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Season Finale: Sons of Anarchy – “NS”

“NS”

November 30th, 2010

Look, let’s get it out of the way: Sons of Anarchy was very far from the best show on television this fall. It was a season with a story to tell which seemed completely unwilling to tell that story, and when it finally got down to business it seemed as if everything was expedited and choppy. For a series that once delivered what I would describe as sick, twisted poetry, the third season lacked both rhyme and reason. While I perhaps understood what Kurt Sutter was going for by the time we reached the season’s penultimate episode, nothing about “June Wedding” made those previous episodes any more satisfying. In fact, the show sort of felt like it was following Stahl’s example: when you think a situation is going south, or you’re tired of playing a certain angle, you just shoot someone and call it a day.

I have some fundamental issues with the idea that Stahl could even come close to getting away with what she did in “June Wedding,” and the degree to which Stahl’s sociopathic behavior is being used to fuel the march towards the season’s conclusion, to the point where I’ve officially written off this season of television. Last week’s episode indicated to me that whatever Sutter was selling this year, it simply was not the show I want Sons of Anarchy to be, or the show that it had the potential to be coming out of its incredibly strong (and cohesive) second season.

In advance of watching “NS,” I had heard the buzz: this was a “return to form.” However, as Cory Barker wrote about earlier, the degree to which a solid finale (which “NS” arguably is) can overwrite previous struggles is fairly limited. And yet, I had no expectations that a legitimately enjoyable 90 minutes of television would actually make the season’s problems more apparent. “NS” is a smart episode of television which only confirms that the show’s third season was a wild miscalculation, an absolute failure of “Serial Narrative 101” that traveled halfway around the world and only got a lousy t-shirt with a bundle of letters hidden in it which only confirmed presumed details from the distant past.

I’m a bit busy now, though, to delve into all of the reasons why the season fell apart. I plan to come back to it at a later date, perhaps early next week, but for now I want to take “NS” as what it truly is: a launching pad to the future, and an opportunity for the series to move on with something resembling momentum.

Because on that level, “NS” is more or less a success.

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Season Premiere: Sons of Anarchy – “So”

“So”

September 7th, 2010

In a post about the third season premiere of Sons of Anarchy, Kurt Sutter wrote the following:

“It would be very easy for me to repeat what worked in season two — create some internal beef that provided intensity and tension within the club, bring in another big nemesis, throw those two conflicts at each other and watch the blood flow. Yes, I’m sure it would be okay and people would like it. But ultimately, I would be cheating my own creative process and your dedication as well. I’ve learned that devoted fans are very sophisticated viewers. They know when they are being fed leftovers. Yeah, they may eat them for awhile, but eventually, they’ll get bored and leave to feed on something more tasty.”

This explains a great deal about “So,” an episode which lulls you into a false sense of security only to up the ante that much more after last season’s dark and twisted finale. Sons of Anarchy became one of television’s top dramas last year because Sutter is fearless, willing to go to particularly dark places and also willing to allow the story to escalate without concern over running out of story ideas in the future. There was actually enough story in the wake of that finale to sustain the season through the first few episodes: it wouldn’t even be leftovers so much as the rest of dinner, magically still warm despite having been sitting on the plate since last December.

What “So” establishes most clearly is that Sons’ action-packed narrative does not indicate a lack of nuance in its storytelling: as crafty as he is outspoken, Sutter creates the illusion of “moving on” while delivering a knockout blow which moves in an entirely different, yet perfectly complimentary, direction.

And, not surprisingly, I feel neither cheated nor bored: instead, I’m downright exhilarated.

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Handicapping the 2010 Emmys: FX’s Sons of Anarchy

Handicapping the 2010 Emmys: FX’s Sons of Anarchy

July 6th, 2010

When I started handicapping the Emmy awards, I had presumed that Sons of Anarchy would be the kind of show heralded by critics but ignored by voters: the show got no attention for its first season, and FX’s Emmy hopes have centered on Damages to the point where I expected them to ignore the series. As a result, I was surprised (in a good way) to discover that FX was actually placing Sons of Anarchy at the front of its Emmy materials, a move which reflects its critical, creative, and viewership surges in its second season.

The series’ Emmy chances are still a long shot: while Damages broke into the field for FX last year, it was on the back of Glenn Close, and voters tend to value star power over critical praise or viewership numbers (Damages, for example, has been a ratings failure in its final two seasons). However, while the show may be a dark horse in Outstanding Drama Series, I’d argue it’s a legitimate contender in both Writing and Directing: Kurt Sutter submitted strong episodes which reflect the season’s strong points, and like Battlestar Galactica before it I think that voters will gravitate towards it for these creative awards where the series’ accomplishments may be better recognized.

The series’ other contender is its most deserving: Katey Sagal absolutely deserves to be part of the conversation surrounding Lead Actress in a Drama Series, and FX’s decision to promote the series more heavily (and feature her pivotal episode, “Balm,” in their DVD mailer) has placed the actress in legitimate contention. Her work as the matriarch of the series’ dysfunctional family, holding a terrible secret inside so as to avoid the family tearing itself and others apart, was the anchor of the show’s second season, and she’s got a real shot at this one: not only is she truly fantastic on the show, but there’s the potential for an amends narrative here, as Saga – along with likely nominee in Comedy Ed O’Neill – was never recognized by the Academy for her work on Married…with Children, an oversight which they may want to rectify for this very different, but deserving, work. Mind you, she still has to compete with stablemate Glenn Close, and stalwarts like TNT’s Sedgwick/Hunter, and a bevy of other contenders, but if anyone is going to break into that fold outside of January Jones I believe it is Sagal.

As for the rest of the series, its chances are unfortunately slim: Charlie Hunnam and Ron Pearlman did some great work in the season but are unlikely to be recognized, while Ryan Hurst gave a stunning performance early in the season which will be summarily ignored by voters. There are also a bevy of guest stars who did some great work during the season, like Adam Arkin, Henry Rollins, and Ally Walker, who deserve to be part of these conversations but who might as well not even be on the ballot as far as voters are concerned.

Like with a show like Battlestar Galactica before it, voters will admit that the show is good, admit that it has a key lead performance or two, and that it is well crafted in terms of writing, directing and perhaps some technical awards as well. However, they’re not likely to dig a little bit deeper to find the supporting players who really sell the series’ complexity, a fact which has become sadly commonplace for the Emmys. While I understand that there are a lot of shows on television, and that the Supporting categories are particularly challenging in terms of the sheer volume of strong peformances, the fact remains that some of the best work on television never even enters into the conversation for various Emmys. Thankfully, with FX’s support, the series and Sagal have captured the Academy’s ear, so let’s hope that they’re paying attention.

Contender in:

  • Lead Actress in a Drama Series
  • Writing for a Drama Series
  • Directing for a Drama Series

Dark Horse in:

  • Outstanding Drama Series

Should, but Won’t, Contend In:

  • Lead Actor in a Drama Series (Charlie Hunnam)
  • Supporting Actor in a Drama Series (Ryan Hurst, Ron Pearlman, Kim Coates)
  • Supporting Actress in a Drama Series (Maggie Siff, Ally Walker)
  • Guest Actor in a Drama Series (Adam Arkin, Henry Rollins)

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Season Finale: Sons of Anarchy – “Na Triobloidi”

“Na Triobloidi”

December 1st, 2009

In the world of motorcycle clubs, elegance is a luxury. In the complexity of running guns and internal politics, there’s no way for one to easily chart their way through life as if it was all planned out ahead of time: situations change, and people are forced to make tough decisions and follow a path that could be inherently dangerous. The same club that offers some semblance of stability is the same club that may eventually lead to your death, a cruel irony that is at the heart of Sons of Anarchy’s mythology in the form of John Teller, a man who hated what the club had become and yet was too dependent on the club to abandon it entirely. The men and women who are part of the Sons of Anarchy are trapped in a world that can turn at any moment, and where the unpredictability is a constant threat against their livelihood.

The central conflict of this second season was the fact that, for the League of American Nationalists, everything is sheer elegance in its simplicity. Ethan Zobelle is a character who challenged the sons with elegance, as everything seemed to go completely according to plan. The show set him up as a master of manipulation, and he lived up to this reputation by crafting elaborate schemes that feasted on the unorganized and divided Sons at every turn. There were times in the season where the show went too far, painting Zobelle as a mastermind more than a character, but the purpose was clear: the elegance of Zobelle was the stimulus necessary to focus on how the Sons were ill-equipped to handle a threat in their current state, and his continued action inspired the Sons to band together in order to look past their differences and see the common enemy.

The problem with “Na Triobloidi” is that it feels entirely inelegant, to the point where the escalation present in the episode feels completely out of control. The driving forces behind the action in the episode range from spiritual belief to intense grief, from bitter revenge to self-preservation, and yet none of it feels as satisfying as it should, or more problematically as satisfying as earlier episodes in the season.

I’m not suggesting that the chaos which dominates this finale isn’t exciting, nor am I suggesting that it is in any way a blight on the season. However, it’s a finale that takes one too many leaps of logic in favour of escalating tension as opposed to demonstrating character, crafting situations which will likely become compelling in the long run but here feel manufactured in a way which goes against those elements which elevated the season to new heights.

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Sons of Anarchy – “Gilead”

SonsofAnarchyTitle

“Gilead”

October 20th, 2009

When critics have copies of episodes in advance (and, as a result, I don’t have them in advance), it means two things. The first is that they all have reviews ready to post the second the episode ends, meaning that I’m roughly 24 hours behind on posting my thoughts about the episode (considering that I’m not able to watch Sons when it airs). The second, though, is that I kind of already knew what this episode was like: the critics have been talking it up for a few days, and Kurt Sutter even posted last week that the episode was one of the best the show had other done.

As such, this review won’t be particularly long (I lied, it was that good): I, like other critics, really loved this hour of television, and I’ll agree with Sutter that it’s amongst the show’s best. What makes “Gilead” so interesting is that it takes an episode featuring a lengthy homage to HBO’s Oz and a very welcome return of guest star Ally Walker, and yet ultimately delivers an episode that draws out less sensationalist event television and more powerful pre-existing emotional arcs. It manages to both relish in the situation, putting SAMCRO behind bars and playing with prison tropes ranging from the sex trade to the jailyard shivving, and turn that storyline into something meaningful and powerful considered in the long-term.

It’s the kind of short term/long term combination that SAMCRO is painfully unable to accomplish in its current state, and results in a damn fine episode.

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