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STUDIO: 20th Century Fox
RUNNING TIME: 591 minutes
- Commentaries on Select Episodes
- Extended Versions of Select Episodes
- Deleted Scenes
- Bridge Scenes Linking Season 3 to Season 4
- Writers Roundtable
- Gag Reel
- Bike Customizer
- Directing the Finale with Kurt Sutter
- Finale Table Read
- Featurette on the World Premiere of Season 3
The adventures of SAMCRO (Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club- Redwood Original) as they take on the Aryan Brotherhood, the IRA, the ATF, the Mayans (motorcycle gang not Ancient) and good old local law enforcement. It’s also a modern retelling of Hamlet through the brain lens of Kurt Sutter, one of the masterminds behind one of the greatest shows of this generation, The Shield.
Created by Kurt Sutter. Acted by Charlie Hunnam, Ron Pearlman, Katie Segal, Maggie Siff, Mark Boone Jr, Kim Coates, Tommy Flanagan, Ryan Hurst, William Lucking, Theo Rossi, Dayton Callie, David LaBrava, Kenny Johnson and Ally Walker.
We catch up with SAMCRO and loved ones just a couple of days after the 2nd Season finale. Jax Teller has just had his infant son Abel stolen by Cameron Hayes, who believes Gemma is responsible for his son Edmond’s death. The murder was actually perpetrated by the cartoonishly evil Agent Stahl (also killing SAMCRO prospect Half-Sack in the process), who then set up Gemma as the killer. Now Gemma is on the run, Cameron is in hiding with Abel, Jax is drinking himself into oblivion and the rest of the gang are on the offensive as old allegiances crumble and new enemies materialize. That doesn’t sound like a soap opera at all.
SPOILERS SPRINKLED THROUGHOUT LIKE SO MUCH PAPRIKA.
I have a soft spot in my heart for Sons of Anarchy, even when the show pisses me off or goes into full blown melodrama and histrionics. Mostly because the fictional Northern California town of Charming where the Sons motorcycle club resides in reminds me so much of the non-fictional Northern California town of Paradise, which I was born in. Whenever they ride out of Charming they always end up in towns I used to live in like Chico and Rogue River, which I always wished had roving motorcycle gangs keeping the streets safer (yet somehow more dangerous) for people like me. My dad was in a motorcycle club and I’ve met people like Clay and Gemma, so watching Sons of Anarchy has always been more about going home to me than really analyzing the show that I was watching, but sitting down to watch Season 3, I put on my critic glasses and tried to see the show for what it was instead of the intense memories it reminded me of.
Just to let you know where I stand on the other seasons: I thought Season 1 started off slow with good character moments and then built to a pretty intense finale that seemed to set up the next season perfectly. Season 2 was a slow burn that had so many things juggling by mid-season, that the final third was some of the most intense storytelling I’ve seen on television since The Shield. However, I felt the season finale was the entire seasons worst episode, only handling the dispatching of Henry Rollins’ character with the intensity and class I knew the show was capable of. Adam Arkin as Ethan Zobelle was easily the best villain the show had crafted so far (and the biggest threat to SAMCRO we’d seen as well), only when SAMCRO received the call from Jax that Abel had been taken, they just left Zobelle and took off. That seemed like such a cheap out for that character that it hurt the entire season in retrospect for me. There were 7 members of SAMCRO with Zobelle when Jax called and they couldn’t leave one of them to guard him so they could pick up where they left off later on? Consider my disbelief unsuspended. I would say Season 3 is definitely the best of the seasons so far and shows a real maturity in the writing and plotting for the show, but it is still hamstringed by a few glaring issues that lightly damage the overall content of the season.
The biggest problem for me is the over-reliance on plot instead of character this time around. There was barely anything for Piney, Tig, Juice, Bobby, Chibs, Happy and Opie to do this season (although the finale more than made up for that for Opie and Chibs) other than react to the Jax, Clay and Gemma show. Now that Abel is missing, the beef between Clay and Jax is completely squashed and they have a better relationship than we’ve seen on the show yet and (considering that beef was the driving force behind the first 2 seasons), instead of it feeling like it’s breaking new ground, it just feels like wheel spinning until we can get back to the important shit. So much of the season is dedicated to plot machinations to get Person A here and Person B there, that by the time we get to the finale and have everyone back together, we don’t feel like we’ve gotten to know them any better over the course of the last 13 hours. Even Jax, Clay and Gemma (who have been so focused on getting Abel back) feel like they’re still where they were emotionally at the beginning of the season.
I think the reason everyone is stuck in such stasis is because of the plodding pace for the first 7 episodes which then lead to the really exciting final 6 episodes. Early on, we find out that Cameron has taken Abel to Belfast, Ireland and is conferring with the IRA to figure out what his next move should be. It takes three episodes past that for the club to figure out he’s there and another three episodes to figure out how to get there. On the one hand, I’m really glad they realistically build the circumstances that it would take to get all of the men there, but it didn’t make for very exciting television. Plus, with Deputy Hale unceremoniously killed by a van in the first episode and the fact that Jax and Clay are all Gilmore Girls with each other now, it makes the tension in these early episodes a little flat as the entire arc is really just The Great Abel Chase 2010. Since we barely saw Jax with Abel in Season 2, it makes it hard to feel fully invested in his drunken rage fueled search for his son and makes you long for a simpler time when it was just about SAMCRO running guns and fighting with the Mayans. But Jax’s disconnection with Abel makes for one of the greatest scenes in the entire season.
When Cameron arrives in Belfast with Abel, he has a meeting with Father Kellan Ashby (magnificently portrayed by James Cosmo), who is a respected member of the community, as well as an old friend to Jax’s father, John, and is an adviser to the True IRA. Ashby instantly recognizes that Cameron has created a giant problem for the IRA and their relationship to SAMCRO, so he has Cameron garroted and gives Abel to Maureen Ashby (the wonderful Paula Malcomson), who’s an old friend of SAMCRO and an old lover of John Teller’s. Long story marginally shorter, Father Ashby takes Abel back from Maureen and gives it to some gun wielding nuns, who in turn sell the baby to a nice American couple. This is right around the time that the Sons finally make it to Ireland and hook up with Maureen (where Jax almost fucks his half sister he never knew about and then laughs it off when he doesn’t) and find out that Father Ashby had the baby last. Jax goes to Ashby who says Jax can have Abel back if he kills Jimmy O’Phelan ( a wonky accented Titus Welliver), a long time thorn in the side of the Sons and Chibs’ arch fucking nemeses for having scarred his face, taken his wife and raised his daughter. What Jax doesn’t know is that Abel has already been adopted, and when he finally does and watches how good the family is with Abel and how loving they seem, we finally come back to the master plot of the entire series: Jax doesn’t want to be a biker outlaw anymore. In that moment he sees the future Abel would be born into (dying young, jail, a flurry of sexually transmitted diseases) and he gives him up and walks away from him in a moment of pure, sublime greatness.
I’m not sure what the audiences reaction to this moment was supposed to be, but I was cheering. As much as we like these guys (mostly in relation to how they look compared to everyone else), they are dangerous, short sighted and ridiculously bad news. Tig, played by the effortlessly amazing Kim Coates, is less of a psychopath this season (that’s Happy’s job) and is almost the comic relief now that poor Half Sack is gone. Bobby and Piney (Mark Boone Junior and William Lucking, respectively) are in it so little I bet, all told, they had ten minutes of screen time this entire season. Juice (Theo Rossi), gets a little more to do this season without us getting to know him any better. Opie and Chibs (the underrated Ryan Hurst and the man I wish was my dad… Mr. Tommy Flanagan) also feel completely ignored this season, until they get to be a part of the year’s greatest moment of taking out Jimmy O’ and Agent Stahl. Chibs whipping out the duel knives and slicing Jimmy’s face before sticking him had me out of my chair with glee and Opie shooting Stahl in the back of the head (in retaliation for her part in his wife’s death) while she was crying and begging made me happier than I was comfortable with. Ally Walker wasn’t bad playing Stahl as much as the character was just so crazy and so evil that all she could do with the role was to twirl the mustache and hope for the best. Now that she’s gone, I hope Season 4 (which I haven’t started watching yet) will either bring back Zobelle or up Jeff Kober’s evil developer character a couple of notches, so we can have SAMCRO face off against a real adversary next season.
I saved the big four characters for last because I’m not really sure how I feel about half of them. I still experience complete joy in watching Ron Perlman play Clay Morrow, only because I know at some point he’s going to become the Big Bad of the entire series and I can’t wait for him to get there. Charlie Hunnam does a great job carrying the show as Jax, even if sometimes his character’s motivations feel a bit strange and don’t sync-up to choices he’s made earlier in the series. I like these guys and think they have a wonderful rapport together that makes even some of the more ludicrous developments of the series go down easier. The women in their life are more of a struggle for me, however. Tara Knowles is a non-entity to me. As excellent of an actress that I think Maggie Siff is, I don’t think her and Charlie Hunnam have any chemistry together and her arc of becoming an Old Lady for the club is frustrating and just not interesting to watch. When it looked like she might be dead towards the end of the season, I got really excited (mostly because then Jax could hook up with his half sister. Hey, it’s not my fault they had palpable chemistry and looked hot together. It’s fucking Shakespeare, bro). She feels like she’s holding the character back from his true potential to me. Gemma is trickier for me, because her story in Season 2 was my favorite thing about the entire enterprise, and I think Katey Sagal is giving not only the performance of her career, but just nailing one of the best female characters ever written for television. But this season, she got on my nerves. Her bitchyness was a little too strong to handle this year, and I felt like when she stabbed a guy in the dick who caught her stealing his car, we were supposed to be rooting for that sassy momma instead of hoping the cops toss her back in jail. I never rooted for her this year like I did last year and I really wanted to. Her constant unthinking, bull in a china shop reacting ultimately became frustrating for me and made me cease caring about her character more than I should have. Then again maybe that’s the point.
The last few moments of the season have Tara reading John Teller’s letters to Maureen that he sent from Charming. In them he talks about being certain that Clay and Gemma are sleeping together and that they are plotting his death. We have seen them make comments to each other that hint to there being more to JT’s death than we know, but this is the first time we’ve really gotten confirmation that there was something rotten in Denmark (seriously, 2000 words to get to that joke). If that is the driving focus of Season 4, then we will be in for something truly amazing.
Overall, I would say Season 3 really bugged me for the first half, but once it settled into Ireland and the war the boys were caught in the middle of, then it really took off and became something special. I’m not sure there’s a better show on TV when it comes to giving characters the cathartic moments that they (and we) need. Simply for allowing Chibs and Opie to enact their revenge bumped the season up an entire grade for me. The entire finale, with us finding out Jax didn’t rat out the crew and how everything was one giant long con, was so expertly done that it changed my perception of the entire season. There’s still a lot to work on to get the show firing on all cylinders, but at times it does feel like a well oiled machine (I’m here all week). This almost feels like Season 2.5 in a lot of ways, but the set up for what is coming is truly epic and gets me excited for the show in ways I haven’t quite been yet. Once the boys get out of prison and set foot in Charming again, we’ll be in store for some incredible storytelling.
This box is packed to the gills with awesomeness. The mini-sodes linking Season 3 to 4 are exciting, showing us Jax get shanked in prison among other things. The commentaries really show us how tight a camaraderie these actors and directors have with each other and how they’re all going through a life changing experience by doing this show together. The gag reel is also pretty great, showing a completely different side to Ron Perlman as I am used to seeing. There’s hours of stuff on these discs that make them well worth picking up if you’re a fan.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars