As I wrote in my Season 2 review, the “Sons of Anarchy” are like scruffy Sopranos, and this FX TV show looks and plays out an awfully lot like that old HBO series.
Instead of the mafia with rival mobs and inside power struggles with made guys and lieutenants, we get power politics with the rival gangs and local law enforcement officers, and internal strife within the Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club, “Redwood Original” chapter. There’s plenty of conflict to go around, especially between the president and any number of people this season who notice that their leader is having such bad arthritis that it threatens his ability to handle a bike. Or handle the myriad problems that surface. If that means killing somebody, bada bing bada boom, done–especially that “boom” part. And speaking of the Bada Bing, where the Sopranos mob hung out, the bikers gather at a similar club that also happens to have a stripper’s pole and women with pasties strutting their stuff, only the SAMCROs’ behavior is a bit more like raunchy trailer-park guys who’ve just watched “Rome” and decided that it would be fun to behave as if they’re at an orgy. And while the Sopranos had a legit business front that made it look as if they were all gainfully employed, most of the bikers work at the Teller-Morrow garage. But they deal in illicit goods the way that the Soprano mob did. In the bikers’ case, they sell guns to whoever pays the price. And they also do some other not-so-nice things.
The SAMCROs make their home in the tiny northern California town of Charming, led by president Clay Morrow (Ron Perlman) and his headstrong “old lady,” Gemma (Katey Sagal), who married Clay after her husband, one of the club’s co-founders was killed.
The other co-founder, Piney Winston (William Lucking), still rides with the club and motors along with oxygen tubes sticking out of his nose. And Gemma’s son, Jackson “Jax” Teller (Charlie Hunnam), whose meth-addict ex-wife was pushed out of the picture by Gemma, threatening to kill her if she tried to fight for custody of the child she had with Jax . . . and supplying her with enough drugs to keep her quiet (and near-comatose) for years.
Since Season 1, the SAMCROs have been involved with the Real IRA, and the end of Season 2 it came back to bite them on the ass in a big way. But I can’t think of a better way to generate sympathy for a bad-ass motorcycle gang that’s into gun-running, protection, and murder, when necessary, than to begin a season by having the matriarch of the clan hiding out in Oregon because she was framed for murder, unaware that her grandson has been kidnapped by someone with IRA connections and her big bad biker son has been reduced to a gelatinous blob because of it.
Part of what made “The Sopranos” appealing was that it wasn’t just mafia business. We saw the tough guys in relationships with wives and girlfriends and children, and we saw the girlfriends and wives helping each other cope with their unusual lives and the close-knit circle that all of them formed out of necessity. In “Sons of Anarchy” we get the same thing, with Tara (Maggie Siff), a nice, normal doctor who’s slowly pulled into the SAMCROs’ world because she’s attracted to Jax. The advice she gets is “If you love the guy, you learn to love the club,” and Gemma tells her to insist on getting the whole truth or else no sexual favors. This season, her character probably has the biggest arc, as she deals with the aftermath of seeing a man knifed to death . . . but also gets her initiation into the dark world of the Sons of Anarchy.
That world, by the way, is really dark, really twisted, and really complicated. You’d better pay attention, or you won’t know who’s whacking whom, or why. But you’ll know without a whole lot of coaching that the bad guys are some traitors in the Sons of Anarchy Belfast chapter, a priest who’s been acting as a go-between (doesn’t the Church have enough image problems with all the molestations?), and another go-between named Jimmy O (Titus Welliver).
All of the performances are strong–even the minor roles–but the standouts this season are Siff, Sagal (who’s traveled SO far from her Peg Bundy days) and Hunnam, as the charismatic but brooding club vice-president. The venerable Hal Holbrook also turns in a fantastic performance as Gemma’s father, who lapses in and out of lucidity. But the series does seem to take a turn into melodrama this season.
This release contains all 13 episodes on three single-sided discs housed in a standard-width blue jewel case:
1) ” SO.” Abel’s kidnapping sets a lot of events in motion, while Gemma gets tired of holing up, hiding out.
2) “Oiled.” The club enlists a bounty hunter to help find out what happened to Abel, Jax’s kidnapped son.
3) “Caregiver.” The Club tries to raise money to fund its Abel-search through expanded porn involvement. Meanwhile, Gemma has a run-in with her dad’s caregiver.
4) “Home.” Jimmy-0 sends the SAMCROs on a wild goose chase, and the rest of the club tries to help Happy deliver on a promise.
5) “Turning and Turning.” Jax tries to help his mother and find his son.
6) “The Push.” SAMCRO deals with the situation at St. Thomas.
7) “Widening Gyre.” Rival gang Grim Bastards’ situation could affect the SAMCROs.
8) “Lochan Mor.” The gang arrives in Ireland, and by golly, not everyone’s happy to see them.
9) “Turas.” In Eire, the club hires on for a protection run.
10) “Firinne.” The club tries to prove to the Real IRA that Jimmy O is a loose cannon.
11) “Bainne.” Jax has a tough decision to make.
12) “June Wedding.” And another tough decision for Jax, as a hostage situation develops.
13) “NS.” As the club tries to sort things out, they’re getting pressure by both the ATF and the Russian mafia.
“The Sopranos” had plenty of violence, but I don’t remember it being as constant a presence as it is in this FX series. If you’re put off by that, this series won’t be for you. Then again, like Tara, you might just get sucked in. Total run-time is 588 minutes, and though not rated there’s nudity, graphic violence, language, and just about everything else that would make it R if it were a film.
“Sons of Anarchy: Season 2” looks terrific in 1080p, transferred to three 50GB discs using an AVC/MPEG-4 process that left no visible artifacts and displays no retouching that I could see. Presented in 1.78:1, “Sons of Anarchy” also has a nice level of detail in close-ups and strong enough black levels to carry it through dark scenes–though there is a bit of noise in the shadows at times.
“Sons” employs a DTS-HD MA 5.1 track that’s as strong as previous seasons. There’s incredible clarity with low-level whispers as well as loud action sequences. The rear speakers are heavily involved, and that’s essential for a melodramatic action series like this. Bass is resonant, treble is bright, and the timbre is rich. Subtitles are in English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Mandarin.
Disc 1 has a commentary on an “SO” extended episode with Kurt Sutter, Dave Erickson, Chris Collins, Regina Corrado, Liz Sagal and Marco Ramirez. Also on Disc 1 are deleted scenes from the first four episodes.
Disc 2 features a commentary for “Firinne” by Kurt Sutter, Charlie Hunnam, Katey Sagal, Maggie Siff and Tommy Flanagan, plus more deleted scenes from episodes 5-10.
Disc 3 offers two extended episodes: “Bainne” and “June Wedding,” plus a commentary track for “NS” featuring Kurt Sutter, Charlie Hunnam, Ron Perlman, Mark Boone Junior, Kim Coates, Tommy Flanagan, Theo Rossi, Ryan Hurst and Dayton Callie.
Disc 3 also includes these special features:
“The Future Begins Now”–Four all-new, season-spanning scenes show what’s in store for Season 4
“Custom Bike Build”
“Directing the Season Finale” with Kurt Sutter
Table Read with cast and crew
“Fox Movie Channel presents World Premiere”
FX considers “Sons of Anarchy” an action series, not a drama, and that’s probably accurate. There’s character development in this show, but not as much as there is violence. Overall, though, it’s nearly as strong as “The Sopranos” . . . and that’s saying something. But I’ll say this: Thank God for characters like Tara.