I don’t have a whole lot of time this evening, but I wanted to jot down a few things about this season of Sons of Anarchy, which I haven’t written about since the season premiere. You can also check out my extended thoughts on the season by listening to a podcast Les Chappell and I did late last week.
Much has been made about the failures of Sons of Anarchy season three. They’ve been discussed ad-nauseum by me and dozens of other, better television critics. But it’s hard not to keep bringing them up when watching this solid stretch SoA is in right now, one that continued with tonight’s episode, “Fruit for the Crows.” Whereas last season focused so much on external, somewhat nebulous forces trying to manipulate the members of SAMCRO, this season is humming along at a wonderful pace because all the drama, all the tension and all the intensity is in-house. The exploration of internal issues is the series’ biggest strength, on a storytelling and character level.
The first half-dozen episodes of the season have introduced all sorts of new characters, many of them with dangerous motives, others with simply dangerous dispositions. From Roosevelt and Lincoln Potter to Romeo and the cartel members, there are a lot of new forces pushing in on the members of SAMCRO and each of these characters is fitting that role quite well. Rockmond Dunbar, Ray McKinnon and Danny Trejo are delivering performances we all assume they would.
But amid the pressure from law enforcement or the generally terrifying amount of firepower the cartel has, the most challenging thing for Jax, Clay and the rest of the MC is figuring out a way to get on the same page. Unfortunately, Clay’s immediate desire to go big and then go home, his bully-like behavior and his manipulation of the past has caused all sorts of fissures between he and many of the club’s veteran members (Piney and Bobby most notably). And while Juice is being pulled hard in one direction by Roosevelt, his biggest problem with his new circumstances is how he’ll continue to survive within the club.* Even Tara, who is now concerned about an apparently external threat, is actually facing heat from those closest to her. Nearly every issue the characters have relate directly back to the club – which again, makes it unlike season three and all its problematic issues.
*This Juice story is perhaps my favorite thing the series has ever done. There are better stories from season two, but I just love the kind of overwhelmed, fearful emotional drain that Theo Rossi is bringing to the story. Roosevelt’s uncomfortable feeling with how Lincoln wants to trap the Sons and the cartel added a completely new and more sympathetic shading to his character. Dunbar knocked that out of the park, of course. Dunbar and Rossi have interesting chemistry.
Moreover, I’ve been very impressed with exactly how Kurt Sutter and his team have crafted each episode to emphasize the big points about the growing, bubbling tensions within SAMCRO’s ranks. Every week, there’s at least one or two scenes and conversations that suggest A.) Clay is making some misguided and dangerous decisions because of his desire to make lots of money and then get out, B.) Many members of the MC are growing frustrated with Clay’s said actions and C.) the club is coming very close to crucial pivot point that could alter the fabric of SAMCRO for a very long time. The season has been methodically and purposefully closing the walls around Clay, Juice and really the whole group. Paranoia, fear and uneasiness don’t really sit well with a bunch of gruff, bad men who just got out of prison and most certainly don’t want to go back anytime soon.
Perhaps most impressively is that Sutter didn’t wait until the end of the season to start the real big fires. “Fruit for the Crows” is the exact middle episode of the season and yet, here we have tensions boiling to such a high that Bobby is ready to call for a vote of confidence and a new president and here we have Juice deciding that the pressure, fear and guilt he’s feeling from Roosevelt, the club and himself respectively is just too much and that suicide is really the only answer. If you were to ask me what this season’s finale would look like, I would have crafted something pretty much like “Crows.”
On one hand, I’m very impressed by Sutter’s decision to present the group’s implosion and Juice’s suicide attempt at this point in the season. It’s a surprising and risky move that could allow the rest of the season to ratchet up the pressure and drama even further, especially once the truth about JT’s death comes out to more people. Other club members could start piling on Clay (and Gemma) very quickly and it could get ugly.
On the other hand, I’m worried about how the season will somehow find a way to back away from some of this intense action once an external threat pops up. I’m fairly confident that the branch Juice tried to hang himself on broke, meaning he’s alive and will certainly have a lot of explaining to do. And I’m also fairly confident that next week’s episode isn’t going to give us Piney telling everyone the truth about everything and the group subsequently kicking Clay out or worse. Sons of Anarchy has been readily willing to go 150 miles an hour and then quickly slam on the brakes in regards to certain stories, especially ones involving Clay and his overall vileness. This could be one of those cases and that would be tremendously frustrating.
But for now? I’m willing to take a moment to catch my breath and celebrate the successful tear Sons of Anarchy is on right now. Season four isn’t quite ready to contend with the emotional haymakers season two threw on a consistent basis, but it’s connecting on a lot of body blows and setting us up for that big left-right combo. I think.