Due to our ever-changing work schedules, alterations/advancements in career, far too many new shows on the proverbial television slab and my just-now-begun quest to watch every musical Scarecrow Video has on the shelf (all the ones not categorized into certain main musical actors or directors, and ones that are not rock music- or beach-focused, come in at around 350, so this should take me about 1.6 years), this is an introduction to a new way we’re going to do things around here. Certain shows, like So You Think You Can Dance, Glee and ANTM (the best Wednesday line-up ever), obviously get full and detailed articles nearly every week, but others happen to fall through the cracks. And yet, I still feel like discussing them. I’ll try to get them into three-episode blocks, but my first foray into this new manner of writing will have settle for a belated four-episode review.
Up now, FX’s tough biker drama Sons of Anarchy.
When SOA premiered last year, I only caught two episodes on Hulu before deciding I would rather wait for the buzz to build and then catch the DVDs. I had too many shows going on at the household (and this was before we upgraded to two DVRs, so I don’t think I had room for it anyway) and my wife was exactly 0% interested, as the only thing she watches on FX is Nip/Tuck. So I grabbed the s1 DVDs from Netflix as soon as it was possible and pushed through the entire first season in five days. The problems that were apparent from the first two episodes, an over-reliance on us giving a crap about SAMCRO (Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club Redwood Organization) so quickly and thus hoisting far too much exposition without character-building, sort of eased their way out, and viewers were left with a very rough-and-tumble version of some of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies (Hamlet is the most obvious one) set in a fictional Northern California biker town. (A NorCal native, I enjoy all the references to Lodi, Stockton and Oakland, even if they clearly shoot in SoCal and treat six-to-eight-hour motorcycle treks as if they were nothing.) Suffice it to say, I got hooked quickly, and despite some of the show’s biggest flaws, I consider it a pretty true American television original.
But we’re not here to talk about the first season. Your TV snob friends have probably already talked your ear off about the power of season 1 and some of its greatest moments (“Dude, Peg Bundy just beat Taryn Manning ‘cross the face with a motherfucking skateboard!” “Holy shit they just burned an entire back tattoo off of a former Samcro rider!”), but now that the show has garnered a pretty substantial following — at least twice as many viewers as Leno’s nightly crapfest — it’s all about the here and now.
First season spread its villainy out wide, but s2 has brought us a great deal of focus with one of the more terrifying television creations in quite some time — Adam Arkin’s white separatist businessman Ethan Zobelle, who has threatened to destroy Samcro unless they stopped selling guns to “color.” Not one to take threats from anybody, Clay (Ron Perlman, intimidating as all hell) vows war against the white separatists should anything mind-numbingly terrible occurs.
And here’s where that mind-numbingly terrible thing comes into play. After a heated face-to-face with Clay, Ethan gets right-hand man Henry Rollins his cronies (at least allegedly at this point, although it’s pretty much guaranteed they did it save for a possible last-minute twist) to kidnap Clay’s wife Gemma (Katey Sagal) and gang-rape her in a warehouse, each of them wearing white Michael Myers masks. Much debate has raged on the internet regarding whether or not this plot device was too exploitative for the show’s own good (it was pretty goddamn horrifying), but the manner in which the story has progressed has solidified it in my mind as the only way to go in such a jagged-edged universe. Gemma has so far not told Clay or the men of Samcro what happened to her (only Chief Unser and Dr. Tara Knowles know, and they’re covering for her), and this strangely enough makes her a very strong woman. Why? Because telling Samcro what happened to her would give the separatists exactly what they want, and the town of Charming would devolve into a complete and utter war zone. It’s a harsh place for a television program to go, but nothing is black-and-white on Sons of Anarchy. (Except for the white separatists, who are, clearly, very white.)
Unfortunately, two storylines have kind of fallen flat for me, one mildly and one in a big way. The little problem is the sudden focus on a local adult film business, which, while fascinating in a weird way, has been mostly played for laughs, and it’s here that SOA loses some of its edge and sometimes feels like a Nip/Tuck deleted scene. Tom Arnold’s appearance as a rival porn producer didn’t help.
But the biggest problem in s2 so far is happening now that main character Jax (Charlie Hunnam) and the aforementioned Tara (the omnipresent Maggie Siff) are finally a couple. Whatever chemistry they had in s1, as they each struggled with their own personal problems (he his dying baby and his meth-addicted estranged wife, she her being followed across state lines by a rogue FBI agent), has all but dissipated, and it seems that their power existed mostly in the will-they-or-won’t-they. Now she’s just another biker bimbo, and while I appreciate that her brains are getting in the way of some of Samcro’s business, her character’s IQ seems to have dropped 50 points almost overnight. Their love scenes play like the animal crackers sequence from Armageddon, and it’s just not working. It’s a waste of two good characters.
SOA works best, I think, when it focuses on the ensemble, and so far s2 has not disappointed. Opie (Ryan Hurst) is a maniac on a death wish ever since his wife was accidentally gunned down in a botched assassination attempt due to FBI interference (s1’s best storyline by a mile), and what was a side character at the beginning of s1 has become one of the show’s most dangerous bits of energy. Taylor Sheridan’s Deputy Hale is finally coming into his own as a man who realizes that he may have to follow the tradition of helping Samcro in order to keep Charming virtually crime-free, and him standing up to the separatists has him close to crossing legal lines. And this week’s focus on Tig (Kim Coates) being captured by bounty hunters due to an outstanding warrant in Oregon was deviously clever in its Wild Bunch mentality. And all this plays against the power struggle between Jax (son of Samcro’s now-dead co-founder) and his sinister stepfather Clay, which so far has not gotten stale one iota. Their scenes together are charged with massive amounts of tenseness, and in the final moments of this week’s episode, it went one step further.
SOA is a deceptively intelligent and old school yarn with modern violent flair and some of the most shocking scenes currently on my television screen. I hope people won’t judge a book by its cover, saying that this is just some macho bullshit, and really allow themselves to dig into the moral depths of this NorCal treat.