into contact with. Fueled by greed, and a need to have what isn't theirs, people inevitably resort to violence. The United States as it is today was born out of primitive, needless bloodshed, and The Son gives us a mere glimpse of that gory, ugly history through the story of Eli McCullough.

The show's most recent couple of episodes "No Prisoners" and "The Buffalo Hunter" (both of which I'm only now reviewing because of recent exam demands) see the show at perhaps the most thematically unified it's ever been, its two timelines working in harmony, giving both episodes more of a flow, as opposed to the slightly stop-start pace of prior hours. In these episodes The Son makes its mission statement all the more clear: everything people do is at the expense of others.

A large portion of "No Prisoners" is built around a thrilling action set-piece set at the McCullough ranch, a climax of the season's racial tensions. The mood the episode sets up before that is suitably grim and foreboding, as Sally pleads with Pete to leave the ranch and Eli's plans for the family behind. According to her, all of this can only end badly, and the rest of these two episodes do a good job at making her case all the more reasonable. Even the opening moments of "No Prisoners", which feature photographs of the aftermath of the battle at the river in the previous episode, envelope each subsequent scene with a certain disgust for humanity.

The episode's climactic shoot-out is fantastic, and is easily the show's best-directed sequence yet. Its thrills more than make up for the episode's biggest weakness, that being the lack of personality ascribed to the sediciosos, none of whom are given enough screen-time to become distinguishable faces, much less characters in their own right. And while the shoot-out resulted in some losses - Sullivan died, and Pete's son Jonas was shot - it was a victory for the McCulloughs, mostly due to the Garcias' deus ex machina, which also briefly cooled tensions between the two families.

But the subsequent episode "The Buffalo Hunter" makes clear that any peace is not likely to last long, as both timelines put on full display the horrors that men commit against one another, out of fear or greed or hate or something else. Charles finds himself increasingly under the racist sway of town asshole Niles Gilbert, a relationship which results in a tragic outcome, as Ramón, McCullough ranch labourer, is needlessly killed - in an incredibly uncomfortable sequence - for no other reason than the fact that he was a vessel for man's inevitable fear of what he doesn't understand.

But The Son never forgets about the people in America who were first to be oppressed by white men: the Native Americans. And while "The Buffalo Hunter" maintains the series' attempts to keep everything as morally murky as possible - as seen by the Comanche's torture of the titular buffalo hunter - Prairie Flower's heartbreaking monologue speaking of what happened to her family is a reminder of the original cruelty that gave birth to modern American civilisation. The torture of the buffalo hunter is only further evidence that violence only breeds more violence, and humanity builds on and covers up that endless cycle's gory product.

It's through young Eli's empathy for the buffalo hunter and guilt over the German girl Ingrid that The Son finds another potent link between its two timelines, as young Eli's internal struggle is mirrored by that of Pete. Both are struggling with their way of life, a way of life Pete grew up in and young Eli was thrust into. But while Pete is only growing more horrified by his world and what he is capable of, young Eli is sinking deeper into his new world, looking more and more like a Comanche every episode. But perhaps he's softer than Toshoway would like, as seen by the mercy he showed the buffalo hunter.

But nothing in these episodes represents the despicable side of human nature better than Eli and Jeannie's discovery and search of oil. Oil has long been symbolic of humanity's greed, in literature and reality, and in The Son it acts almost like a plague - much like the one young Eli encounters when he's told to search the Tonk camp - eating away at all that is decent about pure. When Eli and Jeannie encounter a pool of oil on Garcia land, it's clear that nothing legally binding such as land ownership will stop Eli from digging up that oil. To move forward, humanity sinks lower, both literally and figuratively.

Grade: A-