I’m always up for a new TV Western — it’s a neglected genre I love, so I was really looking forward to The Son, AMC’s adaptation of Philipp Meyer’s 2013 novel, which premieres Saturday night. I enjoyed reading Meyer’s novel enormously when it was first published — read my review. A multigenerational saga, it is filled with both vivid prose and lots of action, deftly moving back and forth between the late 19th century coming of-age of Eli McCullough, a white youth kidnapped by Comanche Indians as a boy, and the early 20th century when he has grown up to become a powerful landowner living among whites and widely known as the Colonel. Equally important in the novel is the story of Eli’s son, Peter, who helps build the family fortune in Texas cattle, and a narrative about Eli’s great-granddaughter, Jeanne Anne, who grows up to be a strong, formidable woman.
The Son as brought to the screen by Meyer and a team of collaborators stars Pierce Brosnan as Eli the elder, and Brosnan does a good job of commanding the screen in a way that is at once both old-school movie star and modern-day ironic. The young Eli, played by Jacob Lofland, is also effective as a callow youth who becomes hardened and skilled under the tutelage of the Comanches.
Having watched four episodes of The Son, I was surprised at how slack the pacing was (not a problem the 500-plus-page novel had), and what elements Meyer and his collaborators have chosen to keep or toss aside. Thus far in my viewing, Jeanne Anne’s character has not been developed at all — a crucial misjudgment, it seems to me, in a TV series that could use all the strong female characters it can round up. And I’m sorry to say that Henry Garrett is rarely permitted to imbue Peter McCullough with the kind of charisma and complexity that gave his prose counterpart such fascination. (In the book, Peter tells much of his story himself, in crackling journal entries he writes.)
At its best, The Son — both book and TV show — explores ideas such as what it means to be a success in America and how much ruthlessness is required to achieve that definition; how the legacies of fathers place the burden of history on the shoulders of sons who’d like to shrug them off. It’s too bad the TV version is simplified so drastically, the production too often turns into an ordinary shoot-’em-up.
The Son premieres April 8 at 9 p.m. on AMC.
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