September 21st, 2010
The Sons of Anarchy have positioned themselves as a morally complex guardian angel for the people of Charming, but that image can only last for so long – in the wake of an event like a shootout where an innocent child and an authority figure are gunned down outside a church, two questions emerge. First, how could SAMCRO let this happen; and, second, was this SAMCRO’s fault?
These are questions that, in the past, remained largely within the club: the series was, after all, about the internal conflict between Jax and Clay, specifically the former’s struggle to reconcile the current club with his father’s vision, so the external side of things wasn’t particularly important. However, with political forces swirling and legal troubles surfacing and resurfacing, SAMCRO is facing an uncertain future for reasons that go beyond their internal volatility.
“Caregiver” is another strong entry for the show’s third season, and one which nicely captures the difficult position of taking care of someone who runs off without notice, or turns coat with little to no notice.
September 14th, 2010
“I’m afraid the 21st Century has come to Charming”
Nothing has really changed within SAMCRO as Sons of Anarchy enters its third season: there’s little discord amongst the group, and even though Gemma’s on the run and Abel’s a hostage of sorts in Ireland there is still the sense that the club itself is as solid as it’s ever been in the wake of last season’s tragedies.
However, the problem is that the world around them is no longer bowing down to their power: as Hale’s elder brother Jacob, trying to leverage his brother’s death into a successul mayoral run, notes in “Oiled,” the sort of old-school notion of law which the Sons held over Charming is no longer effective. We saw the wheels starting to come off the train last season, but there was a sense that it was SAMCRO’s lack of cohesion that led to their struggles. And yet, even when Gemma’s rape united Jax and Clay, and Opie got over his wife’s passing, things still unraveled in the finale, and things continued to unravel last week when mysterious gunmen killed Hale and threatened the safety of Charming.
“Oiled” is certainly a more methodical hour of television compared to last week’s premiere, as the sense of urgency which we expected to take hold during last week’s hour is replaced by a more functional effort to properly interpret the situation at hand. And yet, as the club tries to piece things together, their enemies are either committed to a more dangerous course of action or are already at work obfuscating reality in an effort to throw SAMCRO off the trail.
November 3rd, 2009
When I wrote about Mad Men’s big JFK episode yesterday, I noted that one of the problems with playing with history is that it is already determined, and as such the show is left only with seeing how individual characters react to it. It introduces an element of certainty that is potentially damaging to the show’s dramatic tension, and while the characters are well-drawn enough to handle it there’s something about it that just feels off.
What’s interesting about the second season of Sons of Anarchy is that there is a similarly predetermined element to its central storyline, and for the most part it doesn’t particularly matter. One of my concerns this season has been the omniscient nature of Zobell and the League of American Nationalist, always a good two or three steps ahead of the Sons and always happening to plan (or stumble into) the ideal counterattack to further raise tensions within the club. It’s created a scenario where the Sons of Anarchy are at the whim of the League, their every move either a trap designed by the League or else a dangerous scenario only necessary because of actions the League has undertaken. If the show is about a crumbling organization trying to keep it together while dealing with the impact of unpredictable outside forces, which this season has definitely been, then it may be problematic that for us Zobell is wholly predictable: wherever SAMCRO is, he’s going to be there before they are.
However, as “Fa Guan” demonstrates, this hasn’t damaged the series so much as it has simplified the “plot” and allowed the intricacies of the various interpersonal relationships to rise to the surface. The show might be more realistic if the League weren’t quite so “on point” with their various attacks, but it would also be a lot less entertaining, and considering the show is currently one of the most entertaining shows on the air I think that this predetermination is worth an occasional raised eyebrow.
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.
October 13th, 2009
When I fall behind on a particular show, chances are that it’s not intentional. I don’t “decide” to not get around to watching the most recent episodes of Dexter before the DVR goes kaput, it just sort of happens in the midst of catching up with everything else I didn’t get to post-vacation. With Sons of Anarchy, this is equally true: after simply not getting around to the season’s fourth episode, the fifth was a casualty of the vacation and it was only last night that I caught up with the adventures of SAMCRO.
And they have been adventures this season, one that has been the very definition of rollicking. It’s the season where storylines never sleep: while it and Mad Men are at the top of the serialized drama food chain right now, their approaches this season could not be further apart. While Mad Men likes to isolate its stories on a particular set of characters, the very point of Sons of Anarchy’s second season is that you can’t escape the coming storm, and that no one (not Tara, not Gemma, not Hale) is capable of standing on the sidelines and avoiding the fray. Rather than trying to depict a slow and tragic fall, the season has never shied from the fact that Zobell is not kidding around, and that the Sons are in some serious trouble.
Some general thoughts on the last few episodes and more detailed thoughts on “Falx Celebri” after the jump.
September 22nd, 2009
In the world of Sons of Anarchy, everyone’s got a problem they’re trying to fix; heck, in every single show on television, people are looking for solutions to problems. Early on in its second season, it’s clear that the real conflict on this show is not within any single problem but rather the inability for various characters to see (either due to ignorance or due to being too traumatized by their situation) that there are two levels of problems. One is the growing threat of the League of American Nationalists against the Sons of Anarchy or, if you’re on the other side of the coin, the ongoing blight of SAMCRO on the town of Charming. However, there is also the internal struggle between Clay and Jax, not to mention Gemma’s own personal tragedy as well as personal struggles for Opie (Donna’s tragic death), Tig (who murdered Donna) and it seems like just about everyone else.
“Fix” represents the episode where three weeks of letting these secrets and struggles linger is catching up with just about everyone, and everyone wants a solution that will make everything better but has no idea how to really find it. The show continues to embrace an almost satirical sense of the genres it plays with, never quite delving wholly into melodrama, and the result is that the show remains a pleasure to watch even as it deals with serious subjects in an emotional fashion.
September 15, 2009
“Another magical day to be alive”
I, like I presume many others, presumed that this week’s episode title was about tiny drops of water falling from one’s eyes, alluding somewhat ironically to Gemma’s enormously emotional moment at the end of the season premiere. But in defying expectations, at least my own, the episode reveals that the real irony is not in falsely downplaying the emotional impact of the event, but rather the dichotomy between physical and emotional repercussions.
It is, in fact, a magical day to be alive, for everyone except for our heroine, Gemma. If there was ever any question about whether we are rooting for Gemma, “Small Tears” put it to rest: the entire fate of SAMCRO and the weight of this moment is placed on her shoulders, an unfair burden for anyone (even our less than ethical matriarch) to bear. We pity Gemma in some respects, and in others we respect her for refusing to allow pity to turn into anger at the Aryans, and more importantly to turn into revenge. It is no coincidence that the fallout from Gemma’s ordeal comes complete with a storyline about the danger of revenge killings, and the bloody mess that comes with it.
And if there’s anything that Sons of Anarchy wants to remind us of as the second season opens, it’s that nothing in the world of SAMCRO heals on its own.