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Spoilers for The Power of the Dog will be found below.
Let’s get this out of the way upfront. Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance as a very bad man in The Power of the Dog is so phenomenal, and so convincing in this neo-western, that it’ll make you want Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness to arrive tomorrow, just so you can see him as a good guy again. Cumberbatch deservedly earned an Oscar nomination (as did married co-stars Jesse Plemons and Kirsten Dunst) for his turn in the movie that really went to town on toxic masculinity, but let’s just say that the ending of the film came as a surprise to many who watched.
Benedict’s sinister leading man, Phil, ended up — despite overpowering and dominating every moment of the movie and menacing Dunst’s character even when he wasn’t onscreen — dying what seemed to be a relatively uneventful death. So, what happened, and what was the point?
Phil ended up (as the doctor onscreen confirms the greatest possibility) dying of anthrax exposure and poisoning. This arrived as news that didn’t seem believable to his brother, George, who noted how careful Phil was while dealing with animals and the possibility of infection. However, Phil had let his guard down with Peter, who was nursing a strong desire to protect his mother, Rose, at all costs. Phil, of course, had continued to express contempt for Rose throughout the film, and after Phil cuts his hand in the field with Peter, the young man appears to have come up with a plan to poison Phil by giving him contaminated rawhide. Peter has been, as we previously saw with his careful use of gloves, very aware of anthrax bacterium, and he saw an opportunity and seized it.
Although there are plenty of nuanced touches here surrounding the relationship between Phil and Peter (and much to be considered on that subject, no doubt), Peter’s decision put an end to Phil’s reign of ranch terror.
The Power of the Dog is currently streaming on Netflix.