Saturday, April 08, 2017

In AMC’s engrossing new western ‘The Son,’ a cowboy is just a cowboy

The further America moves away from its frontier past, the more television wants to revisit it. Here comes “The Son.” This sweeping western saga about the rise of a family empire is set among the old cattle ranches and new oil wells of 19th- and 20th-century Texas. There are no robots under these cowboy hats a la “Westworld,” or layers of unspoken subtext like “Deadwood.” A cowboy is just a cowboy, and an Indian just an Indian in this 10-part period drama, which debuts Saturday on AMC. Deep thinking is not required while traversing the show’s beautiful, rugged landscape, which is admittedly a welcome reprieve given the landslide of streaming, network and cable shows that demand we pay close attention or be left behind. “The Son” is adapted from Philipp Meyer’s 2013 novel. It stars Pierce Brosnan as ruthless land baron and family patriarch Eli McCullough, who is willing to do whatever it takes to become the most powerful — or at least richest — man in Texas. Eli was born in 1836, the same year as the Republic of Texas. He was raised on the wild frontier by Comanche Indians who killed his settler family when he was a young teen. By living with the tribe, learning from its formidable leader (Zahn McClarnon) and falling in love with a tough woman ironically named Prairie Flower (Elizabeth Frances), he learns what it takes to survive in the largely uninhabited outback that was Mexico and Texas. He also learns that the road to power requires that a man use violence. Lots and lots of violence. The story of how he builds his family dynasty takes place along two timelines. The first starts in 1849, when we see how a young Eli (played convincingly by Jacob Lofland) and Texas were formed. It’s the tale of territorial battles and alliances between native Comanche, recently displaced Mexicans and wave after wave of white settlers. The second timeline kicks off in 1915, on the eve of the Mexican revolution, and just after oil was discovered in Texas. Eli has built his empire as a rancher, but declares “the era of the cattle baron is over.” He’s determined to dominate this new industry, by any means necessary...more

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