The Old West is having a bit of a moment right now – from HBO’s incredible Westworld to the hotly anticipated film adaptation of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower, audiences can’t get enough Americana. Quietly slipping into the spring television schedule is AMC’s The Son, starring Pierce Brosnan in his first television role since Remington Steele ended in 1987. It’s quite a comeback for Brosnan, who to modern audiences is best known as Bond – or Meryl Streep’s boyfriend in Mamma Mia.
The Son fills the western void in AMC’s roster left by Hell on Wheels, which finished last summer, but unfortunately, it doesn’t have much in common with its predecessor. Whilst Hell on Wheels was praised for its emotion and nuance, as well as stellar cast performances and intriguing political commentary, The Son lacks such heart – and like Hell on Wheels, it’s likely to only attract quite a niche audience as a result.
Based on the novel of the same name by Phillip Meyer, The Son is an epic tale concerning Eli McCullough – a Texan self-made man who takes an interest in the oil industry. Flashbacks transport us between 1915 and 1848, where a young Eli is taken prisoner by Comanche Native Americans following the murder of his mother, sister and brother. Back in the present, the elderly Eli celebrates his birthday with his family as well as his Mexican and Native American associates., but someone is determined to cause trouble for him.
It’s clear from the start that something is rotten in the state of Texas, but watching the first episode, audiences may well find it difficult to care. The show suffers from sluggish pacing and a lack of focus, meaning its fifty-minute runtime somehow feels much longer. There’s a large cast that’s hard to keep track of and harder still to care about – only a handful of characters are given adequate screen time to make any sort of impression. It’s also surprising that in 2017 television shows still seem compelled to play up the tired trope of Native Americans being gratuitously violent and barbaric – it’s a tired and out-dated stereotype that studios would do well to leave in the past.
Texas does look lovely though – AMC has a knack for production design and cinematography, though comparisons may be drawn to Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood – The Son seems to take much inspiration from the film, and not quite capture the magic that made it a modern classic. Part of this is due to casting – Brosnan sells southern charm convincingly (despite his dodgy accent) but his character just isn’t particularly interesting, despite his remarkable past. It’s a great shame that Sam Neill had to drop out of production, as one wonders if his Eli McCullough might have been more convincing.
A first episode needs to build rapport with an audience and give them a reason to keep watching, which usually comes in the form of plot establishment or compelling characters. This pilot episode fails to really sell The Son as a story – there’s no impetus to find out what happens next. Compared to other AMC shows such as The Walking Dead, Breaking Bad or Mad Men, which all had exceptionally strong first episodes, The Son feels like a misfire. It’s not a bad show per say, but certainly not one for the history books either.