Sons of Anarchy – Thoughts on Season 5

This post contains spoilers. If you don’t want to know what has happened on the show, probably best to skip this one.

 

 

I’ve always had a bit of a thing for the bad boys. I know – I’m a walking cliché. Maybe because I am such a rule follower, part of me admires their ability to live life outside the lines. Maybe I like the idea of someone who will protect me at all costs. Maybe I just like tattoos.

But I’m also not a dummy; I’m well aware that a bad boy may be exciting and dangerous, but he also doesn’t make for the most stable of relationships. Plus there is the added expense of always having bail money available. So I’ve chosen to indulge this fascination in the safest way possible – through fictional characters. In particular, I’ve zeroed in on FX’s motorcycle club drama, Sons of Anarchy, to give me my dose of bad boy behavior.

I really enjoyed the first two seasons of this show – season 2 still stands as its high water mark – but was disappointed in seasons 3 and 4. The show has always been acknowledged to be “an adrenalized soap opera,” but as more and more story lines were added and there were seemingly no consequence to anyone’s action the show began to feel a little ridiculous. The club was constantly under siege by outside interests and would get backed into a corner with seemingly no way out, only to miraculously survive from plot reveals that felt extremely forced and unearned (I’m still not happy with how the 4th season ended – surprise! We’re the CIA!).  It’s one thing to escape from a jam; it’s a whole different story if the whole thing feels like a cheat to keep the show going and to keep certain actors employed. There also tended to be too much going on at once; I consider myself fairly smart, but I was having a tough time keeping track of all the various entities that were a danger to the Sons and some of the backstories were a little convoluted. I still don’t think I fully understand the whole RICO thing or even the connection with the Irish.

But while I often find the plots lacking, I do really enjoy the actors on the show and think they do a more than excellent job of selling some of the more questionable developments. Charlie Hunnam, who I had previously only known as the foreign exchange student on Undeclared, has been a pleasure to watch over the course of the show (and not just because he’s not too hard on the eyes. Hubba hubba).  Katey Sagal has also been particularly fantastic as matriarch Gemma; her performance in season 2 after her brutal rape should have gotten her an Emmy nomination. And though I wasn’t a fan of Clay’s sudden turn into a mustache twirling villain, Ron Perlman sold this transformation and helped make it all slightly more believable. The show also has a fun supporting cast of characters, many of whom could be charitably described as colorful.

So I entered season five with some reservation. While I still enjoyed spending time with these characters, the plots were becoming a distraction. The beginning of the season showed some promise; there were still some questionable story lines and plot developments, but we also saw the death of a member of the club. It wasn’t who deserved it and it seemed more of a way to eliminate a character that they weren’t sure what to do with, but at least there was finally a situation that the Club couldn’t get out of without any consequences. Opie’s death also had real resonance with the audience as well as the characters; Jax’s actions the remainder of the season can be tied back to the defining moment that he watched his best friend beaten to death. It was also bold to have Tig be forced to watch he daughter be burned alive; I may not always agree with the choices of the show, but it’s never boring.

But it wasn’t until the last few episodes of the season that my confidence in the show was somewhat restored. I don’t think it will ever again recapture the magic that it had in the second season, but that’s ok. I felt much better about the show after the season five finale than I have the last two years. That’s progress.

To me, the show is at its best when it focuses on the inner workings of the Club. I am far more interested in the dynamics between SAMCRO members than I am in them being under a constant attack on all sides by outside entities. The final episodes of season five got back to basics; a lot of story lines that I wasn’t a fan of (RICO, the Irish, drug running) were all wrapped up with some finality and their resolutions didn’t feel like a trick. With all the outside elements eradicated, it was back to basics: the dynamics of the Club and life in Charming. Clay finally got what he deserved, though ironically for the one crime that he didn’t commit. Jax (Hunnam) was able to do what he set out to do – get the Club out from under RICO and out of the drug running business – but did so by basically becoming the man that he hates (Clay) and by destroying his home life and alienating his trusted adviser.  It has set things up nicely for a season six that is more focused and that looks inward. The Club is still in peril, but now it is on the personal level rather than the organizational level. The finale was definitely the strongest episode of the season and may be the strongest episode that they have done in a few years. I am far more interested in seeing what happens with Tara (Maggie Siff) and what that mysterious former U.S. Marshall is up to than any of the recent story lines. It is still a little ridiculous and soapy – how much bad luck can one motorcycle club actually have? – but still more organic and believable.

Some other thoughts:

  • I really, really hope that they bring back Jimmy Smits next season. He was a great addition to the cast and I’d like to see more of him in the future. They managed to flesh his character out quite a bit in just one season; I feel like I know him better than some members of the Club.
  • Speaking of which – the numbers for SAMCRO are dwindling pretty rapidly. With Clay in jail, Opie and the nomads all dead and Bobby’s future in the club questionable, I hope that they have some sort of spring rush party planned. They really need to replenish the ranks.
  • Holy moly – Otto BIT OUT HIS OWN TONGUE! I guess that is one way to insure he doesn’t talk in the future. The man has some flair in his execution.
  • I still don’t understand the purpose of Joel McHale (Community, The Soup) making a guest appearance as a guy who seduces and robs “cougars.” That story line went nowhere and seemed like a weird use of a guest star. Perhaps he’ll turn up again down the road. Otherwise that was a waste of time.
  • However, the guest appearance of the century may have to go to Walton Goggin’s appearance as a trans-sexual prostitute earlier his season. That was hilarious and fantastic.
  • I’m assuming that Gemma is the one that gave the statement that led to Tara’s arrest, but on this show you can’t be sure. Jax didn’t seem too surprised by what was happening. I guess that is one way to keep your wife and kids from leaving you.
  • Though it would have been unreasonable to have him stick around, I did enjoy Harold Perrineau’s turn as villain Damon Pope. He was an interesting character – unlike so many on the people who make rash decisions based on emotion, he was a cool customer who thought things through before acting. Most of these characters have the emotional restraint of a toddler, albeit a toddler that drinks, sleeps around and rides a motorcycle.
  • I’m glad that Unser made it through another season. Once they gave him cancer I thought he was done for, but he’s still hanging on.
  • I’m curious about this – does their garage ever have any customers? I know that it serves as a clubhouse for the guys, but who is fixing cars when everyone is running around shooting up various rival gangs and transporting drugs and guns?
  • A therapist would have a field day with this group – what a collection of toxic, co-dependent relationships.
  • Gemma could teach a Masters class in manipulation. It’s pretty impressive what she has been able to do.
  • Dear FX – please extend the Sons of Anarchy season. I am far too old and tired to be staying up for that many 90 minute episodes a season.

All in all, I think that Sons of Anarchy is back on a course that will be more interesting and cohesive. While I appreciate that they have swung for the fences with some of the storylines the last few years, I think it was just too much plot for a show that only has a thirteen episode season and the execution has been a little lacking. It may have worked for a lot of other people, but it just wasn’t working for me. The finale was excellent and I hope was a harbinger of returning to the roots of the show and the complicated dynamics within the club. For the first time in a few years I am looking forward to the new season with more anticipation than trepidation.

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