SXSW TV Review: ‘The Son’ on AMC, Starring Pierce Brosnan

Pierce Brosnan as Eli McCullough -
Courtesy AMC

If you’re looking for yet another show centered around a morally grey white man with a dark past, “The Son” might be right up your alley. Those who want something more original or fresh in the drama arena are likely to end up looking elsewhere. 

“The Son” follows in the footsteps of AMC’s previous antiheroes: Pierce Brosnan’s character, Eli McCullough, isn’t dissimilar from Don Draper “(Mad Men”), Walter White (“Breaking Bad”), and Joe MacMillan (“Halt and Catch Fire”). But McCullough is exasperatingly unlikable at every turn, and surrounded by countless characters that lack purpose or personality.

The sprawling drama is based on the acclaimed Philipp Meyer novel of the same name, taking us from young McCullough’s capture by Comanches in 1849 Texas to 60 years later, when he’s the ruthless owner of a cattle ranch. His distaste for Mexicans and penchant for torturing his enemies is juxtaposed with the idealism of his youngest son, Pete. The McCulloughs have a large family, and much of the initial conflict centers on their disputes with the García family, some of whom wish to return Texas to its rightful Mexican ownership. Blood, gunfire, and explosions soon follow, but with a tepid pace that seems drawn out due to “The Son’s” insistence that it’s a prestige drama.

If the mechanics of “The Son” seem awfully familiar, it’s because it seems poised to be a sudsy primetime drama in the vein of “Dallas” or “Dynasty,” with feuding families, love triangles, and snappy one-liners. But the series strays away from anything that could be considered soap opera-adjacent or simply fun. Brosnan’s McCullough is mostly miserable in both time periods, whether he’s being abused by the Comanche warriors who’ve kidnapped him or ordering the deaths of Mexicans who want to liberate their land from him.

McCullough’s villainy is certainly over the top enough to make him a mustache-twirling villain a la J.R. Ewing, especially with a fantastic actor like Brosnan in the role. But he rules South Texas with an iron, all-powerful fist, and any characters who stand up to him are sure to lose. McCullough’s tale is one of rags to riches, and one of a fiercely protective son descended from an amoral father and grandfather, but his journey doesn’t feel particularly new in the antihero genre, nor does it feel fresh in the realm of Westerns.

Westerns have had quite a comeback recently, with HBO’s “Westworld” and the critically acclaimed X-Men spin-off “Logan.” The difference is, while those series present original takes on the Western through the use of robots and mutants, “The Son” feels far too familiar. Native American and Mexican characters feel ancillary to the struggles of a well-to-do white family, as has been the case in just about every Western since “Stagecoach.”

For AMC, which boldly dove into the genre world with “The Walking Dead” to great success, it’s unfortunate that they haven’t quite figured out how to master the Western. “The Son” isn’t as much of a sodden disappointment as the network’s previous offering in the genre, “Hell on Wheels,” but it’s certainly not up to par with the best that AMC has had to offer. Perhaps a harder-edged Western, something in the vein of a blood-and-guts serial like “The Walking Dead,” might’ve been a more satisfying series to watch. Better yet, a Western with a perspective we haven’t seen — the Native American one, the Mexican one, the female-fronted one — would have provided new insight into a genre that often repeats itself.

Even if the viewer can ignore the familiar beats of the story, the only well-drawn characters are McCullough and his son, Pete. Everyone else contains scraps of traditional Western archetypes, but they aren’t fully realized as characters we should care about. Chances are, if you recognize the archetypes, you’ll recognize another Western you’d much rather watch instead of “The Son.”

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Correction: A previous version of this review misidentified the Native American tribe represented in the show as Apache. The tribe is actually Comanche.

SXSW TV Review: 'The Son' on AMC, Starring Pierce Brosnan

Drama; 10 episodes (2 reviewed); AMC; South by Southwest premiere, March 12; AMC premiere, Sat., April 8. 60 min.

Crew

Executive producers, Tom Lesinski, Jenna Santoianni, Tom Harper, Philipp Meyer, Brian McGreevy, Lee Shipman, Kevin Murphy.

Cast

Pierce Brosnan, Jacob Lofland, Sydney Lucas, David Wilson Barnes, Jess Weixler, Henry Garrett, Elizabeth Frances, Paola Nuñez, Carlos Bardem, James Parks, Zahn McClarnon.

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  1. Texican says:

    I would have much preferred Sam Elliot as Eli.

  2. I have tried watching at least 4 or 5 episodes of this show and have hated every one and ended up turning the channel. I absolutely loved Hell On Wheels and was sad when when it left the air, so I was hoping The Son would be just as successful. I hate the way it goes back and forth in the timeline, I hate all the violence that has no purpose, and total lack of morality in the core character Eli. he just disgusts me. No thanks. This is one show on AMC I won’t be following.

  3. Isabelle says:

    What an unfortunate review. I could not disagree with you more. You come across sexist, uninformed and angry.

    • Connie Ward says:

      I agree. Way too much violence. Stabbing a horse to death. Skinning Buffalo alive… WOW ! How creative ! Everybody kills everybody else. The Indians kill each other. . the Mexicans kill the Whites and the Whites kill everyone but Whites and burn each others property down.. Laughable. Since when do Indians ..Tough Comanche say things like..’that kid is a jerk’ ? And, ‘he is pathetic’ ? Who writes this stuff ? LOL ! Are we to believe back in 1850’s the women just left ? Stood up to their husbands and said NO ? There were Gay bars ? I will always love Pierce Brosnan. . but he had to be doing it just for the money.. This was boring and portrayed the people of that time …just wrong. So, the whole family are just no good ? The Father is a killer…the Mother, where is she ? No one says … One burns down a house. The other a bar. The Grandson hangs a Mexican.. I watched these on Xfinity in about three days. By episode 7 I was fast forwarding it most of the time… BTW…who cast the Indians ? The shortest guy was the leader…he bossed everyone around …They looked like they all came from the corner hangout. Talked not at all as Indians are portrayed…Slang and dialect hung in the air…Pretty damn silly. ZZZZZZZZZZZZ.

  4. Rae Kenney says:

    I love the show the son I hope they keep it on I find it very interesting and wish it was on longer than an hour

  5. red says:

    An Irishman playing a western American that’s rich. Next time they could have an Asian man play the similar part it wouldn’t be that much more of a stretch. Just another Dallas or Dynasty look alike. Not worth the film it’s printed on.

  6. Eric Allen says:

    Thank you Mr. Madison for showing YOUR feelings about shows of this genre as opposed to reviewing them. You have save me the need to check in on any more of your reviews.

  7. Roberta L says:

    Your opening statement was so biased and made me cringe. The Son is fictitious but historically correct. Your seething opener showed your inner feelings and blinded you from seeing the diversity we have on Hulu, Netflix, and network TV. I am all for women and diversity but not when used erroneously and on the wrong platform.

  8. tonythetank says:

    My only question is how old is Eli. I mean 1849 to 1915 is 66 years and he was taken when he was at least 13 years old so you saying he is 79 years old looking like this in 1915. Give me a break.

  9. Eric Walker says:

    Mr. Madison has a track record of racially provocative statements. Not surprised by one who enjoys divisiveness rather than using one’s platform and skills for the betterment of society. I will certainly watch the series now.

  10. James Brigham (Bigg) Bunyon says:

    Question: What is a critic?
    Answer: Someone who comes onto the battlefield after the battle is over and attacks the wounded.

  11. anonymous says:

    This reviewer clearly has an axe to grind that has nothing to do with the story or show.

  12. Ron says:

    That is a very racist opening statement in your article. Pathetic.

  13. Hard to be self-righteous about the Native American point of view when you don’t know the difference between Apache and Comanche.

  14. Sergio says:

    They are Comanche not Apache.

  15. God says:

    Way to race bait…. Why can’t he just be a ‘Man, why must people always throw Race into their crap….

  16. Compelling says:

    Forget about female perspectives with the sexist views of Meyer. He is incapable of writing about women, it was the weakest narrative in his novel. The guy has a massive ego but not much to deliver.

  17. Jim Harlow says:

    The white man comment is incredibly insulting. Why did you feel the need to include his race with the condemning phrase,”yet another…white man” in the first sentence of your review? Before reading your review, I researched your name and was not all surprised to find that you are black. Then I read about your poorly received joke that you deleted about an Asian child. Got it.

  18. Haz says:

    Well I guess the white comment was only mildly insulting…

  19. bamabrad1970 says:

    not sure why it was necessary to mention him being white but whatever

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