September 9th, 2009
On the surface, there is nothing horribly complex about Sons of Anarchy.
I think that’s its appeal, really – the show is about a group who calls themselves the Sons of Anarchy, and who operate as one would expect a motorcycle club to run. They smuggle guns into the country, they sell them in order to make a living, and they operate a front business in order to stay on the up and up (although, of course, no one is buying it). They face threats from rival gangs and law enforcement simultaneously, making their existence a complicated one, but one that people presume when dealing with a show that deals with a criminal organization.
What works about Sons of Anarchy is that this surface level isn’t thrown out the window in order to introduce dramatic elements, but rather subverted from the inside. The basic premise of the show meant that things started off a bit slow in its first season, playing off of the usual tension of having the audience cheer for the “bad guys” and being a bit too on the nose in terms of humanizing Jax (Charlie Hunnam), our “in” to the club, through his newly born, and ill, son. The components were all there, whether it’s Katey Sagal’s blistering portrayal of Gemma or Ron Pearlman’s wisened characterization of Clay, but the story felt too simple.
But then, the machine started to kick into full gear. Law Enforcement evolved from a witless sheriff in the club’s pocket to a psychotic stalker/FBI Agent (played to perfection by Jay Karnes) out to get Jax for stealing away Tara (Maggie Siff) and a manipulative and dangerous ATF presence in the form of Ally Walker. Simultaneously, we started to realize that for all the “anarchy” the Sons claim to perpetrate, what they’ve created instead is an enormously elaborate power structure which begets betrayal and paranoia, a structure that Jax spent much of the first season doubting and that Opie learned has dire consequences as the season progressed. We left the first season with no question that the status quo was not going to keep working, and that something would have to give.
And what I love about “Albification” is that we return to that exact same moment, and the show continues to play subtlely with the show’s premise rather than undermining it entirely. The introduction of a new threat is done with a smooth sense of purpose by Kurt Sutter, demonstrating that the momentum gained at the end of the second season isn’t going to be lost. Instead, the show feels like it has found an entirely new rhythm, one which is still willing to be funny, still able to make you love and hate characters at the same time, and most importantly still capable of shocking the viewer with its brutality.
In short, it’s a damn fine season premiere for a show I’m very much looking forward to spending time with this fall.