We’re not quite halfway through BBC Two’s new MotherFatherSon but people seem to be divided. Some were clearly put off by the more OTT and shock moments of writer Tom Rob Smith’s opening episode which featured a graphic sex scene and scenes of brain surgery. Those, like me who have stuck with the series are being rewarded as the story is slowly revealed.
It’s the story of Max (Richard Gere) a media tycoon modelled on Rupert Murdoch or Branson who is ruthless and powerful. His son Caden (Billy Howle) is handling the British side of things as editor of the biggest paper in the country. The Caden we meet in the first instalment is cold, unhappy and desperate live up to his father’s unrealistic expectations for him. The sex scene that took so many viewers by surprise, and caused some others to disown the programme entirely, sees him directing a prostitute with very precise instructions in his typically standoffish manner. The end of the episode sees the stress get to Caden as he suffers a life-changing stroke. The doctor warns Caden’s estranged parents Max and Kathyrn (Helen McCrory) that the catastrophic stroke will affect Caden’s personality. It’ll leave him unable to control his impulses, his body and his mind. This immediately a problem for Max who needs his editor to stay tight-lipped about the methods used in his industry. Whilst Max isn’t abandoning his son, he’s immediately worried about how his son’s new found disability will affect HIM rather than worrying about the impact it will have on Caden.
I can appreciate that the ‘shock’ moments of the first episode would be a turn off for some, and I’ll admit I had my reservations as writer Tom Rob Smith was keeping his cards close to his chest as far as where the story was going on, drip feeding us tidbits of plot that would come more into focus as the series continued.
For me, the most recent episode, the third, is where I truly fell in love with the show and the story it was telling. The more extreme elements of the show were stripped with the focus put on the Mother Father-Son relationship of the title. It showed Caden struggling to come to terms with the man he had become, unable to recite the alphabet, use cutlery, shower without help or control what comes out of his mouth. Max had used his money to get his son into the best rehab facility, one normally exclusive to injured soldiers. Whilst appearing to want the best for his son, Max decided to jet off to do business in Mexico rather than sit at Caden’s bedside.
Billy Howle does an incredible job as Caden. It’s an incredibly difficult role and he plays it so well you have to remind yourself this is an actor playing a character. You feel every ounce of his pain, frustration and anger. His body and mind may be letting him down but he’s still that boy/man desperate for his father’s approval. It’s a testament to Smith’s writing and Howle’s performance that I know feel so connected and invested in Caden’s recovery and in him as a character. The stroke has almost freed him from the straight jacket he lived in working for his father. He’s charming, funny and endearing, all characteristics that Max fails to see when he does finally check on his son’s recovery. Disability isn’t depicted often enough in drama, and for this alone the show should be applauded.
The other elements of the plot which include two of Max’s’ journalists investigating the dirty goings on in order to bring down Max and Caden down. Kathyrn’s relationship with a man she meets whilst volunteering at a homeless shelter and Max’s relationship with politician Angela Howard (Sarah Lancashire) are coming together and proving as interesting as the plot at the centre of the story. If you were one of those people who was put off by the more ‘in your face’ and brutal moments of the first or second episode, I would advise you to go back with an open mind and give episode three a shot. All the elements are coming together, and if it continues like this I can see MotherFatherSon being one of the most unique and interesting dramas of the year.
MotherFatherSon Continues Wednesday 9.00pm on BBC Two.